Yesterday Allan and I took a tour of Grand Central Terminal, one of the world's great public spaces, and one of New York's greatest buildings. The Municipal Art Society, an urban planning and preservation group, conducts a tour every Wednesday.
The tour was more a social history of the Terminal than an architectural tour, which was still fascinating, but a little disappointing for me. We thought we'd be taken into areas that are inaccessible to the public, especially the catwalks in the huge windows. Apparently the tour used to include that, but hasn't for many years. Despite these minor disappointments, it was very interesting and extensive.
If you visit New York, even if a two-hour tour of a building doesn't grab you, do see Grand Central. A few blocks away you can visit the main branch of the New York Public Library, with its famous Reading Room, another grand public space. Grand Central and the Reading Room were both restored to full splendor in the late 1990s (and the Reading Room was also technologically upgraded). They are not to be missed.
Of course, as an architecture fan, I'd been meaning to do the Grand Central Terminal tour for years. But yesterday I realized how fitting it was that I went just as I'm about to leave the city.
When I first moved to the city on my own, in 1983, I read - for the first of several times - Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale. This book forever changed the way I look at the city, and it remains one of my absolute favorite novels.
Grand Central's great celestial ceiling figures prominently into the story. At the time, my commute took me through the building, and I would always remember to glance upward. No matter how crowded my commute (the subways sucked in those days!), no matter how harried I felt, gazing up into that immense space was so soothing.
It's hard to explain how one can feel a personal connection with a building, but I feel that for Grand Central, and the feeling stemmed from that book.
The story begins: "There was a white horse, on a quiet winter morning when snow covered the streets gently and was not deep, and the sky was swept with vibrant stars, except in the east, where dawn was beginning in a light blue flood. The air was motionless, but would soon start to move as the sun came up and winds from Canada came charging down the Hudson. ..."