MID031-GrandCentral.jpg (63066 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Midtown

Grand Central Terminal Top 25 NY Buildings


Reed & Stem, Warren & Wetmore 


42nd Street and 3rd Ave.






stone facade


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  cleaning the facade..
  the previous Grand Central (The original Victorian station by I. C. Buckhout opened in 1871 and has a large train shed behind it. The station was demolished in 1901 for the present Beaux-Arts Building.) 
  Renderings copyright Simon Fieldhouse. Click here for a Simon Fieldhouse gallery.
  the rear of the terminal is an Art Deco office building. 
  Images- New York Public Library


Grand Central Terminal was built to house Cornelius Vanderbilt's railroad network, consolidated in the late 19th century as New York Central. It replaced John B. Snook and Isaac Buckout's Second Empire style 42nd Street Terminal, an iron and glass train shed built between 1869 and 71 (which had supplanted New York's first Madison Square train shed and terminal at Madison Square). A massive track fire caused by the collision of two trains in 1902 prompted the decision to electrify the train lines. The smoky, sooty train tracks running down the center of Fourth Avenue were covered, creating what we know today as Park Avenue North. By the 1920s, the avenue was transformed from a eyesore lined with tenements and factories into a boulevard of luxury apartment buildings. By the 1950s, lower Park Avenue North had become one of the most sought-after commercial districts in the city.

Founded to oversee the station's replaning, the Grand Central Corporation envisioned the project as "Terminal City"-- a multi-lot development linking the new station with hotels, apartments, and office buildings running along 42nd Street and up Park Avenue. This plan, often described as a "city within a city" can be understood as the precursor to ideas explored later at Rockefeller Center.

The 1903 competition brief also called for linking the station with the new subway system [1904]. For the station itself, the brief specified distinct departure areas for commuter and long distance trains, a main circulation concourse, a subsidiary ticketing space and waiting rooms. Furthermore, it required that Park Avenue traffic should circulate around the station.

Ultimately, this brief reflected a new and innovative appreciation of the urban character and the changing needs of a booming metropolis. Reed & Stem--a firm with strong engineering capabilities--won out over architects like McKim Mead & White and Daniel Burnham for the commission. They were ultimately responsible for functional aspects of the design. To their consternation, the Vanderbilts added the firm of their Beaux Arts-trained cousin, Whitney Warren, to the team. Warren & Wetmore were responsible for the aesthetics of the station.

Reed & Stem's station was conceived first as a system of efficient circulation between the city's streets, trains, subways, the 'El' and adjacent buildings. A viaduct encircling the station [1919-29] links Park Avenue North and South. Suburban and long haul trains are isolated on two separate levels of tracks. Multi-level circulation ramps replace stairs, facilitating pedestrian traffic through the station. The building is replete with amenities for the traveler--commercial establishments, a police station, changing rooms, private offices and apartments. The station still functions well, despite subsequent rearrangements and a dramatic increase in traffic.

Modeled on Roman imperial baths, Warren & Wetmore's Beaux Arts architectural design is, in effect, a surface dressing for this masterful circulation plan. The monumental main concourse [1903-13] is capped by a vaulted plaster ceiling suspended from a steel substructure. Thermal windows bring light into the concourse and serve as hallways linking to office spaces at the concourse's four corners. Guastavino vaults grace portions of the broad, shallow lower level. Acorns and oak leaves--both symbols of the Vanderbilt family--adorn the interior.

Outside, the limestone-clad station's southern facade has the grand scale of the interior. Modeled on a Roman triumphal arch, the facade symbolizes the triumph of the railroad. It was also envisioned as a gateway to the city, then located primarily to the station's south. Jules Coutan's central sculptural group depicts Mercury (the god of commerce) supported by Minerva and Hercules (representing mental and moral strength). After the original Pennsylvania Station was demolished in 1963, Grand Central Terminal was landmarked. This innovative complex, integrating the train system with an intricate web of urban conditions, will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations.

  There have been many plans to erect an office tower over Grand Central Terminal in New York: Reed & Stem designed an office tower as part of the original plan, left, and I. M. Pei created the spectacular design at right for the same site in 1956.
Grand Central Terminal (GCT, often inaccurately called Grand Central Station) is a Terminal station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Built by and named for the New York Central Railroad in the heyday of American long-distance passenger trains, it is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms:[3] 44, with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower.

It serves commuters traveling on the Metro-North Railroad to Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties in New York State, and Fairfield and New Haven counties in Connecticut.

Although it has been properly called "Grand Central Terminal" since 1913, many people continue to refer to it as "Grand Central Station". Technically, that is the name of the nearby post office, as well as the name of a previous rail station on the site.

Besides train platforms, Grand Central contains restaurants (the most famous of which is the Oyster Bar) and fast food outlets (surrounding the Dining Concourse on the level below the Main Concourse), delis, bakeries, newsstands, a gourmet and fresh food market, an annex of the New York Transit Museum and more than forty retail stores.

A "secret" sub-basement known as M42 lies under the Terminal, containing the AC to DC converters used to supply DC traction current to the Terminal. The exact location of M42 remains a closely guarded secret and cannot be found on maps though it has been shown on television. The original rotary converters were not removed in the late 20th century when solid state ones took over their job, and they remain for the purpose of historical record.

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 large American flag was hung in Grand Central Terminal a few days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The unusual ceiling of the Main Concourse is described below. 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. Each of the four clock faces are made from opal, and both Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated the value to be between US$10 million and US$20 million. Within the marble and brass pagoda lies a "secret" door that conceals a spiral staircase leading to the lower level information booth.

