Grand Central Terminal

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Grand Central-42nd Street is the New York City Subway station next to and below the terminal.
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The clock in the Main Concourse
2004 Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Grand Central Terminal (often still called Grand Central Station, although technically that is the name of the nearby post office and New York City Subway station on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line) is a train station at 15 Vanderbilt Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, New York, a borough of New York City, located at 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Presently it serves commuters commuting on the Metro North Railroad to Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties in New York, and Fairfield and New Haven counties in Connecticut. It is also a major station on the New York City Subway; see Grand Central-42nd Street.

Built by the New York Central Railroad (for whom it was named) in an era of many long-distance passenger trains, it is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms: 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are situated on two underground levels with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower.

Contents

Layout

Besides train platforms, Grand Central contains restaurants (the most famous of which is the Oyster Bar), fast food outlets, delis, newsstands, a food market, and over forty retail stores.

Main Concourse

The Main Concourse is the center of Grand Central. The space is cavernous and usually filled with bustling crowds. The ticket booths are here, although many now stand unused or repurposed since the introduction of ticket vending machines.

The main information booth is in the center of the Concourse. This is a perennial meeting place, and the four-faced clock on top of the information booth is perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central Terminal.

The upper level tracks are reached from the Grand Concourse or from various hallways and passages branching off from it.

Dining Concourse

The Dining Concourse is below the Main Concourse. They are connected by numerous stairs, ramps, and escalators.

The Dining Concourse is the home to most of the fast food operations of Grand Central.

The lower level tracks are all accessed from the Dining Concourse.

Vanderbilt Hall

Vanderbilt Hall, named for the Vanderbilt family who built and owned the station, is located just off the Main Concourse. It is used and rented out for various events.

Omega Board

The Omega Board was an electromechanical display mounted in Grand Central Terminal used to display the times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains. Shaped like a large black block with rows of flip panels to display train information on the front, the Board was visually incongrueous with the rest of the terminal - its boxy shape stood out like a sore thumb against the classical design of the Terminal.

The Omega Board was replaced with a more aesthetically fitting electronic display during renovation of Grand Central Station in the 1990s.

Subway Station

Main article: Grand Central-42nd Street (New York City Subway station)

The subway platforms at Grand Central are reached from the Main Concourse. The subway areas of the station lack the majesty that is present throughout most of the rest of Grand Central. The Grand Central shuttle platforms were originally the Grand Central express stop on the original Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) line, opened in 1904. Once the east side IRT was extended uptown in 1918, the original tracks were converted to shuttle use. Only the #1 track is still connected to the main line on the east side. A fire in the 1960s destroyed much of the station, which has been rebuilt. The only sign of the fire damage is truncated steel beams visible above the platforms.

Grand Central North

Grand Central North is a relatively recent addition that provides access to Grand Central from 47th and 48th streets. It is connected to the Main Concourse through two long hallways, known as the Northwest and Northeast passages, which run parallel to the tracks.

History

Three buildings serving essentially the same function have stood on this site. The original large and imposing scale was intended by the New York Central Railroad to enhance competition and compare favorably in the public eye with the arch-rival Pennsylvania Railroad and smaller lines.

Grand Central Depot

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The exterior of Grand Central Depot c. 1904.
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The interior of Grand Central Depot c. 1904.

Grand Central Depot was designed to bring the trains of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York and New Haven Railroad together in one large station. The station opened in October 1871, but the exact dates are not clear. The original plan was for the Harlem Railroad to start using it on October 9, 1871 (moving from their 27th Street depot), the New Haven Railroad on October 16, and the Hudson River Railroad on October 23, with the staggering done to minimize confusion. However the Hudson River Railroad didn't move to it until November 1, which puts the other two dates in doubt. The headhouse building containing passenger service areas and railroad offices was an "L" shape with a short leg running east-west on 42nd Street and a long leg running north-south on Vanderbilt Avenue. The train shed, north and east of the headhouse, had two innovations in U.S. practice: the platforms were elevated to the height of the cars and the roof was a balloon shed with a clear span over all of the tracks.

