Grand Central Terminal:
Is at 89 East 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan, right next to the Chrysler Building and down the street from the New York Public Library. Completed in 1913, it was financed by shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose connection to New York City also involves developing the predecessor to the Staten Island Ferry.
In its early days, Grand Central was a posh and popular terminal built to rival the original Penn Station, which people say was even fancier. But that wouldn't last very long. Due to the popularity of automobile and airplane traffic after World War II, Grand Central Terminal saw a sharp decline in ridership and fell into disrepair. There was talk about giving it the old Penn Station treatment - that is, tearing it down. Thanks to Jacqueline Kenny O'Nassis (JFK's wife), it was declared a national landmark and probably saved from becoming another Sprint store.
Today, it's owned and operated by the MTA Metro-North Railroad and serves as a very active commuter railway. Lines extend through parts of Harlem and The Bronx and then to the outer counties of New York and parts of Connecticut. Between commuters and daily visitors, Grand Central hosts more than 750,000 people every day.
Grand Central Terminal or Grand Central Station?
The difference is very slight. Grand Central Terminal refers to the MTA Metro North train lines that run into and out of the tracks. GCT is the terminal line, meaning trains stop there and don't run through.
Grand Central Station refers to the subway station inside Grand Central Terminal. The main subway lines that connect here are the 4, 5, and 6 trains (green line), the 7 train (purple line), and the S train (gray line shuttle).
Does Grand Central Terminal close?
Yes, it does. While individual store and restaurant hours vary, Grand Central Terminal is open daily from 5:15 a.m. to 2 a.m.
All the way up to the top of the building where you will see a cluster of sculptures.
- This collection was designed by Jules Felix-Coutan and depicts Minerva, Mercury, and Hercules.
- This represents Wisdom, Speed, and Strength, according to Roman mythology.
- When it was unveiled it was the largest sculpture grouping in the world and it was called "The Glory of Commerce."
- Just beneath Mercury is the exterior clock of Grand Central.
- It is the largest piece of Tiffany glass in the world, measuring 14 feet in diameter.
- This clock is also the only one that is a part of the station is set to the correct time.
- The time on the Grand Central clock is a minute or so ahead.
Carvings of acorns and oak leaves:
All throughout the station for carvings of acorns and oak leaves. They are everywhere! That is because Cornelius Vanderbilt chose them as a family symbol. The family motto was "Great oaks from tiny acorns grow". Vanderbilt was a self-made man and that symbolism resonated with him. There are carvings all over the Terminal; some large, some small. The easiest to spot are on the bottoms of the beautiful 24-carat gold-plated chandeliers, which have 110 light bulbs each!
This is probably the best-known part of Grand Central. It depicts the constellations of the zodiac. Though it is beautiful, the ceiling is not astronomically correct. It is actually backward. This was pointed out by an astute commuter in 1913. This error was explained away with the reason that it was painted to reflect the perspective of God looking down, in keeping with medieval artistic traditions. Many think that it was not intentional and that the sketch provided by Columbia astronomer Harold Jacoby for the painting of the ceiling was simply misread and done backward by careless painters.
All the way over to Cancer the Crab in the northwest corner of the ceiling. Just past that, where the blue and white meet, there is a small blackish rectangle. That is just how filthy the original beautiful sky-blue ceiling had become after decades of accumulated tar and nicotine smoke. There were a great many smokers among the nearly half-million people who passed through the terminal every day since its opening. Over time the ceiling became coated with thick grime which was finally removed in 1998 when the terminal underwent a massive restoration spearheaded by Jackie Kenndey and other preservationists. Workers got up on the scaffolding with buckets of soap and water and paintbrushes and cleaned away the years of build-up. The one spot was left as a reminder of how much work was done.
Next to Pisces the Fish, you will see a black circle on the ceiling. The hole was deliberately made in the ceiling:
In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, a large American Redstone missile was placed in the terminal after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The missile was very big, so in order to not disturb pedestrian traffic flows, a hole was made in the ceiling so that the rocket could be suspended above the floor. The hole was left as a testament to all of the different eras of history that Grand Central has seen.
