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Recognizing 100 Years at Grand Central

Jim Levulis

An upcoming lecture in western Massachusetts will celebrate 100 years of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Francis Morrone has long been fascinated by Grand Central and its engineering feats that occurred near the turn of the 20th century. He teaches at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and in March 2011 was named by Travel + Leisure Magazine as one of the 13 best tour guides in the world. He has held lectures, written books, and has even had the duty of giving tours at the major transportation hub in New York City. Now he is bringing his knowledge to the Berkshires, an area where many have been calling for better rail service between western Massachusetts and New York for years.

“I consider it to be sort of a grail, so when I got to New York, it’s probably the first building I ever made a point of going to see, and when I first saw it, it was in terrible condition," said Morrone.

What’s surprising about Morrone’s take on the iconic station is that it’s not about everlasting glory and beauty. Instead, he sees it as a symbol of what he calls the death spiral of New York City during the 1970s, but also as an integral part of its rebirth in the 1990s.

“There was a time when high-end realtors didn’t want to be anywhere near Grand Central," he said. "Today they clamor to be in Grand Central."

Morrone’s lecture is part of the Tea and Talk summer series at Ventfort Hall in Lenox. The evening will include about an hour of lecture from Morrone followed by audience discussion. Morrone says his lecture includes artifacts and 80 pictures detailing Grand Central’s history. Cameron Spaulding is the hall’s Operation Manager. He says events like this one draw a wide range of about 60 people.

“We’ll have people that just happen to come to the house that day for a tour and hear about it and end up staying," Spaulding said. "We have other local historians, a number of them that come each week.”

Morrone’s last tour came on a very special day in the station’s history earlier this year. February 2, was the 100th anniversary of the official opening of Grand Central, and Morrone’s tour highlighted the day’s celebrations. He says it is a vital part of the city’s history and its functionality today.

“The creation of Grand Central was also the creation of Midtown Manhattan," he said. "Which had been kind of a backwater before that. After Grand Central it became the central business district of the city.” 

Morrone says his lecture puts Grand Central into perspective with the country’s other major railroad centers. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the demolition of New York City’s other famous transportation hub, Pennsylvania Station, which Morrone says was even grander than Grand Central. He also says the Michigan Central Station in Detroit — built by the same architects in the same way in the exact same year — tells the story of two very different American cities.

"Abandoned by Amtrak a few years ago, and its falling apart," Morrone said. "It’s kind of like the symbol of everything that’s gone wrong with Detroit.”

So, what’s the lesson we should take away?

“We shouldn’t take any of these things for granted," he said. "That if we have a treasure in our midst like Grand Central Terminal we have to be really vigilant about preserving it.”

Morrone says he thinks that message will resonate with people from Lenox.

“You know you’ve had some great landmark losses in Lenox, and you’ve also had some great successes in preserving buildings that might have gone away, like Ventfort Hall," said Morrone.

The lecture is set for Tuesday at 4 at Ventfort Hall in Lenox.

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