Grand Central Station

Between 1899 and 1900, the headhouse was essentially demolished (it was expanded from 3 to 6 stories and an entirely new facade put on it) but the train shed was kept. The tracks that had previously continued south of 42nd Street were removed and the train yard reconfigured in an effort to reduce congestion and turn-around time for trains. The reconstructed building was renamed Grand Central Station.

Grand Central Terminal

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The 42nd Street entrance to Grand Central Terminal

Between 1903 and 1913, the entire building was torn down in phases and replaced by the current Grand Central Terminal which was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by architects Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stern. 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 tidy sum.

For the Terminal Building French sculptor Jules-Alexis Coutan created what was at the time of its unveiling, 1914, considered to be the largest sculptural group in the world. It was 48 feet high, the clock in the center having a circumference of 13 feet. It depicted Mercury flanked by Hercules and Minerva and was carved by the John Donnelly Company.

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GrandCentralTerminal1907.jpg
View in the excavation for the new Grand Central Station, Sept. 1907.

During the 1960s, after the construction of the Pan Am Building, there were three sets of plans to construct a highrise to take advantage of the air rights over Grand Central. One set was prepared by I.M. Pei and took the form of a glass cylinder with a wasp waist. The other two sets were prepared by Marcel Breuer.

The Pei design was intriguing; the Breuer designs were far clumsier examples of blank-faced repetitive modernism, completely insensitive to Grand Central's heritage. The project caused a brouhaha in the New York press, damaged Breuer's reputation, and along with public feeling about the recent well-documented destruction of nearby Penn Station, triggered widespread opposition and a landmark lawsuit. The resulting case was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a dedicated supporter of the terminal, wrote, "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."

The plans were ultimately scrapped. The Court saved the terminal, basing its decision on the notion that only if a change to a historic structure prevented said structure's owner from bankruptcy could such such an alteration be made.

During the 1990s, the station was extensively renovated. These renovations were mostly finished in 1998, though some of the minor refits (such as the replacement of eletromechanical train info displays by the entry of each track with electronic displays) were not completed until 2000. The most striking effect was the restoration of the Main Concourse ceiling, revealing the painted skyscape and constellations that had been hidden beneath soot and grime. Other modifications included a complete overhaul of the Terminal's superstructure and the replacement of the electromechanical Omega Board train arrival/departure display with a purely electronic display that was designed to fit into the architecture of the Terminal aesthetically.

There are proposals to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into the terminal to help relieve overcrowding in Penn Station.

Currently, the exterior of the terminal is being cleaned and restored, starting with the west facade on Vanderbilt Avenue and gradually working counterclockwise. The northern facade, abutting the Pan Am Building, will be left as is. The project involves cleaning the facade, rooftop light courts and statues; filling in cracks, repointing the stones on the facade, restoring the copper roof and the building's cornice, repairing the large windows of the Main Councourse, and removing the remaining blackout paint that was applied to the windows during World War II. The result will be a cleaner, more attractive and structurally sound exterior, and the windows will allow much more light into the Main Concourse. The work should be finished in 2007.

Impact on design of transit centers

The design for Grand Central Terminal was an innovation in the way transit hubs were designed, and continues to influence designers to this day. One new concept was the use of ramps (as opposed to staircases) for conducting the flow of traffic through the facility (as well as aiding with the transport of luggage to and from the trains.) Another was the wrapping of Park Avenue around the Terminal above the street, creating a second level for the picking up and dropping off of passengers. As airline travel superseded the railroads in the latter half of the 20th century, the design innovations of Grand Central Terminal were later incorporated into the hub airports that were built.

See also

External links

References

  • Local News in Brief, New York Times September 29, 1871 page 8
  • The Grand Central Railroad Depot, Harlem Railroad, New York Times October 1, 1871 page 6
  • Local News in Brief, New York Times November 1, 1871 page 8
  • Federal Writer's Project, New York City Guide, Random House Publishers, New York 1939
  • Fried, Frederick & Edmund V. Gillon, Jr., New York Civic Sculpture. Dover Publications, New York, 1973
  • Reed, Henry Hope, Edmund V. Gillon, JR., Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York: A Photographic Guide, Dover Publications, New York 1988
  • Stern, Gilmartin & Massengale, New York 1900, Rizzoli International Publications, New York 1983de:Grand Central Terminal

fr:Grand Central Terminal

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