The clock in the terminal at Grand Central has gone.
March 20, 2002 1:55 PM   Subscribe

The clock in the terminal at Grand Central has gone. Why do renovated public buildings always seem to lose so much character? Isn't it possible to meld the old with the new?
posted by feelinglistless (38 comments total)

 
That is so sad. Don't know what the clock looks like? Go watch "The Fisher King"for the waltz. It was a gorgeous old clock.
posted by rev- at 1:58 PM on March 20, 2002


It doesn't look very gorgeous in the picture. It looks really gaudy.

It also hasn't been there for years, right? I don't think I've ever seen it. As far as I recall, that's a huge open archway now, which is much nicer IMHO.
posted by smackfu at 2:04 PM on March 20, 2002


I'm inclined to say "who cares"? The character of GCT was already destroyed when they yanked out the old chicka-chicka-chicka timetable billboards above the ticket counters and replaced them with soulless computerized ones. (I'm sure there are more proper technical names for them, but I'm sure those of you familiar with the station all know what I mean by the chicka-chicka-chicka boards.)
posted by aaron at 2:12 PM on March 20, 2002


Which clock are they referring to (in the pic there are two) ?
posted by zeoslap at 2:14 PM on March 20, 2002


Good article. Great publication, Metropolis, but I disagree. Then again, Grand Central, however spiffy it is, is still a failure because it only serves commuter trains. A real train station needs long distance trains, dammit!

Oh, to be sitting in Gare de Dijon, or a station in Italy and watch people and trains pass from mysterious places.

[sigh] : (
posted by ParisParamus at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2002


The clock is the big one. The little one atop the info kiosk is still there.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:16 PM on March 20, 2002


GCT did serve LD trains again, for one day, just a couple weeks ago. Some sort of track problem prevented the Amtrak trains from arriving to Penn Station and they had to be rerouted.

I don't remember why Amtrak switched entirely to Penn from GCT, but it wasn't that long ago. Ten years? Of course, it looks like come the fall, there may not be any LD trains in the US any more anyway...
posted by aaron at 2:22 PM on March 20, 2002


The only constant in the universe is change. If the majority of people didn't like the clock anyway, reminiscing about days gone by is rather unpleasant in this situation. You might as well fondly look back on Disco... Oh wait, there are people who actually do that, aren't there? I just don't understand humanity.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:25 PM on March 20, 2002


I see that the arrival and departure boards were referred to in The New York Times in 1996 as "the classic whirring departure board." Anyone with Nexis access that could grab me those two letters (and any associated article about the renovations, if there is one), I would love forever.
posted by aaron at 2:35 PM on March 20, 2002


And this article too.
posted by aaron at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2002


The preservation of Grand Central is in itself just another change, or 'anomaly', in the history of the place. Whenever you upgrade a space you have to decide what things are aesthetically 'good' and which are 'bad'. To categorically decide that all prior changes should be left alone is silly, and ignores the very dynamic of change and contrasts that the article seeks to defend.
Maybe the future will view it in a different light, but on the balance I believe the restoration of Grand Central was a complete success.
posted by dal211 at 2:44 PM on March 20, 2002


Is that the clock that's on the cover of Herzog?
posted by lbergstr at 2:49 PM on March 20, 2002


The current Penn Station is a sewer (albeit most appropirate as the gateway to that cultural hell known as Long Island). The new proposed Penn Station looks like it could be cool in a kind of London train station kind of way, but alas, something tells me it will never see the light of day.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:50 PM on March 20, 2002


No! That's from the demolished Penn Station.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:51 PM on March 20, 2002


It is not possible for the old to meld with the new in a way that will please everyone. Each generation looks to make its stamp on the aesthetics of the times, and each generation kicks and screams as a new aesthetic creeps in to take its place. Even if the new is a revamping of an older approach.

People have been decrying the new as tasteless and the old as sacred since time immemorial. No doubt when that clock was put up, the hackles of contemporary commuters were raised by the 'souless' commerciality of it. Generational aesthetics are solipsistic, ongoing, and unavoidable.

Yes, you say, but the old stuff was much nicer. The new stuff sucks. And so said your grandparents, and theirs, and theirs...ad infinitum until somewhere we find a grumpy old paloelithic man snorting at the new fashion of drawing bison on the wall instead of the more traditional handprint.
posted by umberto at 3:26 PM on March 20, 2002


Couldn't give two hoots about the big one, the little one on the other hand looks as though it has a tale or two to tell.
posted by zeoslap at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2002


but wern't people always meeting one another, for reason licit or illicit,under the clock? wherever shall they meet now? it seems terribly gauche to be meeting under a kodak print...............ah memories!
posted by billybob at 4:23 PM on March 20, 2002


aaron: I loved the chicka-chicka-chicka boards and knew exactly what you meant; I also like "the classic whirring departure board."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:45 PM on March 20, 2002


the chicka-chicka-chicka boards are gone? i've been away for too long!
posted by brigita at 4:54 PM on March 20, 2002


What good are chika-chika-chika boards when, after second of suspense, they declare WHITE PLAINS.