Secrets of Grand Central:
M42 is the most closely guarded secret of the station. The room is not shown on any map or blueprint and its existence was not even acknowledged for many years. It contains a massive converter that is responsible for all of the electricity in Grand Central, including the rail tracks. It is such an important room that it was the target of an important German spy mission during World War II. Two German spies attempted to debilitate the rotary motors, which would have cut off the power grid. Because we moved troops by train in the 1940s, this would have halted troop movement on the Eastern Seaboard and would have been a major setback. The men were arrested before they could carry out their plan, and M42 is still a closely guarded secret.
Track 61, a part is Grand Central, is underneath the Waldorf - Astoria hotel. It can be reached by a private elevator car that goes directly from the Presidential Suite down to the platform. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used it often because he disliked being seen in public in his wheelchair. Using this platform made it possible for him to travel out of the public eye.
In later years, the platform was a fashionable (if bizarre) event space. Andy Warhol held a party on the platform and a fashion show has been held there. Though it isn't used regularly anymore it could technically be accessed from the Waldorf Astoria in the event of an emergency if someone needed to get out of New York quickly and discreetly.
Yes, you read that right! There is a tennis court in Grand Central, added in the 1960s. It is currently owned by Donald Trump and is called The Vanderbilt Tennis Club. Superstars such as the Williams sisters have played there. Technically it is open to the public, but most people would have a tough time getting a reservation!
The Grand Central Information Booth Clock:
Estimated to be worth as much as $20 million, the Grand Central Information Booth Clock is the grand dame of the terminal. The phrase "Meet me at the clock" refers to this clock only and is understood by every New Yorker. Not only is it a very busy information booth, it has been featured in countless movies and is a prime spot for a quintessential New York City photo.
The Whispering Gallery:
Commuters and tourists causing a noisy tromp around Grand Central cannot drown out the tiniest whisper on the lower level. In a four-arched entryway designed by Spanish tile worker Rafael Gustavion, there is a secret: You can whisper into one arch and your partner or traveling companion can hear what you're saying in the other arch - diagonally across from you, 30 feet away.
This is a phenomenon caused by the perfect curve of the arches and sound traveling along the tiled walls. Urban legend has it that many marriage proposals and a few infidelity revelations have happened in this peculiar gallery!
Grand Central Terminal:
It was built to house Cornelius Vanderbilt's railroad network, consolidated in the late 19th century as New York Central. It replaced John B. Snook and Isaac Buckout's Second Empire style 42nd Street Terminal, an iron and glass train shed built between 1869 and 71 (which had supplanted New York's first Madison Square train shed and terminal at Madison Square). A massive track fire caused by the collision of two trains in 1902 prompted the decision to electrify the train lines. The smoky, sooty train tracks running down the center of Fourth Avenue were covered, creating what we know today as Park Avenue North. By the 1920s, the avenue was transformed from a eyesore lined with tenements and factories into a boulevard of luxury apartment buildings. By the 1950s, lower Park Avenue North had become one of the most sought-after commercial districts in the city.
Modeled on Roman imperial baths, Warren & Wetmore's Beaux Arts architectural design is, in effect, a surface dressing for this masterful circulation plan. The monumental main concourse is capped by a vaulted plaster ceiling suspended from a steel substructure. Thermal windows bring light into the concourse and serve as hallways linking to office spaces at the concourse's four corners. Guastavino vaults grace portions of the broad, shallow lower level. Acorns and oak leaves - both symbols of the Vanderbilt family - adorn the interior.
Outside, the limestone clad station's southern facade has the grand scale of the interior. Modeled on a Roman triumphal arch, the facade symbolizes the triumph of the railroad. It was also envisioned as a gateway to the city, then located primarily to the station's south. Jules Coutan's central sculptural group depicts Mercury (the god of commerce) supported by Minerva and Hercules (representing mental and moral strength). After the original Pennsylvania Station was demolished in 1963, Grand Central Terminal was landmarked.
