The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 26, 2005  

One Story at a Time

For all its faults, the New York Times still gets many things right, as it does with today’s special section celebrating the city’s Chrysler Building, a dazzling, entertaining, and informative collection of articles about the Art Deco architectural masterpiece including:

“Before the Crash: Bringing in the Blue Chips,” by Neal Bascomb.

“For the Architect, a Height Never Again to Be Scaled,” also by Bascomb.

“In the Background, but No Bit Player,” by Dan Barry.

“Juke Joint in the Sky,” by David W. Dunlap.

“The Chrysler After Party,” by Shelly Freierman.

“On Top of the World, Drafting, Dreaming and Drilling,” by William L. Hamilton.

“Dancing to New Rules, a Rhapsody in Chrome” by Michael J. Lewis.

“How It Sparkled in the Skyline,” by Elaine Louie.

“Leaping the Chrysler in a Single Bound,” by Bruce McCall.

“A Lunch Club for the Higher-Ups,” by Charles McGrath.

“For Chrysler, a Tribute to His Own Rise,” by Phil Patton.

Of these articles, I think I enjoyed McGrath’s best of all. It’s the poignant tale of the Cloud Club, the private enclave previously ensconced on the Chrysler Building’s top three floors, and a story that ends on this sad note:

The fortunes of the Cloud Club began to decline a little in the 50’s and 60’s, with the defection of some members to the nearby Sky and Pinnacle clubs, which were both newer and bigger. The whole Chrysler Building fell on hard times in the mid-70’s, and in 1977, Texaco, whose executives were then a mainstay of the Cloud Club membership, moved to Westchester. The Cloud Club closed for good in 1979, and various schemes to rehab and reopen it never came to much.

Tishman Speyer, which took over the Chrysler Building in 1998 and painstakingly refurbished it, has leased the top two floors of the Cloud Club space to tenants, while the first is still awaiting an occupant. The grand staircase has been yanked out, and the rest of the space has been pretty well expunged of ghosts and memories. Except for a marble floor and 54-inch-wide windows -- which on a clear day offer a view so expansive it’s like looking at New York on HDTV -- it offers not a clue to its former incarnation.

For some reason, airy views no longer seem much in vogue -- at least in public spaces. The Rainbow Room is closed except for parties; the Top of the Sixes, for so many years an obligatory post-prom stop, has been turned into a private cigar club; and Windows on the World, at the World Trade Center, was in decline even before 9/11. The only place where you can pretend to be a tycoon and sip a martini while looking down on the city is the View, the cocktail lounge at the top of the Marriott Marquis, a space so unglamorous that it makes you understand the current fashion for hanging out not at the tops of buildings but in their atriums.

Sometimes you don’t know what you had until it’s gone.

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