New York Central's breathtaking Grand Central Terminal is by far one of New York City's and our country's most famous railroad stations, which is not only still standing but also serving in an active role of hosting commuter trains. The history of the railroad operating a station in downtown Manhattan can be traced well back into the 19th century. However, currently terminal was not completed and opened until after 1910. After decades of regular service, the magnificent structure was in danger of being demolished after the fall of its nearby neighbor, Pennsylvania Station in 1967. Penn Central, the railroad which owned it, hoped to also sell the property and air rights to help its mounting financial problems. However, with the loss of Penn Station an outraged public thwarted these efforts and the building was eventually completely restored in the mid-1990s and reopened to the public in 1998.
Grand Central Terminal, also known as either Grand Central or just GCT, was designed and constructed around the same time of Pennsylvania Station. However, unlike the Pennsylvania Railroad, the New York Central held direct access into Manhattan for years. Before GCT there was Grand Central Station (which GCT sometimes continues to be called even today), situated near the same location as today's GCT. Contrary to Grand Central Terminal, however, which would have over 100 active underground tracks operated by electric locomotives, Grand Central Station was mostly an above ground facility although its demise would come by way of smoke-filled tunnels (due to the use of steam locomotives) within the city limits that caused a number of accidents over the years (the last of which occurred in 1902 that brought about Grand Central Terminal's construction).
After the 1902 accident plans began to be made for a new terminal near the same site as Grand Central Station. In a competition in 1903 where architects submitted designs with the ultimate winners being Reed and Stem, a firm based out of St. Paul, Minnesota and Warren & Wetmore of New York City. Much like Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Terminal took years to complete (ten) and finally opened on February 2nd, 1913. When designed the architects planned far into the future for the station. The building was constructed with few stairs, using instead ramps to help keep the flow of traffic constantly moving, with the few staircases that were constructed being built very wide for the same purpose. Perhaps the building's most interesting design is its employment of an extra, lower-level concourse to separate commuters from long-distance travelers. The foresight would prove to be invaluable (albeit the automobile was beginning to catch on about the time of GCT's opening) as the station would see over 65 million people pass through its halls in 1947.
The station's main concourse is perhaps the most photographed and best recognized area of the station (whose painted ceiling was originally done by distinguished artist Paul Cesar Helleu of France, to resemble the heavens). Situated in the center of this vast open and ornate space is the information booth and sitting atop it undoubtedly the building's most renowned feature, the four-faced clock; its faces made of opal and estimated to be worth between $15 and $20 million!
The concourse is only one part of Grand Central Terminal. Another famous area of the station is the Whispering Gallery where, due to the acoustics in the building, you can talk to another person by merely whispering, even with a rush of bustling people around you. Also located in the station is the GCT's renowned and oldest business, the Oyster Bar. Besides the grandeur of the building's interior, the exterior is just as impressive. Outside the building's facade facing 42nd Street there are intricate sculptures carved by the John Donnelly Company showing the Greek figures of mythology Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury and surrounded by these sculptures is the famous clock. In spite of all of the building's magnificence it was in critical danger of being demolished after Penn Station fell in 1967.
From the 1950s onward GCT was not immune from America's ever-dwindling use of rail. By the time the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad merged in the late 1960s to form the disastrous Penn Central Corporation the building was falling into disrepair. Penn Central, always desperate for whatever funds it could gain, sought numerous times to either destroy or alter Grand Central Terminal but was blocked each and every time by the then recently created Landmarks Preservation Commission, formed after Penn Station's demise. In a heated court battle with PC, the City of New York eventually won when GCT was bestowed the greatest honor a building in this country can ever receive; in December 1976, the National Register of Historic Places named Grand Central Terminal a National Historic Landmark.
The US Supreme Court also upheld the decision two years later. However, it would be another twenty years before the efforts to save the structure truly paid off. In the mid-1990s the building was commissioned to be completely restored and was returned to its former glory being rededicated on October 1st, 1998. Today, GCT hosts thousands of daily commuters, along with being a tourist attraction and shopping venue. Grand Central Terminal is an impressive and awing building, regardless of your interest in trains. So, if you get the chance when in New York, please take a moment and visit this glorious building, you will surely be glad that you did! To learn more about Grand Central Terminal please click here.
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