feel, in New York City, the energy coming up out of
the sidewalks, you know that you are in the midst
of something tremendous, and if something tremendous
hasn't yet happened, it's just about to happen,”
said the great writer and New Yorker Brendan Gill.
Gill reported “The
City” for The New Yorker magazine,
and for a time during the 1980s all but lived in Grand
Central Station, where he was the driving force whipping
everyone into a preservationist frenzy until the great
train station was saved and on its way toward restoration.
Brendan Gill died in
1997, but the memory of this most gracious and patient
man—a real “Mohair Sam” figure—came
back to me whilst visiting Zurich in March to accept
the honor of FIATA Fellow from the great world organization
of freight forwarders.
We were trying to save
LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal back
in 1978 and figured Gill might have some ideas, so
we visited him in the small offices he kept in the
late 1970s, upstairs at Grand Central Station, just
down the hall from The Manhattan Club.
We drank some tea—it was summer, and mighty
hot—but Mr. Gill was cool as a cucumber in a
faded beige wash-and-wear cotton suit and a sharp
I showed him my outline
concept for saving the Marine Air Terminal, and he
“You have it son—I
would not change a thing.”
Then, I suppose sensing
my angst, he added:
“Just be patient,
I have lots of famous people, including Jackie Kennedy,
on our side to save this train station, but you cannot
“Just dig the
hole from the middle and watch the sides cave in,”
Mr. Gill smiled.
listened to Brendan Gill and we stayed in, and he
saved Grand Central Station and we saved the Marine
Any time I can get there,
I sit in the fabulous Oyster Bar in the basement of
Grand Central and have an oyster pan roast or some
blue points and remember the magical Brendan Gill.
The redevelopment and
restoration of the entire Grand Central Station area,
including the revamp of the old Commodore Hotel and
loss of the exquisite Airlines Terminal (Park &
42nd) and The Biltmore Hotel, took many hundreds of
millions of dollars and many people to accomplish.
But to my memory no
other person looms larger in all of it than Brendan
Brendan Gill was involved
with the New York City Municipal Arts Society, he
wrote poetry, fiction, and nonfiction books, and he
used to say:
“I can hardly
wait to get up in the morning to write.”
He was the best kind
of guy; he always loved the city and wanted to make
Speaking of the Commodore
Hotel, which became a Hyatt Hotel, it should be remembered
that Donald Trump revamped the property—an early
indicator that Trump and the development of Manhattan
real estate would become inexorably linked.
Interestingly, as he
worked with “The Donald” on the Grand
Central project 30+ years ago, Brendan wrote the following:
now looks better than it has ever looked in my lifetime,
and I'm very optimistic about that really becoming
what the original designers had intended it to be.
“And I see that
even Donald Trump's hotel is going to get another
“Every so often
I find myself, to my horror, forgiving Donald Trump.
“Ah! What a strange
emotion that is.”
In 2016, as Mr. Trump
closes in on the Republican nomination for President
of United States, we can only wonder what Brendan
would have written.