January 29, 2014

Fun Facts & Secrets About Grand Central

An iconic meeting place, the Information Booth on the Main Concourse features a circular marble and brass column at its center, containing a hidden, spiral staircase leading to the Lower Level.

 

The beautiful astronomical mural on the Main Concourse’s ceiling depicts the Mediterranean sky during the October to March zodiac, featuring 2,500 stars.  The Vanderbilt’s claimed that the image, which is actually reversed, was painted deliberately from God’s perspective.

 

Famed tight rope walker, Philippe Petit walked the length of a wire stretched high above Grand Central’s Main Concourse in 1987.

 

Oak leaves and acorns adorn the terminal because they’re a symbol of the Vanderbilt family, who financed the construction of the building.

 

In the middle of the main concourse, the famed opal clock above the information booth is valued at as much as $20 million.

 

The world’s largest Tiffany clock, measuring 14 feet, resides at the center of the sculptural group at Grand Central’s 42nd Street entrance.

 

Among its many innovations, Grand Central electrified its tracks in the early 1900s, thereby eliminating the dangers of smoke from steam powered trains and allowing train traffic and a massive train yard to sink underground.

 

Every light bulb in the Terminal is bare, in a nod to the Vanderbilt family that wanted to show off the electric power―and electric railroad―they’d financed.

 

A “whispering gallery” outside the Oyster Bar relies on brittle Guastavino tile to echo sound from one corner to another; a popular place to whisper sweet nothings across the vast expanse.

 

All clocks in the Terminal are synced to the atomic clocks of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

 

An American flag was hung on the south side of the Main Concourse after the 9/11 attacks.

 

During World War II a USO Canteen was located inside Grand Central reflecting the important role that the Terminal served as a point of departure for thousands of American troops.

 

In 1941, thousands of Brooklyn Dodgers fans gathered in Grand Central to celebrate the team’s first National League pennant in twenty one years.

 

Upon Grand Central’s completion, train traffic moved underground making ample room for expansion available and real estate developers termed the booming new neighborhood “Terminal City.”

 

Underground, Grand Central is a maze of tunnels, corridors, and shafts, and one mysterious Track 61.  This single line is a secret side rail that runs beneath Park Avenue to a private siding in the basement of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, reportedly utilized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt so he could securely and secretly travel.

 

This information was retrieved and paraphrased from Huffington Post, Untapped Cities, Gotham Magazine, Grand Central Terminal Website.

January 29, 2014

Grand Central Terminal | Timeline

1831 ― The New York City Railroad Arrives

The first rail line into New York City, the New York and Harlem Railroad, was formed. The following year, it began service to a terminus at Fourth Ave. and 23rd St.

1836 ― A Station Grows in Manhattan

Over the next five years, the New York and Harlem Railroad Station was built and would come to occupy the entire block bounded by 4th and Madison Avenues and 26th and 27th Streets.

1840 ― The Suburbs Come Aboard

In the latter part of the decade, the New York and New Haven Railroad and the Hudson River Railroads were built, precipitating the advent of terminals, depots, freight houses and passenger stations throughout the city.

1858 ― Blowing Off Steam

Steam locomotives had been progressively banned from crowded areas and were no longer in service below 42nd Street, giving rise to the need for a new terminal.

1864 ― Enter the Tycoon

Soon after shipping magnate “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the Hudson River Railroad, he added the New York Central Railroad to his holdings. He created a rail-link between Spuyten Duyvil and Mott Haven, allowing Hudson River trains to arrive at a common east side terminal.

1869 ― Grand Central the First

Vanderbilt purchased property between 42nd and 48th streets, Lexington and Madison Avenue for construction of a new train depot and rail yard. It was on this site that would rise the first Grand Central.

1871 ― Snook’s Depot

Grand Central Depot, designed by John B. Snook, was built at a cost of $6.4 M. Virtually obsolete at the time it opened, it served three distinct rail lines – the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Each line maintained its own waiting room, baggage facilities and ticketing operation at the station.

1900 ― There Really Was a Grand Central Station

Reborn as “Grand Central Station,” the depot’s most prominent feature was its enormous train shed.  Constructed of glass and steel, the 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivaled the Eiffel Tower and Crystal Palace for primacy as the most dramatic engineering achievement of the 19th century.

1900 ― Where Eagles Fly

The updated station also featured a “classical” facade, a unified 16,000 square foot waiting room, and distinctive ornamentation, including monumental cast-iron eagles with wingspans of 13-feet. One of these eagles was recently salvaged and will rise again above Grand Central’s new entrance at 43rd street and Lex. The other can be found on the corner of 42nd and Vanderbilt.

1902 ― Tragedy Takes a Toll

The age of the steam locomotive was drawing to a close. A catastrophic train collision on January 8, 1902 in the smoke-filled Park Avenue tunnel killed fifteen and injured thirty-eight, causing a public outcry and increasing demand for electric trains.

1902 ― An Electrifying Time

One week after the crash, New York Central and Hudson River Railroad announced plans to improve the Park Avenue tunnel and expand Grand Central.  By the end of the year, plans were in development, spearheaded by chief engineer William J. Wilgus, to demolish the existing station and create a new double level terminal for electric trains.

