chrysler-building-skyscrapers-new-york-city-skyline-roof-darkcyanidePhoto by Dark Cyanide

The Chrysler Building is one of the most beloved of New York City’s skyscrapers, an architectural manifestation of both the Art Deco era and the automobile age. Famous as it may be, the Chrysler Building holds many fascinating secrets, compounded by the fact that it is difficult to visit and doesn’t offer tours, unlike the Woolworth Building and the Empire State Building. Here are 10 lesser known facts about the Chrysler Building, many derived from an Q&A with David Stravitz, the author of The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon Day by Day with The New York Times in 2009.

1. There Used to Be A Three-Level Members Club and Speakeasy Near the Top

Photo via NYPL Collections

The Cloud Club once belonged to a group of mile-high power lunch spots in New York City atop the city’s most distinctive skyscrapers. The New York Times calls The Cloud Club “the inspiration for many of the others.” It was initially designed for Texaco, which occupied 14 floors of the Chrysler Building, and used as a restaurant for executives. It opened with 300 members of New York City’s business elite.

The Cloud Club had an eclectic mix of design, ranging from Futurist in the main dining room, Tudor for the lounge, and an Old English grill room. Perhaps because of its decor, or its original function, it never became hip and stylish like the Rainbow Room but it did have amenities like a barber shop and locker rooms that were used to hide alcohol during Prohibition. The club closed in the late 1970s, the spaces gutted for office tenants.

2. There Were A Couple of Apartments Hidden Inside

On the top floor, Walter P. Chrysler had a private apartment and office, and was said to boast of having the highest toilet in Manhattan. But LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White, well-known for her images on skyscrapers in the 1920s and 30s, lived in another apartment on the 61st floor. It was on this floor that Bourke-White herself was photographed atop one of the gargoyles in 1934. The lease was co-signed by Time, Inc. because the building wouldn’t rent it to a woman, despite her wealth and fame. She paid $387.92 per month to live there, a good amount of money at the time.

According to The New York Times, Bourke-White hired “her good friend, John Vassos, an industrial designer, to create an Art Moderne stylish interior, with extensive built-ins, subdued palette, woods and metals. There was a main sitting area, an alcove for her desk, stairs that go out to the terrace. The superintendent reminded Bourke-White that her lease did not include access to the terrace, and she wrote back, “Of course.” But she invited businessmen whom she wanted to befriend to have cocktails on the terrace.”

3. There Was Once a Water Bottling Plant in the Basement

Photo from Library of Congress

One spot that didn’t make the book The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon Day by Day was the water bottling plant, labeled in an old film negative as the “hydrozone water bottling” unit. Author David Stravitz says, “Tap water was filtered through an intricate system and then bottled for water coolers to be distributed to tenants in the building. The large room was magnificent, with faulous tiling throughout. Quite exotic for a space most people never saw.”

4. A Public Observatory on the 71st Floor Is No Longer Accessible to the Public

Photo of 61st Floor Deck by Instagram User dkafalas. Used with permission.

In 1931 when the Chrysler Building opened, you could go up to the 71st floor observatory (in the spire) and take in views of the city from all four sides for $0.50. The celestial-themed observation deck closed down in 1945 and according to Moses Gates in his book Hidden Citiesit’s now occupied by a private firm.

5. Cooper Union Owns the Land Below the Chrysler Building

chrysler-building-skyscrapers-new-york-city-skyline-roof-darkcyanidePhoto by Dark Cyanide

Not a single dollar in taxes from the Chrysler Building has ever gone to New York City because the land has been owned by Cooper Union since 1902, and is an endowment for the college. Instead, the Chrysler Building owners pay Cooper Union, which is tax-exempt.

6. There Used to Be An Auto Showroom on the First Two Floors

Image via Library of Congress

While the original purpose of the building as the headquarters for Chrysler never materialized, an automobile showroom was located in the lobby of the building. The New York Times reported in 1997 that the showroom actually once occupied the first two floors of the lobby. The lobby, with Moroccan marble walls, yellow marble floors, chrome steel ornamentation and murals, was a tribute architecturally to the primacy of the automobile at the time.

7. The Top of the Spire is Full of Not Much

Upon the release of Hidden Cities author Moses Gates took Opie of the Opie & Anthony show to the top of the spire, revealing in the above video that there’s not much inside besides concrete and infrastructure. Gates says, “the crazy thing is that you think of the Chrysler Building as Art Deco, shiny, chrome, metal…metal eveyrwhere and your’e inside it and it’s all reinforced concrete. You never would have thought it.”

8. The Top of the Chrysler Building is NOT Made From Hubcaps

There is a popular urban myth that Chrysler Building spire is made from actual hubcaps but it’s actually of stainless steel. According to Stravitz, the material was “produced in sheet stock called Enduro KA-2 from Germany. It was then hand-fabricated on site from two upper floors in the building. Imagine the precision on those intricate compound angles.”

9. The Spire Was Installed in About 90 Minutes

To compete with 40 Wall Street, then also under construction, for the title of World’s Tallest Building, the spire was constructed secretly inside the building. On October 23, 1929, four separate pieces of the spire were lifted onto the dome of the building and riveted to each other. The spire was a total of 197 feet, and weighs 300 tons.

10. The Chrysler Building Was a Customized Building, Hand Crafted in Sheet Metal Shops on the 65th and 66th Floor

Unlike the Empire State Building, which was built from existing stock materials, the Chrysler Building design was customized and built in sheet metal shops on the 65th and 66th floor, the same shops that also created the spire.

Bonus: The tenant in the top habitable floor of the Chrysler Building is a dentist, known as the Dentist in the Sky.

Read about the Top 10 Secrets of the Empire State Building and of Grand Central Terminal.