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Monday, February 25, 2013

Happy (belated) Birthday, Grand Central!

 
Grand Central Terminal, one of the world's most beautiful train depots and surely one of New York City's proudest architectural achievements, is celebrating it's 100-year anniversary. As tempting as it was to present an abridged version of my design school paper on this magnificent Beaux-Arts masterpiece, I chose instead to spare myself...and you.  Due to the centennial celebration, there is currently a wealth of literature and information out there and one more post about it may seem a tad redundant.
 
OK, I plead some redundancy, but I promise not to be boring. I offer some lesser known anecdotes about Grand Central, hence the post's subtitiling: "Did You Know..."
 
Fit For Emperors:                                   
  • The layout of the station and many architectural elements--including it's abundance of columns, archways and vaulted ceilings--were modeled after the elaborate baths of Imperial ancient Rome.

Floor plan and reconstructive rendering of the Caracalla Roman Bath.
                                            









Grand Entrance:
  • Two pink marble grand staircases modeled after those in the Paris Opera House were designed for the station's main concourse, but only one staircase was originally built.  As we know, a second staircase has since been installed. Who can guess which one is the original?
 Area 61:
  • Beneath Grand Central rests a hidden platform containing the infamous unlisted "track 61". Once directly linked by private elevator to the Waldorf Astoria's garage, it was made available to the likes of FDR and other illustrious VIPs of the era. It has long since been sealed shut, but still houses the original presidential train car and elevator constructed to accommodate FDR's armored Pierce Arrow--for secret trips between the hotel and his home in Hyde Park, NY.  So why can't the train car be transferred to the surface for viewing by the public?  Because it weighs too damn much--to the tune of 142 tons! Apparently a glimpse of the abandoned platform is possible when leaving the lower level of the station. Keep your eyes pealed for it when traveling on the Metro North!
 
Franklin Roosevelt's private train car on track 61. 

 The Four Faces of Seth:
  • Did you know that the faces on the four-sided clock at the information booth are made of opals? Designed by Connecticut's famous Seth Thomas Company, the clock has been estimated by Christies to have a whopping value of $10-$20 million dollars.

 
 
Stairway to haven:
  •  Did you know? within the information booth on the main concourse is a hidden staircase to a room inside the lower booth on the dining concourse level. It was designed as a break room for the station's booth employees. No doubt a day's full of stupid questions can take a toll on your sanity!
 
 Luxury Rental:
  • Though not exactly a secret these days, once in awhile I like to get a drink at the slightly "hidden" and off the beaten-path, Campbell Apartment. Located on the balcony level on Vanderbilt Avenue's side, it was first leased by John Campbell in 1923 from William Vanderbilt (whose family built Grand Central). The interior was remodeled by Campbell to evoke 13th-century Florentine palazzos. It is a sight to behold with it's massive leaded windows, baronial fireplace, painted wooden ceiling beams and other Neo-Gothic design elements.  From rush hour on up, and at week's end, it is quite crowded and can be a bit of a struggle to get a drink at the bar. There is actually a waiting list to sit down for drinks in the main living room which has been tastefully refurnished in Art Deco style. Not surprisingly, the bar is pricey, but the opportunity to enjoy the opulent splendor of America's robber barons, is a real treat.
The Campbell Room in Grand Central Terminal.
  
Saint Jackie:
 
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

  • Jackie Kennedy Onassis was a key figure in the fight against the proposed demolition of Grand Central in the mid-1970's.  It was slated to be replaced by yet another banal steel and glass building typical of the era of anti-adornment. After New York's Penn Station had met a similar horrific fate in 1963-1966, Jackie went to bat in 1975 and together with a host of New York's glitterati, formed a preservation committee in order to save the threatened Beaux-Arts structure.  A long hard battle was fought which eventually found it's way to the supreme court. Victory was won in 1978. Brava, Jackie!
 
Here is an excerpt from her letter to then mayor, Abe Beame:
 
"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?"

 Jackie with Bess Myerson and Ed Koch on the right.  Can anyone identify the gentleman with the groovy glasses to the left?


Grand Central Terminal during wartime.  This surely solves the query about the second staircase.

        Grand Central almost empty at 6am, Saturday morning, after work on an overnight shoot in Manhattan.

*Edited by Jennifer Vandemeer.