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Commercial Property: Unusual Spaces; A Striking Medley For the Right Renter

By David W. Dunlap

  • May 5, 1991
Image CreditCreditThe New York Times Archives See the article in its original context from
May 5, 1991, Section 10, Page 13Buy Reprints View on timesmachine TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. About the Archive This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to [email protected]

TO describe it as 18,150 square feet on East 42d Street would be accurate -- but scarcely fair to the subject.

For this is the Cloud Club, the long abandoned restaurant and bar occupying the 66th, 67th and 68th floors of the Chrysler Building, where Walter Chrysler and E. F. Hutton and Conde Nast dined in the 1930's.

"Unique" is one of the most overused phrases in the vocabulary of real estate ("state-of-the-art" and "world class" also come to mind). But it is easy to understand how tempted an owner or broker would be in talking about the Cloud Club, or the former Benjamin Sonnenberg house on Gramercy Park, or Frank W. Woolworth's private study on the 40th floor of the Woolworth Building.

These are among the unusual spaces that are now or may soon be looking for commercial and institutional occupants.

Jack Kent Cooke, the owner of the Chrysler Building and the Washington Redskins, is apparently not interested in conventional proposals for the Cloud Club -- that is, a standard restaurant operation.

"A lot of restaurant people have come to him," said Thomas M. Keating of Cushman & Wakefield, leasing agents for the building. "But if he wanted to be in the restaurant business, he would be. His goal would be a private club or a fancy office. Obviously, he feels it's something special and wants someone to maintain the original quality of it."

Silent for 12 years, the main dining room today feels as distant from the commotion of mid-Manhattan as if it were actually nestled in some giant cumulus cloud. It offers two views downtown. One is through a broad, arched window looking south. The other is in a 12 1/2-foot-wide painting on the opposite wall, by Gardner Hale, which shows the same prospect as it looked in 1930.

The room is otherwise distinguished by inward-curving walls supported on four granite-clad columns with wrap-around sconces made of frosted glass panels and bundles of clear glass rods. Around the room is a chevron-patterned wainscoting with alternating bands of differently colored woods.

From the kitchen, whose windows and walls have the crazy angles of a set from "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," one can gaze over the United Nations to the point where Long Island meets the horizon.

Next door is Walter Chrysler's private dining room, whose walls are lined with glass in which bas-relief figures of automobile workers have been etched: machinists, welders, painters, chemists, draftsmen.

In contrast to these Art Deco rooms, the downstairs bar -- "downstairs" being the 66th floor -- is a wood-paneled affair that almost exudes gemutlichkeit. It comes with cabinets in which private stores of liquor could be kept (the club opened during Prohibition), a humidor room for cigars and telephone booths with leaded-glass windows.

One of the more distinctive properties in search of a buyer is a town house at Gramercy Park South and Irving Place. Begun in 1844, the house was taken over 101 years later by Benjamin Sonnenberg, renowned as an innovator in public relations. There, he held court until his death in 1978.

In 1979, it was acquired by the late Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, founder of Evyan Perfumes, who used the property as a showcase for his White Shoulders fragrance.

Bradford Garnett, of the CB Commercial brokerage, said it was not likely that the house would ever be used again strictly as a residence but that foreign governments might be interested in it. "The Persian Gulf war has had a positive effect on New York City real estate," he said. "The U.N. is becoming more important. Government missions are expanding, not shrinking."

The house, with a price tag of $8.5 million, includes a 38- by-25-foot ballroom on the fifth floor, overlooking Gramercy Park.

Top floors often yield the most interesting spaces. The Scribner Building on Fifth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, is justifiably renowned for the bookstore at its base, a designated interior landmark now occupied by Brentano's. But the 10th floor is a light-bathed expanse under an enormous hip-roofed skylight whose surface area is 720 square feet, larger than many New York apartments. Above it is a warren of clapboard-sided penthouse rooms.

The building is owned and has been renovated by the Benetton family of Italy.

"It's ego space," said Josh N. Kuriloff, associate director of Cushman & Wakefield, who represents the building. "Someone walks in, says 'I love it,' and that's that. It's not a conventional real-estate deal."

The asking price is $50 a square foot. "Skylights are a very valuable commodity," Mr. Kuriloff said. "This skylight could equal $5 to $10 per square foot in rent."

ANOTHER distinctive top floor is in the old exhibit hall of the former Tiffany & Company store, at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, which is described in a press release as having a 60-by-100-foot, column-free expanse under a 35-foot vaulted roof, with a 20-by-60-foot elliptical skylight.

"The space offers an aura of high drama that would be ideal for a fashion or accessories showroom, or a television or video production company," the broker, Ronald H. Zimmerman of Newmark Real Estate Services, was quoted as saying. Because the owners asked for no further publicity, Mr. Zimmerman said in a subsequent telephone call, he could not elaborate.

Fifteen blocks away, on the Avenue of the Americas, between 21st and 22d Streets, is another massive old retail structure, the former Adams Dry Goods Store. Its 45,000-square-foot second floor has vast arched windows overlooking the avenue. Its 34,000-square-foot ground floor has 19 1/2-foot ceilings. The asking price is $25 a square foot, said Jeffrey Rosenblatt, executive director of Newmark Real Estate Services.

An unusual feature can create something of a problem for a broker, as Sam Irlander, executive vice president of Wilrock National, has discovered in his efforts to market the 35th, 36th and 37th floors of the News Building, at 42d Street and Second Avenue.

What distinguishes the space, recently vacated by the Cigna insurance company, is an ample terrace, with wooden planters and seating, that offers a 180-degree panorama of everything in Manhattan north of 42d Street.

"So far, I've gotten four offers for the floor with the terrace," Mr. Irlander said. "As soon as they see it, they don't want to look any further." The problem is this: the terrace is the middle of the three floors and to rent it alone would be to break up the contiguous block of space. As a result, Mr. Irlander has had to turn down all four offers.

Once a tenant gets into a distinctive space, it can be very hard to let go -- something that the people who publish Grant's Interest Rate Observer are coming to learn.

THE publication was founded in 1983 by James Grant, a former columnist for Barron's. Since 1986, it has occupied Frank Woolworth's private office in the Woolworth Building, on Broadway, between Barclay and Park Streets. The ceiling is deeply carved and molded, with large rosettes in a field of coffers. The walls are paneled in wood and the floor is parquet.

"The cubic footage, decorations and sense of history are very important," said the publisher, Patricia Kavanagh. "It does a lot for Jim and for us to be in a room that was designed for and occupied by one of the financial giants of the early 20th century."

Unfortunately for Grant's, the lease is up in October. And, Ms. Kavanagh said, the 800-square-foot space is so cramped that "when the bookkeeper came in unexpectedly, everybody had to move."

"With great regret, we're trying to find something that's equally wonderful," she said. "And we have not yet."

A version of this article appears in print on , Section 10, Page 13 of the National edition with the headline: Commercial Property: Unusual Spaces; A Striking Medley For the Right Renter. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe