Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years Young
Tomorrow, Grand Central Terminal celebrates its 100 year anniversary. Transporting millions of New Yorkers each week, Grand Central (as New Yorkers fondly refer to it) has come a long way since its doors opened in 1913.
The original structure was built in the mid-1800’s as a train shed for the many steam-powered locomotives that transported thousands around the east corridor at the time. The 100’ by 650’ structure is said to have rivaled the Eiffel Tower for most astonishing engineering achievement during the 19th century.
As safety concerns grew in the early 1900’s, the age of the locomotive began drawing to a close. The heads of New York Central and Hudson River Railroad announced plans for a new terminal optimized for electric trains. Construction of the Grand Central Terminal (as we know it today) began in 1903 and lasted ten years; development included excavating deep into Manhattan’s bedrock (more than 30 feet!) and electrifying all of the rails. On Sunday, February 2, 1913, Grand Central Terminal officially opened to the public.
Through the 1920’s, Grand Central helped to upgrade its surrounding neighborhood, with the construction of the Biltmore Hotel, Yale Club and many of the skyscrapers of the time, including the Chanin Building and the famous Chrysler building.
Unbeknownst to many New Yorkers, and known to Grand Central staff as the “Roosevelt Platform” – a rusting train is parked far below the terminal that once transported President FDR into NYC. The train would park in a station below the Waldorf Astoria, and a waiting car would drive off the secret platform into an elevator which led directly into the Waldorf Astoria garage. This was arranged to protect Roosevelt’s safety and to keep his disabilities away from the public eye.
In 1967, the Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed in response to the demolition of Pennsylvania Station. Grand Central Terminal was designated a historic landmark, ‘protecting’ the building from any demolition projects. In the following year, the terminal was acquired by developer UGP Properties, who proposed knocking down the terminal to replace it with a 55-story tower. After a lengthy period of litigation, along with some much needed help from Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the plan was blocked. In December of 1976, Grand Central Terminal became a National Historic Landmark.
Depicting the Mediterranean sky during the October to March Zodiac signs, the main concourse ceiling was, at one time, so dirty that not one of the 2500 stars depicted was even visible. During the restoration in the 90’s, the ceiling was cleaned and discovered to have turned black due to nicotine and tar.
After years of neglect, the building was taken over by Metro-North, who began a massive restoration plan. By 1998, the renovation was complete and Grand Central Terminal shined as it did in the early 20th century. Today, Grand Central is the largest train station in the world with 44 different tracks. Many NYC subway lines originate and terminate in the station as well.
“Meet me at the clock!” Many New Yorkers and tourists alike use the clock (and information booth it sits atop of) in the middle of the main concourse as a meeting spot. Many don’t know that the faces of the clock are made of a single piece of precious opal and are worth millions! The information booth also houses a small spiral staircase that leads to the lower level.
As it continues to transport millions of New Yorkers, Grand Central has forged itself as Manhattan’s crown jewel of transportation. Among 68 shops and more than 30 different dining options, Grand Central is home to some notable business including an Apple Store, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse and Junior’s Cheesecake (a must stop for any cheesecake lover!). The New York Transit Museum also calls the Terminal home; the museum features an annual holiday train show that has been extended through February 10th. Beginning February 11th, “Grand Tours” will be offered, guided by an expert docent.
By Samantha Tautz