Last time I checked (haven't been there in a few years), that technology was still being used in Europe.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:03 PM on March 20, 2002


It was still in use at the Mannheim trainstation a year ago, but I haven't been overseas since then.
posted by Apoch at 5:37 PM on March 20, 2002


That sound, combined with the appearance of Nice TGV, or Lausanne...Corail or the like, always warms my heart.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:51 PM on March 20, 2002


If you like the old whirring timetable boards, here's the long-unupdated but still really cool site of a graphic designer whose multi-part GIF rollovers duplicate the experience. Jeez, I've had that sucker bookmarked for about six years!
posted by nicwolff at 7:53 PM on March 20, 2002


What good are chika-chika-chika boards when, after second of suspense, they declare WHITE PLAINS.

Hey, my mom's from White Plains! I don't care about the destinations, I care about the chicka-chicka-chicka! It was cool, especially to a 6-year-old! (And back then, there were lots of Amtrak trains chicka-chicking!)
posted by aaron at 8:37 PM on March 20, 2002


The chika-chika-chika boards are still used here in Boston's South Station, FWIW.
posted by louie at 9:57 PM on March 20, 2002


From postings I recalled on railroad newsgroups, the chicka-chicka flip sign board, at least from 1986-1997, was called the Omega Board (guessing: manufactured by Omega watches, nowadays a division of Swatch). Googling finds naught but something called "Omega Sign Board".

Paris, aaron: I believe the Amtrak move occurred when a configuration change was made permitting all trains to use Penn. Prior to that there was a problem -- car length may have been one, with cars too long for the vertical curvature of the tunnel beneath the Hudson. (Unfortunately, this -- combined with the newest NJ Transit service to Penn -- means there's a capacity problem, and there are calls for a 2nd tunnel.)
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on March 20, 2002


Yeah, I think the Grand Central restoration was one of the best restorations I have ever seen. If anyone remembers the way it used to look, big clock included, you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who prefer the old over the new. The little clock over the information kiosk is a beaut, and services the whole of the facility just fine. There are also smaller built-in brass wall clocks in the passages of the station that are great too- all originals (sorry I couldn't find a picture. I was just there a couple of hours ago too.)
posted by evanizer at 11:19 PM on March 20, 2002


Great find Dan! But that board was there way earlier than 1986. Perhaps it was updated in/around 1986, but the basic board was around for at least a decade before that. Like I said above, it's a sound and visual I deeply associate with my early visits to NYC as a child, in the mid to late 1970s.
posted by aaron at 12:25 AM on March 21, 2002


Are train nerds less nerdy than computer nerds?
posted by ParisParamus at 4:57 AM on March 21, 2002


I'm glad they got rid of the big clock (which has been gone for years, btw) but if they touch the lovely clock over the information kiosk - or fix its wonderful bullet holes - then it's war!!
posted by perorate at 6:38 AM on March 21, 2002


Paris: Good question. They're certainly outside more often, though.
posted by dhartung at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2002


Not if they're subway train nerds.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:51 AM on March 21, 2002


Paris: Train nerds are so nerdy that rail employees gave them a name: foamers (second-to-last paragraph), because they foam at the mouth when they talk about trains. Heh.
posted by werty at 7:12 AM on March 21, 2002


I interviewed for a job recently, a pretty cool job, but one of the reasons I'm interested (despite the location) is that the company's office is in visual range of a joint I visited as a kid called TRAINLAND.

P.S.: if you're "orientation" is trains in Europe, you're not a nerd.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:29 AM on March 21, 2002


Unless you live in Europe.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:29 AM on March 21, 2002


They got rid of the clock and got rid of the signboard -- but did they get rid of the smell? My strongest memory of GCS in the 1970s and 80s is of the smell of the homeless, which was overpowering from the moment you walked in. Homeless men and women sprawled everywhere, and there was one who corridor leading to 42nd Street near the Amtrak platform that was absolutely jammed from one end to the other. Has that incredible spectacle already been forgotten? There are restaurants in the concourse now, I understand. Does anybody remember when the thought of actually eating in that space would have made one nauseated?
posted by Faze at 8:33 AM on March 21, 2002


Faze: the place is beautiful, perfect, and arguably sterile. l'Occitane an number of other stores have places in Grand Central. Your comment suggests you haven't been in NYC in a decade.

and just to go off on a Tangent, New York is now one of the safest cities in the world. Definitely safer than Paris.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2002


I think the restoration of Grand Central is wonderful. Hell, the fact that you can now actually see what's on that ceiling is a big deal...

Penn Station's "recontruction" (not restoration!) is definitely an improvement over how it looked in, say, 1986 (horrible) -- but I still regret that I never got to see how the original Penn looked.

Now, if you want to talk about "arguably sterile," let's chat about Disneyla -- oops, sorry, 42nd Street. Ahem.
posted by metrocake at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2002


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