I’ve had a little obsession as of recently. It seems to be a common thing with me. The obsessions, they come and go, they fade with time. A book, a place, a subject… this site has turned the Harlem Line, and its history, into one of those obsessions. And through that came another minor obsession, that of collecting postcards. Specifically older postcards of Grand Central. They’re not too difficult to find. For a dollar or two you can pick them up on eBay.
At first I was looking for postcards in good condition. Old, yet preserved. Not tarnished by passing from hand to hand and through the mail system. I suppose the most recent auction I wasn’t paying too much attention. I liked the front of the card so much, I bought it, without a glance at the condition. But instead of being discouraged by the card’s lack of clean perfection, I am fascinated by it.
The scene in the postcard looks a little bit different from the scene today… and I don’t just mean the little things like the cars. As to be expected, the city’s skyline has changed. Buildings have changed hands, and changed names. Behind Grand Central’s facade stands the New York Central Buiilding, once the headquarters for the railroad. Opened in 1929, the building was designed by the architecture firm of Warren & Wetmore, who also worked on Grand Central itself. After changing hands several times, the building is now known as the Helmsley Building.
But today if you were to stand in front of Grand Central’s facade, it would not be the Helmsley Building that you see. For another addition to the skyline came in in 1963. The PanAm Building, today known as the Met Life Building towers over Grand Central, the thirteenth tallest building in the city. Its 59 floors block any visibility of the old New York Central building’s 35 floors.
The mystery of the postcard is hardly the front. It is the back of the postcard that captured my interest. The postcard bears a mail date of August 24th, 1936, and the stamp cost a mere cent. The sender, whose name is never established, happened to be staying in a hotel close to Grand Central. She (I’ve imagined the scrawl as belonging to a female) has used Grand Central as a landmark for orientation in the city, as so many before and since have done, and will continue to do. I wonder if the receiver of the postcard, Gracie, is still alive. And if she is, does she remember receiving it, or has the card been long forgotten? The address to which the postcard was sent, if it was ever residential, is no longer. A doctor of radiology makes his office there now, in a small, historic neighborhood of Boston. Within an hours drive of the location resides a woman, Grace Robinson, aged 98. I wonder if she was the original recipient. Perhaps I will never know. That is unless I send her a postcard of my own…