Grand Central covers 48 acres and has 44 platforms, more than any other railroad station in the world. Its platforms, all below ground, serve 30 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower. In total, there are 67 tracks, including a rail yard and sidings; of these, 43 tracks are in use for passenger service, while the remaining two dozen are used to store trains. Another eight tracks and four platforms are being built on two new levels deep underneath the existing station as part of East Side Access.
The upper Metro-North level has 42 numbered tracks. Twenty-nine serve passenger platforms; these are numbered 11 to 42, east to west. Tracks 12, 22, and 31 do not exist, and appear to have been removed. To the east of the upper platforms sits the East Yard: ten storage tracks numbered 1 through 10 from east to west. A balloon loop runs from Tracks 38–42 on the far west side of the station, around the other tracks, and back to storage Tracks 1–3 at the far east side of the station; this allows trains to turn around more easily.
North of the East Yard is the Lex Yard, a secondary storage yard under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Its twelve tracks are numbered 51 through 65 from east to west (track numbers 57, 58, and 62 do not exist). Two private loading platforms, which cannot be used for passenger service, sit between tracks 53 and 54 and between tracks 61 and 63. Track 61 is known for being a private track for United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt; part of the original design of the Waldorf Astoria. The upper level also contains 22 more storage sidings
Track 63 held MNCW #002, a baggage car, for about 20 to 30 years.
The lower Metro-North level has 27 tracks numbered 100 to 126, east to west. Two were originally intended for mail trains and two were for baggage handling. Today, only Tracks 102–112 and 114–115 are used for passenger service. Tracks 116–125 were demolished to make room for the Long Island Rail Road concourse being built under the Metro-North station as part of the East Side Access project.
The LIRR terminal being built as part of East Side Access will add four platforms and eight tracks numbered 201–204 and 301–304 in two 100-foot-deep double-decked caverns below the Metro-North station. The new Long Island Rail Road station will have four tracks and two platforms in each of the two caverns, with each cavern containing two tracks and one platform on each level. A mezzanine will sit on a center level between the Long Island Rail Road's two track levels.
Railroads brought people, profits...and pollution. Residents complained, and in 1854 the city banned soot-belching steam engines below 42nd Street, keeping them far from New York's populated heart. Trains arriving from the north unhitched their engines at 42nd and towed passenger cars the last few miles downtown by horse. Despite these restrictions, the Hudson, New Haven, and Harlem Railroads were eager to expand. To coordinate their services (and save money) they agreed to share a new transit hub. With 42nd Street the southern limit for steam engines, it was the logical station location. Grand Central Depot opened in 1871. Three towers represented the three participating railroads. Thirty years later, a new Annex doubled the Depot's size, but double wasn't enough–rail traffic had already quadrupled.
Meet the Vanderbilts:
Vanderbilt, America's first great tycoon, was no stranger to power. Launching a ferryboat service to Staten Island at age 16, he swiftly built a vast shipping business on the Hudson River, Atlantic Coast, and beyond—including steamships to San Francisco during the 1849 Gold Rush—earning himself the nickname "Commodore." In the 1850s, Vanderbilt recognized the inefficiency of the fledgling railroad industry, a hodgepodge of competing companies. Shifting his sights from ships to trains, he bought up stock in local railroads, ultimately combining them into a vast transportation network and a powerful family empire that transformed New York's infrastructure and reshaped the region.
Who needs a new station?
Though splendid in its day, the original Grand Central Depot of 1871 had become a 19th century relic struggling to meet the demands of a 20th century city. Its 30-year-old rail tunnels couldn't handle the steadily increasing traffic. The building lacked modern conveniences and signaling technology, as well as the infrastructure for electric rail lines. And having been designed for three independent railroad companies — with three separate waiting rooms — the terminal was badly outdated, crowded, and inefficient. On top of that, the old station no longer reflected its surroundings. In 1870, 42nd Street was still a relative backwater. By 1910, it was the vibrant heart of a dynamic, ambitious, and swiftly growing New York City.
The Winner is...
Design competitions for major projects were commonplace in the early 1900s, and the railroad launched one in 1903. Four firms entered:
- McKim Mead & White
- Samuel Huckel, Jr.
