The Station at CitiGroup Center
A Guided Tour of the Station at Citigroup Center
The current edition of THE STATION AT CITIGROUP CENTER made its debut during the 1996 Holiday season as the Station at Citicorp Center. Like its predecessor, Citibank Station, it features a Victorian station building, this time with a clock tower with clocks on all four sides topped by a locomotive weathervane. The exhibit is surrounded by Victorian themed decorative fences topped with seven lighted Christmas Trees and ending in a forty foot long Victorian cutout train.
The Station is the brainchild of Tony Award nominated Broadway scenic designer, Clarke Dunham, himself an avid model railroader. He sees in the exhibit an opportunity for folks to experience the nostalgia of a bygone era and to give them the chance to view that experience through a child’s eyes, as he experienced Railroads on Parade and its model railroads at the 1939 New York Worlds’ Fair as a three year old child. Together with his artist wife, Barbara, the Dunhams recruited over fifty artists and craftspeople to bring this amazing exhibit to reality. Even twenty years later, they are still thrilled by it all.
As you enter the Station at Citigroup Center exhibit, you find yourself standing in front of the vast Westshore Terminal of the New York Central Railroad in Weehawken, N.J. then known as “the other Grand Central”. The year is 1945, and World War II has just ended. A sweeping view of New York City’s skyline dominated by the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest building, rises above the long, low, station and ferry terminal building. Switch engines shuttle train cars back and forth in the train yards behind the massive stone arches of the huge viaduct which carries a local Birney trolley car between the Weehawken Terminal and its suburban destinations. You notice that the trolley is still carrying a “Buy War Bonds” sign on its roof.
Next you notice the three levels of trains in front of the viaduct. They are in three different scales. The large trains on the bottom step are in O-Scale. On the next level up are S-Scale trains and on the level above all the trains are in HO Scale. The effect is one of “forced perspective” with each level of trains appearing to be further back that the one in front of it. As evening comes to Weehawken, the New York City skyline comes to life along with the many lighted billboards and flashing neon signs in Weehawken, Union City, and along the bottom O-Gauge level where “Main Street, USA” with it many shops, Town Park and Railroad Station is located. Life has never been so good and optimism abounds.
As you travel north from Weehawken on your way upstate you are surprised to see the Bates Motel as you pass by the town of Nyack. That’s where the real house the Bates Motel was based on still stands, though much gentrified, even today. The renowned Hollywood film director Alfred Hitchcock saw a painting by the great American School painter Edward Hopper of a painting called “House By The Rail-road” and asked for it to be reconstructed on the studio lot in Hollywood in the 1950s for the filming of “Psycho”. So that lonely old house in Nyack became world famous as “mother’s house”. If you look carefully, there is a light on in that second storey window.
Moving along to your left, you leave New Jersey and find yourself in upstate New York in the bustling, but imaginary, river City of Generak. It’s Flag Day, the 14th of June in 1955 and Generak’s streets are clogged with traffic. The annual Flag Day parade is headed up Main Street as the band plays in front of the Civil War monument in the town square. The Generak Transit trolley car runs up the hill. At the local theater the The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend is now playing, starring Betty Grable. The many neon lights glow and the street lamps are lit all throughout the town as day turns slowly to night. The moon above the clouds begins to cast shadows throughout the town.
Generak may be an imaginary city but it’s based on the many towns and Cities that dot the Hudson River Valley from Yonkers, Peekskill, and Newburg all the way to Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Hudson and finally to Albany and Troy. There’s a little bit from all of those “River Towns” in Generak, so much so that many people who visit The Station at Citigroup Center are sure they’ve been there and had a delicious lunch or dinner at the Hudson House, Generak’s finest hotel. In Generak’s lower business district, below the Hudson House, is Generak Union Station which in 1955 is still bustling with activity and if you have some time to kill, there’s always the White Tower or Anthony’s Burger Place to serve you.
To the left of the Lower Generak Business District are located Generak’s thriving industries served by several industrial rail sidings. Here you can see locomotives shuttling coal and freight between the busy factories. Notice the many different types of Switch Engines that ply the rails here, from the ancient Camelbacks to the modern-in-1955 SW3 diesels. Across the tracks in lower Generak the Starlight Drive-in Theater is showing High Noon starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly as Hollywood’s perfect hero and heroine. It’s a warm night and there’s no better way to enjoy the view than from your convertible.
