Details

Keywords Change this

Station

Project timeline

1903 – 1913

Type

Infrastructure

Location Change this

71--105 E. 42nd Street
10017 New York
USA
www.grandcentralterminal.com/

Current state

Renovated

Architect Change this

Grand Central Terminal Change this

Grand Central Terminal, along 42nd Street

1 of 13

Description Change this

Grand Central Terminal (GCT)—colloquially called Grand Central Station, or shortened to simply Grand Central—is a commuter rail terminal station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States. Built by and named for the New York Central Railroad in the heyday of American long-distance passenger rail travel, it is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower, though the total number of tracks along platforms and in rail yards exceeds 100. The terminal covers an area of 48 acres (19 ha).

Construction

Between 1903 and 1913, the entire building was torn down in phases and replaced by the current Grand Central Terminal, which was designed by the architectural firms of Reed and Stem and Warren and Wetmore, who entered an agreement to act as the associated architects of Grand Central Terminal in February 1904. Reed & Stem were responsible for the overall design of the station, Warren and Wetmore added architectural details and the Beaux-Arts style. Charles Reed was appointed the chief executive for the collaboration between the two firms, and promptly appointed Alfred T. Fellheimer as head of the combined design team. This work was accompanied by the electrification of the three railroads using the station and the burial of the approach in the Park Avenue tunnel. The result of this was the creation of several blocks worth of prime real estate in Manhattan, which were then sold for a large sum of money. The new terminal opened on February 2, 1913.

Ceiling

Grand Central Terminal ceiling, design conceived by Paul César Helleu.

In autumn 1998, a 12-year restoration of Grand Central revealed the original luster of the Main Concourse's elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. The original ceiling, conceived in 1912 by Warren with his friend, French portrait artist Paul César Helleu, was eventually replaced in the late 1930s to correct falling plaster.

This new ceiling was obscured by decades of what was thought to be coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic examination revealed that it was mostly tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains above the Michael Jordan Steakhouse, left untouched by renovators to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.

There are two peculiarities to this ceiling: the sky is backwards, and the stars are slightly displaced. One explanation is that the constellations are backwards because the ceiling is based on a medieval manuscript that visualized the sky as it would look to God from outside the celestial sphere. According to this explanation, since the celestial sphere is an abstraction (stars are not all at equal distances from Earth), this view does not correspond to the actual view from anywhere in the universe. The stars are displaced because the manuscript showed a (reflected) view of the sky in the Middle Ages, and since then the stars shifted due to precession of the equinoxes. Most people, however, simply think that the image was reversed by accident. The ceiling was painted in reverse by the artists Paul Helleu and Charles Basing.

When the Vanderbilt family learned the ceiling was painted backwards, they maintained that the ceiling reflected God's view of the sky.

There is a small dark circle in the midst of the stars right above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Grand Central's Main Concourse played host to an American Redstone missile. With no other way to erect the missile, the hole was cut so the rocket could be lifted into place. Historical Preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.

Proposals for demolition and towers

In 1947, over 65 million people, the equivalent of 40% of the population of the United States, traveled through Grand Central. However, railroads soon fell into a major decline with competition from government subsidized highways and intercity airline traffic.

In 1954, William Zeckendorf proposed replacing Grand Central with an 80-story, 4,800,000-square-foot (450,000 m2) tower, 500 feet (150 m) taller than the Empire State Building. I. M. Pei created a pinched-cylinder design that took the form of a glass cylinder with a wasp waist. The plan was abandoned. In 1955, Erwin S. Wolfson made his first proposal for a tower north of the Terminal replacing the Terminal's six-story office building. A revised Wolfson plan was approved in 1958 and the Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building) was completed in 1963.

Although the Pan Am Building bought time for the terminal, the New York Central Railroad continued its precipitous decline. In 1968, facing bankruptcy, it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was in its own precipitous decline and in 1964 had demolished the ornate Pennsylvania Station (despite pleas to preserve it) to make way for an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.

In 1968, Penn Central unveiled plans for a tower designed by Marcel Breuer even bigger than the Pan Am Building to be built over Grand Central.

The plans drew huge opposition, most prominently from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She said:

"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes."

Six months prior to the unveiling of the Breuer plans, however, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Grand Central a "landmark." Penn Central was unable to secure permission from the Commission to execute either of Breuer's two blueprints and filed suit against the city, alleging a taking. The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. The Court saved the terminal, holding that New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a "taking" of Penn Central's property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.

Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970 in what was then the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Title to Grand Central passed to Penn Central's corporate successor, American Premier Underwriters (APU) (which in turn was absorbed by American Financial Group). The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) signed a 280-year lease in 1994 and began a massive restoration. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC, an investment group controlled by Argent Ventures, purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.

Sources

Comments

Register to join to conversation.