- Reed & Stem
- Daniel Burnham
Reed & Stem won.
Its innovative scheme featured pedestrian ramps inside, and a ramp-like roadway outside that wrapped around the building to connect the northern and southern halves of Park Avenue. Were these innovations enough to make Grand Central truly grand? The railroad wasn't sure. So it hired another architecture firm, Warren & Wetmore, which proposed a monumental facade of three triumphal arches. The two chosen firms collaborated as "Associated Architects." It was a stormy partnership, but the final design combined the best ideas of both.
A delight for the eye:
One of the splendors of Grand Central is that its vast, majestic spaces reveal extraordinary attention to the smallest design detail. The architects brought in Parisian artist Sylvain Salieres to craft bronze and stone carvings, including ornamental inscriptions, decorative flourishes, and sculpted oak leaves and acorns (symbols of the Vanderbilt family.) Playful carved acorns festoon the Main Waiting Room's chandeliers. The architects specified Tennessee marble for the floors, Botticino marble for wall trim, and imitation Caen stone for the walls. The Oyster Bar's vaulted ceilings are adorned with a herringbone pattern of Guastavino tiles - like those at City Hall station and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. On the exterior imposing sculptures of Mercury, Hercules, and Minerva top the 42nd Street facade.
Entrepreneurs have always sold real estate. But the New York Central pioneered the idea of selling "unreal" estate, the empty space above its property. William Wilgus, the railroad's chief engineer, realized that burying the train tracks underground created an unprecedented opportunity. The area over the tracks could be leased to developers - the first-ever reference to "air rights." This innovation helped pay for Grand Central and had a profound impact on the neighborhood, creating new building lots in the midst of a crowded business district. It also meant that instead of being circled by a bleak buffer of rail yards, as were most urban stations, Grand Central would be surrounded by expensive offices, hotels, restaurants, shops, and fashionable homes - all with convenient access to transportation.
The idea for the new Grand Central Terminal came to William J. Wilgus "in a flash of light," he recalled decades later. "It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me," he said.
A fatal 1902 crash, in which the morning local from White Plains had slammed into the rear car of a Danbury, Conn. train stopped on the tracks of the Park Avenue Tunnel, killing 15 passengers instantaneously, had convinced Wilgus that it was no longer possible to run a chaotic railroad yard two avenue blocks wide in what was becoming the very heart of the nation's largest city.
In a three-page letter to W. H. Newman, the railroad's president, dated Dec. 22, 1902, the 37-year-old Wilgus recommended an audacious and extravagant remedy: Raze the existing Grand Central and replace the egregious steam locomotives with electric trains.
The technological advantages were clear-cut:
- Electricity required less maintenance.
- Unlike steam or, later, diesel locomotives, electric trains did not need the fuel or machinery to generate power on board.
- Electricity let trains accelerate more quickly, a decided amenity for short-haul commuter service.
- Electric motors produced fewer noxious fumes and no obfuscating smoke or steam.
- Moreover, as Wilgus explained, electricity "dispenses with the need of old-style train sheds," because it made subterranean tracks feasible.
Absent the smothering smoke, soot and cinders, the depot could be expanded on the same footprint by delivering trains to platforms on two levels, the lower for suburban commuters and the upper for long-distance trains. For the first time, the entire rail yard all the way to 56th Street, to where the maze of rails that delivered passengers to the platforms coalesced into four main-line tracks, could be decked over. The "veritable ‘Chinese Wall' " that bisected the city for 14 blocks could be eliminated. The air above the yards could be magically transformed into valuable real estate in the heart of Manhattan.
For starters, Wilgus envisioned a 12-story, 2.3-million-square-foot building above the terminal that could generate rents. The terminal, he explained later, "could be transformed from a nonproductive agency of transportation to a self-contained producer of revenue — a gold mine, so to speak."
Wilgus was asking the railroad's directors to accept a great deal on faith. His projected price tag for all the improvements nearly equaled half the railroad's revenue for a full year. Moreover, the railroad made most of its money hauling freight, not people. Why invest so much in a project that benefited only passengers? But the chief engineer was persuasive. By Jan. 10, 1903, the Central's board of directors had embraced the project and promoted him.
