They’re ruining the Port Authority. That’s what I catch myself thinking as I stand at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street, waiting for the light to change. Logic dictates there is no way to ruin a building as unfortunate in every respect as the Port Authority Bus Terminal. But the vinyl billboard that wraps, Christo-style, around the building has done the illogical, the impossible, the inconceivable: It has made the bus terminal uglier still.
The billboard, which advertises Showtime with images of miscellaneous celebrities swimming (or possibly drowning), demonstrates, according to a press release, that the cable channel “pushes the boundaries of everyday television, offering an emotional escape that has ‘NO LIMITS’ and endless possibilities.” (Translation: They’re airing Lolita.) Mounted on a sidewalk shed, the billboard is actually concealing the construction of a steel grid that, when completed, will cover the entire building with still more advertising. According to Brigg Dinley of the outdoor advertising company TDI, the new superstructure will carry three-dimensional signs of a size and complexity that can’t be attempted on regular office buildings. TDI is trying to find sponsors for, among other things, both a massive illuminated clothesline hung with gargantuan fabric garments and a three-dimensional laptop computer showing stock quotes. As far as I know, there are no plans for a jumbo illuminated New Jersey Transit bus.
The Port Authority, with its accretions of parking levels, its copious quantities of brownish brick, its seventies-style trusswork – the architectural equivalent of seventies-style ferns – begs to be hidden. But because the bus station is the last vestige of the pre-Disney, Shaft-era 42nd Street, I hate to see it go. Soon the familiar green steel crisscross façade will be obscured by “interactive super-signage,” and, in the words of TDI’s Dinley, “it’s going to be very, very fabulous.”