Grand Central Terminal's Celestial Ceiling

Grand Central Terminal's Celestial Ceiling

Mark Chamberlain
Mar 28, 2012

Once or twice a year, I have occasion to pass through Grand Central Station on the way to a project somewhere. Every time I enter the main concourse and look up at the painted celestial ceiling I go, "Aw." Let's take a look.

For starters, I could never get a good picture of this — too dark, too light, no camera, bad camera, and for years after 9/11 they had that big flag hanging in the middle of the ceiling. As Marvin the Marian used to say, it obstructs my view of Venus.

But today is was different. I had my camera, there was perfect 8am light and there was a low angle to the late winter sun. And, at last — no flag.

The ceiling itself depicts what to me looks like a late Renaissance version of a celestial map: figures of the zodiac or star formations depicted in gold over a blue ground. But that color...

I know I've read elsewhere that they're calling it Cerulean Blue, or a deep sky blue. The base color of the ceiling isn't black like the night, it's not blue like the day; it's a mysterious, nonrepresentational underwater blue that definitely runs green, though that may be due to time and the oxidation of old oil paint.

There are stories about how the overall pattern was reversed (doesn't match the heavens), and we all know the stories of Jackie O fighting to save Grand Central in the seventies. The Kodak signs were banished, the Sky Ceiling was renovated beginning in 1996, and they left one single tile to reveal how extensive the smoke damage was.

I'd offer a color match, but the ceiling is so different every time I'm there and I don't really see the point of tracking the paint cans from the basement. Let's leave it as its own perfect thing.


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Livia's Dining room

(Images: Mark Chamberlain)

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