Six months later, on June 30, 1903, the board - whose directors included the Commodore's grandsons Cornelius II and William K. Vanderbilt, as well as William Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan — in a daring validation of the chief engineer's vision, formally empowered Wilgus to proceed with his bold agenda for a regal terminal that would be a gateway to the continent.
Even before the first spadeful of earth was turned, before the first boulder of Manhattan schist was blasted, a forest of exclamation points began sprouting with what was dubbed the city's largest individual demolition contract ever. On 17 acres bought by the railroad, 120 houses, three churches, two hospitals and an orphan asylum would have to be obliterated, as would the stables, warehouses and other ancillary structures.
In 1906, nearly two years before a state-imposed ban on the use of steam-powered locomotives from 42nd Street all the way to the Harlem River, the Central began operating electric cars from the existing Grand Central Station.
After electrification, Wilgus's second challenge was how to build a terminal without inconveniencing the passengers on the railroad's hundreds of daily long-haul and commuter trains. To meet the challenge, the railroad temporarily relocated some of the station's functions to the nearby Grand Central Palace Hotel.
Wilgus devised an ingenious construction strategy. The arduous process of demolishing existing structures, excavating rock and dirt 90 feet deep for the bi-level platforms and utilities, razing the mammoth train shed and building the new terminal would proceed in longitudinal "bites," as he called them - troughs bored through the middle of Manhattan, one section at a time and proceeding from east to west. Construction would take fully 10 years, and by the time it was barely halfway finished, Wilgus would be gone and his guess as to the cost of the project would have doubled.
As construction on the terminal progressed, the New York Central was keeping one very wary eye on what was happening just across town. Its archrival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, was challenging the Central's monopoly by finally providing direct service to Manhattan. The Central and the Pennsy were like Coke and Pepsi, perennial rivals for routes, passengers, and market share. In the 19th century, the Pennsylvania was an also-ran in New York City. Because it had no Midtown station, passengers had to be transported between Exchange Place in Jersey City and Manhattan by boat.
Building a bridge across the river would have required a joint project with other New Jersey railroads, but none were game. Electrification, though, would make a Hudson River tunnel feasible.
Once the design was agreed upon, building Grand Central was a gargantuan undertaking. Wheezing steam shovels excavated nearly 3.2 million cubic yards of earth and rock to an average depth of 45 feet to accommodate the subterranean train yards, bi-level platforms and utilities — some as deep as 10 stories. The daily detritus, coupled with debris from the demolition of the old station, amounted to 1,000 cubic yards and filled nearly 300 railway dump cars. The lower tracks were 40 feet below street level and sprouted "a submerged forest" of steel girders. Construction required 118,597 tons of steel to create the superstructure and 33 miles of track. At peak periods, 10,000 workers were assigned to the site and work progressed around the clock. Beneath the 770-foot-wide valley he created in Midtown Manhattan, Wilgus dug a six-foot-diameter drainage sewer about 65 feet deep that ran half a mile to the East River.
The first electric locomotive barreled through the Park Avenue Tunnel from Highbridge in the Bronx on Sept. 30, 1906. Thirty-five 2,200-horsepower electric locomotives could accelerate to 40 miles per hour; multiple-unit suburban trains could hit 52 m.p.h. The Vanderbilts and the New York Central were immensely proud of their all-electric terminal and their mostly electric railroad. The maze of tracks and trains was commanded from a four-story switch-and-signal tower south of 50th Street. On one floor was a machine with 400 levers, the largest ever constructed, to sort out the suburban trains. On the floor above, another machine with 362 levers controlled the express tracks. A worker was assigned to each battery of 40 levers, and tiny bulbs on a facsimile of the train yard would automatically be extinguished as a train passed a switch and illuminated again when it reached the next switch.
On June 5, 1910, the Owl, as the midnight train was known, left Grand Central Station for Boston. It was the last to depart from the old station. Demolition began immediately.
89 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017