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Friday, October 26, 2012

Last chance: The Colorama at Transit Museum's Grand Central Annex

photo by Jim Pond / courtesy of George Eastman House

As you go around the city this weekend preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy (or the "Frankenstorm" as the National Weather Service has dubbed it), consider popping into Grand Central to check out the Transit Museum annex's exhibit on Kodak's famous Colorama. The show is only open until November 1, so if you are interested, you'd better act now.

From 1950 to 1990, the east wall of Grand Central Terminal -- above the balcony where the Apple store now sits -- featured a rotating series of Ektachrome transparencies. Before the terminal's landmark restoration, there was no staircase to the east balcony (and, of course, no fancy retail establishments in the main hall), making the Colorama one of the most interesting architectural features of the station.

The prints were huge -- 18 by 60 feet -- and were created using a special process where Kodak stitched together 41 panels of film, each approximately 19 inches wide by 20 feet long. (In later years, as technology improved, Kodak was able to cut the number of panels used in half). Once the panels had been stitched together, reinforced grommets were added at six-inch intervals to allow the transparency to be held taught once it was installed. The Colorama was then shipped from Kodak's headquarters in Rochester to New York City where it was swiftly unrolled and hooked in place.

The photographs changed approximately every three-to-five weeks and often reflected seasonal scenes: a family at the beach in summer, or cross-country skiing at Christmastime. Alas, the prints in the current show are nowhere near as big as the originals, but anyone who commuted through Grand Central in the 1960s (when the bulk of the prints in the show date from) will instantly remember these bucolic scenes, which serve as a great reminder of the aspirational nature of both advertising and photography in the Don Draper era.

For a slide show of Colorama prints, visit the New York Times "Lens" blog at

For more on the history of the Colorama, Kodak has a feature on their website at

photo by Hank Mayer / courtesy of George Eastman House

The Transit Museum annex is just off the main concourse in Grand Central (in the Shuttle Passage), adjacent to the Station Masters' Office. The show is open though November 1; Monday – Friday: 8 AM to 8 PM, Saturday – Sunday: 10 AM to 6 PM.

* * * *
For more on the history and architecture of Grand Central, pick up a copy of
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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