1903 ― And the Winner is

The winning submission was from the St. Paul firm of Reed and Stem, who had done work for the New York Central. Reed’s sister was married to William Wilgus, who by that time was the New York Central’s vice president in charge of construction.

1903 ― Nepotism Runs Deep

Subsequent to the competition, New York architects Warren and Wetmore presented the selection committee with their own proposal for the terminal.  Warren, a cousin of New York Central chairman William Vanderbilt, succeeded in his “appeal.” The following year, Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem entered an agreement to act as the associated architects of Grand Central Terminal.

1903 ― Under Construction

It took ten expensive years of excavation and construction. The railroad needed to invest in electrifying its rails, and carve deep into Manhattan’s bedrock (The grade of the rail yard had been lowered to an average depth of 30 feet below street level.) Yet, in spite of the upheaval, rail service continued uninterrupted.

1913 ― Grand Central Terminal is born

Grand Central Terminal officially opened to great fanfare at 12:01 am on Sunday, February 2, 1913, and more than 150,000 people visited the new terminal on its opening day. Although construction was not yet entirely complete, Grand Central Terminal had arrived and New York City would never be the same again.

1913 ― Here Comes the Neighborhood

The Biltmore Hotel and the Yale Club were constructed across Vanderbilt Ave.  During the 1920’s, warehouses gave way to skyscrapers like the Chanin building, the Lincoln Building and the Chrysler Building. The Hotel Commodore opened in 1919, and the Graybar Building, was completed in 1927, each with a passageway connection to Grand Central’s main concourse.

1930 ― Boom Town

As the neighborhood prospered, so did Grand Central. Grand Central Terminal at various times housed an art gallery, an art school, a newsreel movie theater, a rail history museum, and innumerable temporary exhibitions.

1930 ― Hustle & Flow

Grand Central remained the busiest train station in the country, with a bustling suburban concourse on the lower level and famous long-distance trains like the Fast Mail, the Water-Level Limited, the Wolverine, and the Twentieth Century Limited departing from its main concourse.

1947 ― America’s Terminal

Over 65 million people — the equivalent of 40% of the population of the United States — traveled the rails via Grand Central Terminal.

1967 ― Saved by Penn Station

On August 2, 1967, New York City’s recently established Landmarks Preservation Commission — formed in response to the demolition of Pennsylvania Station — designated Grand Central Terminal as a landmark, subject to the protection of law. The decision ensured the terminal’s safety. For the moment.

1968 ― Trouble is Brewing

Penn Central, the resultant conglomerate of a merger between the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, leased Grand Central Terminal to developer UGP Properties, Inc. UGP proposed building a 55-story tower designed by Marcel Breuer above Grand Central.  The terminal’s facade would have been preserved, but rendered virtually invisible; the entire main waiting room and part of the main concourse would have been demolished.

1976 ― Jackie Makes History

Penn Central filed an $8 million lawsuit against the city of New York, which was blocking the renovation. Litigation lasted for nearly a decade. City leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Brendan Gill, rallied against changes to Grand Central Terminal. In December 1976, the national register of historic places named Grand Central Terminal as a national historic landmark.

1976 ― Beauty Fades

Grand Central had been spared the wrecking ball, but was far from saved.  After decades of deferred maintenance, the building was crumbling. The roof leaked; stonework was chipping away; structural steel was rusted. Pollution and dirt had stained surfaces; commercial intrusions, like the Kodak sign and the Newsweek clock, blocked out natural light.

1988 ― The A Team

Metro-North, which had taken over operation of Grand Central, commissioned a master revitalization plan from Beyer Blinder Belle, the architects responsible for the restoration of Ellis Island.  Metro-North then asked retail specialists Williams Jackson Ewing to prepare a master retail plan to address amenities and services in Grand Central.

1990 ― The A Team

A $425 million master plan for Grand Central was presented at a public hearing and subsequently adopted in concept by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This significant decision was followed by an investment of $160 million in utility upgrades, main concourse improvements, and structural repairs.

1992 ― Worth the Wait

The former main waiting room was also restored in accordance with the new master plan, and was inaugurated as a public exhibition and special events space.

1998 ― The World is Watching

Construction began with the cleaning of the main concourse sky ceiling.  As restoration and renovation continued, the project generated more than 2,000 construction and construction related jobs throughout New York state. The revitalization project culminated with a gala rededication celebration of Grand Central that garnered both national and international media attention, and marked the beginning of a new chapter of this venerable New York City landmark.

2012 ― The Ultimate Destination

Restored back to its 1913 splendor, Grand Central has become a major New York destination. There are five exquisite restaurants and cocktail lounges, 20 casual eateries in the lower level dining concourse, gourmet foods from Grand Central Market and 50 unique specialty shops throughout the concourses, all in addition to transportation.

2012 ― The City’s Crown Jewel

Grand Central has become an international example of a successful urban project that gave new life to an historic building which otherwise would have been discarded and destroyed.

This information was retrieved from the official website for Grand Central Terminal information, www.grandcentralterminal.com.