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December 21, 2010
Mostly, I travel through the famously ugly Penn Station, the
destruction of whose Beaux Arts predecessor in the 1960s provoked a
wave of civic revulsion, once people saw the architectural fright that
replaced it. The new Penn Station is why New York's Landmarks
Conservancy is so strong. Take the Amtrak to New York and you'll be
in Penn Station. Then look around you. You'll see what I mean.

Grand Central Station is another story altogether. You take
MetroNorth from Grand Central, up the Hudson or east on the New
Haven line. I'm going to Yonkers, and have a few minutes before I
board to enjoy its cathedral-like interior. Each visit offers a new
detail: today, it's the gorgeously carved pediment freizes over each
door down to the tracks from the lower level. But there is also the
splendid blue ceiling in the main concourse, with its golden
constellations shot through with golden lights. The wonderful four-
sided clock over the marble and brass information kiosk in the center
of that room. The elegant double staircase. The drinking fountains,
like baptismal fonts. The marble floors. The gold chandeliers -- and
I do mean gold: they're real.

The lobbies of old banks, of old hotels, the concourses of old train
stations -- they are magical places, intended to convey power and
stability. They are civic temples, designed to make everyone feel a
little more important. Or a lot more, depending on who you were:
financier John Campbell leased a 3500-square-foot salon from the
Vanderbilts there in the 1920s, complete with a fireplace and a pipe
organ, and could entertain sixty friends there with ease. This is
still called The Campbell Apartment, and you can have your wedding
reception there.

But John Campbell has been dead for decades -- after he died, his
elegant salon became a catch-all closet, and it endured that indignity
until Grand Central's renovation in the 1980s. Sic transit gloria
, I suppose. We are all just passing through.
Copyright © 2019 Barbara Crafton
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