In University I studied History of Art and Architecture and in my final year I took a course on architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One of the essay questions I received in my second term (and avoided answering) was something horribly convoluted (despite looking marvellously simple) like, ‘Is a building just a building?’
Had I stuck with that question (instead of taking the easier option and arguing something-or-other on Frank Lloyd Wright), it probably would have resulted in some very questionable defence, which, when broken down, was about as concrete as ‘I’ve tasted real butter and I can’t believe it’s not real butter’.
Anyhow, now that I’m out of college and not being marked out of 70, I thought I might as well take a light-hearted stab at that question, with Grand Central Terminal (the station’s proper title!) in mind.
This month, Grand Central, located in New York City’s Midtown, turned one hundred. Externally, the building is a stunning example of American Beaux Arts Classicism, while the station clock, which faces onto 42nd street, is the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass (according to Wikipedia). More significantly however, Grand Central consolidated train use and travel as a very central part of modern American life.
New York City has forever been the backdrop to countless films and TV programmes, including Sex and The City, Girls, Gossip Girl and The Sopranos – let’s not forget Medow’s undergrad years in Columbia. But where New York’s been a backdrop, Grand Central’s been the film-set where some of the best-known scenes in celluloid history were made.
There’s Carey Grant fleeing New York in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest; Al Pacino running, ducking and firing a gun on an escalator, trying to dodge thugs and make a train to Miami in Carlito’s Way, and the beginning of Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin’s friendship in ‘80s classic, Midnight Run.
So, is Grand Central simply a building? Technically no, because it’s a train station, too, (remember!) But I’d also argue that it’s one of the most remarkable film-sets on earth.