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November 20, 2008

Your Turn: Ad Free



In recent weeks, the authority restated its commitment to protect the concourse. But it also said that in its

search for revenue, it hopes to capitalize on advertising opportunities throughout the system.

I was interested in this NYT piece by David W. Dunlap focusing on Grand Central Station pre- and post-ad removal.

I bring it up because one of my longtime political passions has been the corporate and commercial appropriation of public space. I actually ran a few posts a couple years back addressing advertising in the public sphere but readers, at least at the time, didn’t seem to see a real issue there.

Although The Times article juxtaposes a current color image with the black-and-white one from ‘78, I desaturated the contemporary shot to make them more equivalent. Beyond that, I avoided any description of the two images — which you can read below after studying the pictures alone.

I’m interested in how you respond to these photos of Grand Central both before and now ad-free.

Space Without Ads Makes Its Own Statement at Grand Central (NYT)

(images: David W. Dunlap: from: “The City Observed: New York” (1978) and NY Times 2008. Looking east across Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse.)

  • civiliberties

    There are ads of a sort in the 2008 view, the 2 prominently displayed enormous U.S. flags are pretty distracting

  •[email protected]/ DennisQ

    Grand Central Terminal isn’t the big deal today that it once was. The only trains that leave out of there are regional. If you want to catch the Acela Express to DC or a sleeper to Montreal, you’ll have to leave from Penn Station. Today’s GCT has far fewer ticket agents, and fewer information clerks. I don’t think there are any redcaps at all anymore, and the waiting rooms are gone. There is no longer a room with forty telephone booths, or a rack with phone books from all the major cities in the country. The place is less grungy today than it was back then, but you can’t stash your bags in a 25-cent locker anymore.
    Incidentally, here’s a gotcha question that often appears on New York geography trivia questions: Where is Grand Central Station? Why, it’s at 45th and Lexington, and it’s a post office. To catch a train, go to Grand Central Terminal, thank you.

  • Clem Guttata

    The “ad-free” space is devoid of commercial statement in the same way that public radio is.
    The advertising is monopolized by the provider with co-branded message opportunities equally obtrusive.

  • Bill

    The recent photo does show some advertising, which is far less obtrusive than the old photo. In the old photo, the station looks more like a convention center. Before 9/11, there was no enormous flag there. New Yorkers, not being jingoistic, did not often display flags in the old days. Post 9/11, all subway trains bear flag stickers at the end of every car.

  • Ryan

    It felt like I was playing one of those “Spot the Differences” game. But the two biggest features of the photos are the large boxy advertising along the back wall that covers up the windows and the box-shaped room in the center of the terminal (compared to the other shot, with a newer, more modern circular, open-air room farther back in the hall).
    Those two changed features, more than any other, open the space up and make the terminal feel much larger.
    What’s sad is the giant American flag. It’s huge and feels incredibly cynical. The room seems to shrink around it, as though the rest of America, especially the parts of the country that complain about liberal NYC (I’m in North Dakota), are creeping into the city and claiming it for its own after 9/11.
    I like how the clock on the right-hand side of the shot has been replaced by a flag as well. The flag faces the escalators, so the first thing a person would see when coming off them is the big flag opposite. In a way, it’s almost a reverse of the huge central flag: instead of outsiders reclaiming New York as a long-lost son or daughter, it’s gently reminding New Yorkers that despite living in an international city, they are still in America.

  • nightbird

    After studying the two images I am struck with how in the 2nd the impressive architecture and the scattering of people dominate the picture. The 1st image is cluttered,cold and disrespectful. The 2nd you can almost hear the din of echoes within the space. With the exception of the large flag the banners are hung to work with the architecture. The present day terminal invites me in to linger. I want to be on that balcony taking it all in. The place becomes at once museum and human theater. Without the distractions of the ads I am free to wonder/wander into the past. In short when we honor these spaces we honor ourselves, our history.

  • bigbalagan

    I have always loved this station. It should be kept up at public expense if it cannot survive without polluting the public space with ad marquees. The whole point if this grand room is “sky above, people below”. Like all great public transport spaces of that era, it was designed to add meaning and even grandeur to the activity of travel, thus allowing the traveler to pass through in a kind of ennobling dream. But its not a transient fantasy, like an advertising-induced stupor, but an architectural and structural reality through which you can travel every day. Let’s lose the clock, too, as well as the marquees.

  • bigbalagan

    I don’t mind the flag too much, but I agree with another commenter—NYers don’t wear their flags on their sleeves, they are one of the places that these days cause everyone else to wear them, but waving the flag in this way is not NY…

  • chris

    I like the ads MUCH better than the flags everywhere! Ugh.

  • Alan Chin

    some more trivia and facts:
    the big ad we’re facing in the 1978 photo was always owned by Kodak, the Colorama and it was a point of pride for them to erect the enormous color transparencies there, in that pre-digital “Blow-Up” era, which in this case lasted from 1950 to 1990. see:
    the staircase which is now there was built in 2000 as part of the extensive renovation. It was part of the original architectural plan, but somehow disappeared from the finished station.
    in the early 1990s I got permission to photograph with a tripod in the station for a couple of days. at that time there were still signs referring to trains which had not run for decades, and the silent platforms late at night were beautiful in their industrial grime.

  • Anna

    I have always been in awe of the large and beautiful picture in Grand Central. Having said that I am struck by the dramatic change its absence makes to the concourse. With the removal of the photograph and the necessary surrounding black out material we can now appreciate the grandness of the windows and the concourse can have some much needed natural light.

  • gmoke

    I used to work in Grand Central Station back in 1969. It was an amazing place to be, all that energy going back and forth. I always liked the garish advertisements myself but the ceiling full of constellations was always a better marvel.

  • Ida

    The thing that strikes me most actually is the lighting design, more so in the black and white comparisons than the original printing in the Times. The aesthetics of the space have changed dramatically. I commuted out of Grand Central for four years, during which time the place was practically turned into a mall. Yes, the aesthetics are much more appealing (flag gripe aside), but the space is actually no less commercialized. I haven’t read the whole times piece, but I imagine that part of the reason they can take down the ads is because of extra revenue from rent.

  • Nigel Lendon

    What hope does “the authority” have, when evidently anarchy rules at ground level? And what a relief that it does, in small ways such as the following observations:

  • Braidwood

    Hmmm… I don’t have a comment about the pictures, but but ads in public places have been a pet peeve of mine since I was a kid.
    I went to Canada a couple summers ago. I noticed that I felt calmer as soon as I got into Canada and it took me a few hours to figure out why. There were no ads! There were no ads in the airport. There were very few ads in Vancouver. It was such a psychic relief.
    I really feel that I should not be subjected to ads when I am walking around in public spaces.

  • csbmonkney

    Kodak maintains a small web site about the history of the Colorama.

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