Most New York residents have passed through Grand Central on their way to a weekend outing in Connecticut or Westchester. However, many New Yorkers don't know much about Grand Central's fascinating history or its hidden secrets.
Grand Central -- In The BeginningThe first Grand Central Terminal was built in 1871 by shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. However, the original Grand Central soon became obsolete when steam locomotives were banned after a catastrophic train collision in 1902 that killed 17 and injured 38. Within months, plans were underway to demolish the existing station and build a new terminal for electric trains.
The new Grand Central Terminal officially opened on February 2, 1913. More than 150,000 people turned out to celebrate opening day. The beautiful Beaux Arts building with its massive marble staircase, 75-foot windows and star-studded ceiling was an immediate hit.
Glory Days of Grand CentralHotels, office buildings, and skyscrapers soon sprang up around the new terminal -- including the iconic 77-story Chrysler Building. The neighborhood prospered as Grand Central Terminal became the busiest train station in the country.
In 1947, more than 65 million people -- the equivalent of 40% of the U.S. population -- traveled through Grand Central Terminal.
Hard Times at Grand CentralBy the 1950's, the glory days of long-distance rail travel were over. In post-war America, many travelers preferred to drive or fly to their destinations. With the value of prime Manhattan real estate rising and railroad profits falling, the railroad began to talk about demolishing Grand Central Terminal and replacing it with an office building.
New York City's new Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in in 1967 to designate Grand Central Terminal as a landmark protected by law, temporarily squashing the development plans.
Penn Central, the railroad conglomerate that owned Grand Central Terminal did not want to take no for an answer. They proposed building a 55-story tower above Grand Central, which would have meant demolishing parts of the Terminal. The Landmarks Preservation Commission blocked the project, leading Penn Central to file an $8 million lawsuit against the City of New York.
The court battle lasted for almost ten years. Thanks to concerned citizens and city leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the development plans were thwarted (after the lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court).
A New Beginning for Grand Central TerminalIn 1994, Metro-North took over operation of Grand Central Terminal and began extensive renovations. Now restored to its 1913 splendor, Grand Central has become a beloved Manhattan landmark and a busy commuter hub. Grand Central preserves a little of the history and grandeur of old New York in the middle of modern Manhattan.
Grand Central Terminal now houses five restaurants and cocktail lounges, a Dining Concourse, and 50 shops. The historic train station is also the site of art and cultural exhibits and other events throughout the year.
See Grand Central For YourselfYou can learn much more about the history and architecture of Grand Central Terminal by taking the free walking tour sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society. The tour meets every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. in front of the main information kiosk on the Main Concourse. Call (212) 935-3960 for more information.
The Grand Central Partnership also sponsors a free walking tour of Grand Central Terminal and the surrounding neighborhood. This tour meets in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum at Altria on East 42nd Street, across from Grand Central. Call (212) 883-2420 for more information.