Art to Commute By

Talk about art for the masses. It doesn't get much more accessible than Grand Central Terminal.

Thanks to a magnificent new restoration, New York's 85-year-old architectural landmark is now not only a crossroads for trains and a half-million commuters. It is also once again a destination in itself, one that offers a full-bore, soul-nourishing encounter with art and history.

Move over Bonnard, Pollock, and Rothko. The revitalized Grand Central could be New York's most crowd-pleasing "art show" of 1998.

It got off to a promising start last weekend when 5,000 people attended a dedication for the nearly complete $200-million, 10-year project.

Eyes usually fixed on clocks and train schedules now gaze at classical sculpture, gleaming gold chandeliers, a new marble staircase, and especially at the grime-free "Sky Ceiling" painting with its gold-leaf constellations and twinkling light-bulb stars.

Binoculars, video cameras, and foreign-speaking tour guides are as evident as fast-walking business types in the Midtown Manhattan train station.

It's hard to believe this masterpiece of beaux-arts architecture, now as dazzling as when it opened in 1913, almost met the wrecking ball in the 1970s. Yet another New York skyscraper would've taken its place had it not been for vociferous protests directed at the building's owners by the city itself, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and such prominent citizens as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Instead, it is once again a monument of architectural splendor and an important reminder of the calming influence that a beautiful, art-filled environment can have on one's daily life. Needless to say, that sense of calm is especially appreciated amid the hustle-bustle of New York.

As lawyer John Bassano puts it: "It's a refuge. The ceiling, the height, the sense of space, they all put you in your place."

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