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   Vol. 15  No. 53
Thursday July 14, 2016

Feeling Brendan Gill

Feeling Brendan Gill

“You 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.

Brendan Gill and Jackie Onassis

     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 bow tie.
     I showed him my outline concept for saving the Marine Air Terminal, and he graciously said:
     “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 hurry things.
     “Just dig the hole from the middle and watch the sides cave in,” Mr. Gill smiled.
Geoffrey At the Marine Air Terminal     So listened to Brendan Gill and we stayed in, and he saved Grand Central Station and we saved the Marine Air Terminal.
     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 Gill.
     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 it better.
     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:
Summer Fun      “Grand Central 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 redoing.
     “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.
     Ah, Brendan.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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