In 1920s New York, when your sweetheart said, “Meet me under the clock”, you knew to head over to the Astor Hotel, a favored gathering place for the F. Scott Fitzgerald crowd and other Jazz Age glitterati. If said rendezvous was taking place in the 1930s, the two of you might duck into the Biltmore to sip martinis, lift a toast to the repeal of prohibition, and hobnob with the fortunate few not laid low by the Great Depression. Clocks have always made great landmarks.
These days, “under the clock” is more likely to refer to the big brass one in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, where it commands the central spot on the vaulted main concourse, perched above the marble and brass information booth. Perhaps the most recognizable icon in the Beaux Arts terminal, it has four faces, each made from opal, and has been valued by both Sotheby’s and Christie’s at between $10 and $20 million.
Unveiled in 1913 when the terminal opened, the brass beauty has been a character in countless Hollywood films. It was captured at interesting angles for the 1942 B-movie, Grand Central Murder, by the cinematographer George Folsey, who later went on to shoot Meet Me in St. Louis and Ziegfeld Follies.
It provided the big city backdrop as Bing Crosby and a cast of hundreds sang “Going to Hollywood” in That’s Entertainment, and Cary Grant made his heart-thumping getaway from a band of spies in Alfred Hitchcock’s North By NorthWest. Since then, it has appeared in The Cotton Club, The French Connection, Midnight Run, The Godfather, The Fisher King, Superman, and Men in Black, among many others.
Contrary to popular belief, the seminal scene between Judy Garland and Robert Walker in Vincente Minnelli’s much loved 1945 film, The Clock, actually takes place on an MGM Studios sound stage built to look like New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a mile across town.
Thanks to the beauty and durability of brass, a classic copper alloy – and to a more vigilant and informed New York citizenry, which in the 1990s saved Grand Central Terminal from the sad fate of the original Penn Station – the clock will inspire proud New Yorkers, bustling commuters, and starry-eyed lovers for many years to come.