Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Old New York: Grand Central's Colorama Told Us to Live Large

Colorama of water skiers featured at Grand Central Station in Old New York
By Mitch Broder

Please set your smartphone to "IMAX," because these photos are 60 feet wide.

Or else set it to "Last Century," because that's where you'll find Coloramas.

You'll find them in Grand Central Terminal, over the East Balcony — actually, blocking the East Balcony — from 1950 to 1990. They will show you that life is happy and thrilling, not to mention wet, and that, wet or dry, it's virtually always photogenic.

And if you didn't spring for those phone settings, you can revisit the Coloramas at Grand Central now, in an exhibition called — well, "Colorama."

Discoteque Colorama that was featured at Grand Central Station in Old New York
"Discotheque," by Neil Montanus, was displayed February 13 through March 3, 1967. At the top, "Waterskiers, Cypress Gardens, Florida," by Hank Mayer, was displayed August 5 through 26, 1968. All the Colorama photos here are Copyright Eastman Kodak Co. and Courtesy George Eastman House.

It just opened at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex (which last year remembered the old Pennsylvania Station). But its photos are actually not their original 18-by-60. The biggest they get is about 2-by-6. At close range, though, that gives you a sense of the biggest thing that people in the terminal got to see, besides their trains.

Old New York Colorama of Cowboys in the Grand Tetons which was displayed at Grand Central Station
"Cowboys in Grand Tetons, Wyoming," by Herbert Archer and J. Hood, was displayed October 5 through 26, 1964. 

The original Coloramas were backlit color slides. They were billed as the world's largest photographs. At the least, they were the world's best ad for the company that ruled photography when photography meant things like color slides.

Old New York features a Colorama of Bathtime at Grand Central Station
"Saturday Night Family Bath," by Lee Howick, was displayed February 17 through March 9, 1964.

Eastman Kodak Co. sold practically all the film in America in the days before cell phones with IMAX, time machines, and, incredibly, cameras. It installed the Colorama to show millions of travelers that with its cameras, film, and flash bulbs, everything — and anything — could be beautiful.

Colorams that were displayed at Grand Central Station in Old New York includes a family in front of a fireplace
"Family by Fireplace," by Norm Kerr, was displayed March 15 through May 5, 1965.

In its forty years, the Colorama display held 565 photographs, one every few weeks, and the exhibition sums them up: "They proffered an almost unchanging vision of idealized and perfect landscapes, villages and families, American power and patriotism, and the decorative sentimentality of babies, puppies and kittens."

Classic Colorama of a Family In A Convertible once on display in Old New York at Grand Central Station
"Family in Convertible," by Jim Pond, was displayed June 3 through 24, 1968.

In the early years, every picture showed someone taking a picture (or planning to), though, apparently, exemptions were given to waterskiers. In any case, the mission was colorfully voiced by Adolph Stuber, a Kodak ad man who helped to conceive the display: "Everyone who sees the Colorama should be able to visualize them self as being able to make the same wonderful photo."

Visitors take a step back to Old New York to view this Colorama exhibit

The exhibition has thirty-six of the wonderful photos, almost all from the sixties, when you could still show a family of five in the bathroom. While most are scenes of America, they include shots of the Taj Mahal, the Matterhorn, Machu Picchu, and Earth itself, as seen from the moon.

Old New York featured Coloramas displayed under this sign at Grand Central Station

There's also a photo of the Colorama display in its Grand Central home (before the East Balcony staircase was built in the nineties renovation).

The Apple Store has replaced the East Balcony of Grand Central Station where the Coloramas were once displayed

In its place now is a store, with today's version of a Colorama: a big backlit white apple with a bite taken out of it.

Another Colorama that was on display in Old New York's Grand Central Station called See You At The Fair
"See You at the Fair," by Donald Marvin, was displayed April 13 though May 4, 1964.

Find your rainbow at "Colorama," through October, at Grand Central Terminal, in New York City.


  1. Thanks for the preview. Because of this post I made a point to see the exhibit this morning- really interesting. I was especially pleased to find that one of the images was from Sterling Forest- a place I went to on an elementary-school class trip. Sadly long gone... but sure brought back a good memory.

  2. What a great ad campaign they did. Sorry to have those pictures gone; I remember them when I would commute down to GCT on my way to grad school. Thanks for the find Mitch.

  3. Very cool. Excellent way to show the comparison between past and present. A really interesting piece. I would love to go to this one...hint, hint, Ms. Cakie.

  4. Oh my gosh, that's my mom!! My mom, Joan Paulson, was a popular model in the sixties. While we have most of her work, for years we've heard about the HUGE pictures she did for Kodak but have never seen them. Thank you so much for finding these! There she is winking at everyone! I'd love to know where you found this. I know she was in at least two other Colorama shots.