Leaving Generak you enter the heavily forested Catskill Mountains. You’ll thrill to the sight of two mountain trains as they appear, disappear and reappear on those high bridges along the multi-level mountain rails. High up on the right is a typical Catskill Mountain town with its cluster of brick-making kilns. These many industries are important to the region’s development. Midway down the mountain is a beautifully detailed five story mill with a mill dam whose waters meander to a dock scene complete with tugboat on the Hudson River below. There two circus trains speed to their destinations.
To the left is a of the Hudson Valley scene is a busy Catskill logging operation with a Saw Mill and two strange looking logging locos delivering logs. These busy Geared Logging locomotives, variously called Shays, Heislers and Climaxes were built to run on steep and curving tracks and had what we now call “four wheel drive”. Above the logging scene sits the South Mountain House, the “Queen of the Catskills”, serving the cream of the vacationing public since Victorian times. In striking contrast to the Victorian era hotel, the best of 1955’s modern “streamliners” ply the tracks along the river.
As late the summer turns to fall, you enter the Adirondack Mountains and there you see a bustling carnival complete with operating Ferris wheels, a busy carousel, a motorcycle ride, a boat ride, a clown parade and food and game booths. One of the 5 new Oscar Meyer “Wienermobile” vehicles has come to the fair. To one side circus performers practice their acts in front of a trailer. Everyone has a new car, and the new models not only look cool, they feature white wall tires. Just beyond the fair is Donna’s Diner where the home fries are on the griddle and the coffee is hot. All the locals make this a regular stop.
The brilliant colors of autumn are replaced by the snows of winter and we stand before a charming picture postcard holiday scene through which runs the “North Pole Express” , delivering its cargo of toys and gifts to cold but happy Adirondack children. Stylized to resemble one of Grandma Moses “primitive” paintings, this scene boasts two “frozen” ponds peopled with gliding ice skaters (and two ice skating dogs). The North Pole Express train is a reproduction of trains manufactured by Louis Marx Trains, the Chicago area “bargain basement king”. You could buy a Marx train set for as little as 98 cents! It was truly the “people’s train” and a great way for us to say “Happy Holidays to all!”
ABOUT THE STATION at CITIGROUP CENTER
AND ITS TRAINS
Four tracks on three levels run around the whole perimeter of the display. These are the Main Lines and have four trains running at the same time on each line, 16 individual trains, kept from running into each other by “block signal” systems com-prised of sensors wired into the tracks. These operate in exactly the same fashion as real railroad signal systems. On the lowest step run the largest trains, the “O” gauge toy trains. On the level above are modern “S” gauge trains. Above the second level, the rest of the trains (and trolley cars) on the layout are “H-O” Scale. Using three sizes of trains forces the perspective, giving the display an exaggerated sense of depth.
Over the twenty years since 1987 that the two “Station” exhibits have been on view there have been many generations of trains that have run on the display. Amazingly a “hardy few” of the original 1987 locomotives, notably the little “Camelback” Switchers in the Weehawken yard and in Generak, still survive and continue to run today. Literally hundreds more have been retired after years of faithful service. Also in the intervening twenty years the art and science of Model Railroading have produced the many superior models shown in these photos from the 2006 season.
The Station at Citigroup Center highlights the four seasons, starting in early Spring, then continuing through Summer and fall and ending in the Holiday Snows of the Adirondack Mountains. It boasts a high-tech computerized lighting system programmed to take us seamlessly from day through night every three and a half minutes. Twenty-seven auto-mated signals and seventy train controls with eighteen separate speed controls allow the over 30 trains and trolley cars to run at once with as many as four trains on some tracks. And that doesn’t count the more than twenty-five separate animated action scenes around the perimeter.
The Layout at a Glance
Layout Scale and Style:
750 sq. ft.
Multi-scale Public Display Layout enclosed in a Victorian station building
NYC, PRR. NYO&W, B&O, C&O, B&M, Various
New York State
1945 - 1955
Length of mainline run:
4 @ 120' plus back-and-forth tracks and dispatch systems
Theatrical style platforms
Carved Styrofoam scenery
Professionally painted profile clouds,day-to-night lighting system
Fully automated signal systems with in-track sensor controls.