Grand Central Terminal (1903-1913)
Designated a National Historic Landmark 1976
89 East 42nd Street
New York, New York
The precursor to GCT was built by the great steam-ship and railroad tycoon, Cornelius Vanderbilt. When that station proved insufficient, the Vanderbilt family commissioned the construction of a new, much grander station in the same location at the terminal end of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and Harlem Railroad and the New York and New Haven Railroad. The design of the new terminal was given to two architectural firms, Reed & Stem, who were responsible for the overall design, and Warren & Westmore, who were responsible for the style of the building. What resulted was not only aesthetically impressive but also innovative. Park Avenue was made to bifurcate around the terminal to allow for pick-ups and drop-offs, a design feature later imitated at airports. The tracks leading into the terminal and the platforms themselves were buried, giving the owners of the railroads valuable real estate to sell off or lease. Ramps rather than stairs were installed to connect to the platforms to make handling luggage easier.
The painted cieling of the main concourse was designed to represent God's viewpoint of the sky (the constellations are inverted). Years of tar and nicotine staining, however, concealed the grand design until a recent restoration brought the cieling back to its former glory. If you look up towards Pisces you can see a dark circle. This is where a hole was cut to allow a Redstone missile to be lowered down into the concourse during the height of the Cold War. Current preservation conventions dictate that the circle be left to demonstrate the history of the cieling.
Grand Central is notable not just for its design and place in the history of railroad transportation in the United States (in 1947 the equivalent of 40% of the American population passed through the terminal), but also for its role in the preservation movement. The collapse of rail travel led to severe financial problems for the railroad company that owned the terminal. In 1968, the company merged with Pennsylvania Railroad, the same corporation that tore down Penn Station to make way for Madison Square Garden. They attempted to mostly demolish Grand Central but were prevented by the recent designation of the terminal as a New York City landmark. The battle over the legal issues went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1978 and resulted in a victory for the city. It was the first preservation case to go before the Supreme Court.
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