Although Grand Central had two main façades, only the south front was treated architecturally; the north façade appeared as a utilitarian back side. In 1929 the New York Central Building (now the Helmsley) was built on the north side of the train station and completed the view down Park Avenue. Architect William Wetmore designed the base of the tower to evoke a monumental gateway; he continued the cornice line of the neighboring buildings and decorated the crown of the tower with an intricate copper lantern that punctuates not just the building, but also the vista. No less than the avenue closure, the coordinated composition of buildings was atypical in New York’s individualistic streetscape, but this effect has been lost over time as new glass towers have replaced the old.
The most significant change came when the hulking Pan Am Building (1958–63; now MetLife), designed by Walter Gropius and Pietro Belluschi, was inserted behind the New York Central Building. Where its tapered form had once stood in silhouette against the sky, now the Pan Am Building fully blocks the avenue. It is a reminder that the uninterrupted vista that the other grid avenues afford is a spectacular spatial effect—New York’s version of infinity.