Group of statues and clock on the facade.Outside the station, the clock in front of the Grand Central facade facing 42nd Street contains the world's largest example of Tiffany glass and is surrounded by sculptures carved by the John Donnelly Company of Minerva, Hermes and Mercury. For the terminal building French sculptor Jules-Felix 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 (14.6 meters) high, the clock in the center having a circumference of 13 feet (4 meters).

Grand Central Terminal, along 42nd Street, next to the Grand Hyatt New York and the Chrysler Building.The upper level tracks are reached from the Main Concourse or from various hallways and passages branching off from it.

In fall 1998, a 12-year restoration of Grand Central revealed the original luster of the Main Concourse's elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. The original ceiling, painted in 1912 by French artist Paul César Helleu, was eventually replaced in the late 1930s to correct falling plaster of the original ceiling. This new ceiling had been obscured by decades of what people thought was coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic examination revealed that it was actually tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains above Michael Jordan's Steak House, left untouched by renovators to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.

There are two peculiarities to this ceiling: the sky is backwards, and the stars are slightly displaced. One explanation is that the ceiling is based on a medieval manuscript, which visualized the sky as it would look from outside the celestial sphere: this is why the constellations are backwards. Since the celestial sphere is an abstraction (stars are not all at equal distances from Earth), this view does not correspond to the actual view from anywhere in the universe. The reason for the displacement of the stars is that the manuscript showed a (reflected) view of the sky in the Middle Ages, and since then the stars have shifted due to precession of the equinoxes. Most people, however, simply think that Helleu reversed the image by accident. When they learned that the ceiling was painted backwards, the Vanderbilt family tried to explain that the ceiling reflected God's view of the sky.[citation needed]

The Redstone missile making a guest appearance.There is a small dark circle in the midst of the stars right above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Grand Central's Main Concourse played host to an American Redstone missile. With no other way of erecting the missile, the hole had to be cut in order to lift it into place. Historical Preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.

Ramp to Lower Concourse. - area under archway has remarkable acoustical properties.
The Oyster Bar, Grand Central's oldest business.
Lower Concourse.
Lower Concourse - Food Court.
Dining Concourse and lower level tracks
The Dining Concourse is below the Main Concourse. It contains many fast food outlets and restaurants, including the world-famous Oyster Bar with its Guastavino tile vaults, surrounding central seating and lounge areas and provides access to the lower level tracks. The two levels are connected by numerous stairs, ramps, and escalators.

Vanderbilt Hall and Campbell Apartment
Vanderbilt Hall, named for the Vanderbilt family who built and owned the station, is just off the Main Concourse. Formerly the main waiting room for the terminal, it is now used and rented out for various events. The Campbell Apartment is an elegantly restored cocktail lounge, located just south of the 43rd Street/Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, that attracts a mix of commuters and tourists. It was not only at one time the office of 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell, but also for a time his home, and is designed to replicate the galleried hall of a 13th-century Florentine palace. [4]

Omega Board
The Omega Board was an electromechanical display used to display the times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains. It contained rows of flip panels to display train information. It became a New York institution, as its many displays would flap simultaneously to reflect changes in train schedules, an indicator of just how busy Grand Central was. A small example of this type now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art as an example of outstanding industrial design.

It was replaced with an LED display during renovation in the 1990s.

Subway station
The subway platforms at Grand Central are reached from the Main Concourse. Built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) rather than the New York Central Railroad, the subway areas of the station lack the majesty that is present throughout most of the rest of Grand Central, although they are in similar condition to its track levels. The shuttle platforms were originally an express stop on the original IRT subway, opened in 1904. Once the IRT Lexington Avenue Line was extended uptown in 1918, the original tracks were converted to shuttle use. One track remains connected to the downtown Lexington Avenue local track but is not in revenue service. A fire in the 1960s destroyed much of the shuttle 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, opened on August 18, 1999, provides access to Grand Central from 47th Street and 48th Street. It is connected to the Main Concourse through two long hallways, the Northwest Passage (1,000 feet long) and Northeast Passage (1,200 feet long), which run parallel to the tracks on the upper level.[5] Entrances are at the northeast corner of East 47th Street and Madison Avenue (Northwest Passage), northeast corner of East 48th Street and Park Avenue (Northeast Passage) and on the east and west sides of 230 Park Avenue (Helmsley Building). The 47th Street passage provides access to the upper level tracks and the 45th Street passage provides access to the lower level tracks. Elevator access is available to the 47th Street (upper level) passage from street level on the north side of E. 47th Street, between Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues. (Note there is NO elevator access to the actual train platforms from Grand Central North, handicapped access is provided through the main terminal)

Ellen Driscoll, an artist from Brooklyn, designed the mosaics in Grand Central North.[5]

The entrances to Grand Central North were originally open from 6:30 AM to 9:30 PM Monday through Friday and 9 AM to 9:30 PM on Saturday and Sunday. As of summer 2006, Grand Central North was closed on weekends, with the MTA citing low usage and the need to save money by the shutdown [1]. Prior to the closing, about 6,000 people used Grand Central North on a typical weekend [2], and about 30,000 on weekdays.

Ideas for a northern entrance to Grand Central were floated around since at least the 1970s. Construction on Grand Central North lasted from 1994 to 1999 and cost $75 million.[5]

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.

Covering Park Avenue
In order to accommodate ever-growing rail traffic into the restricted Midtown area, William J. Wilgus, chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad took advantage of the recent electrification technology to propose a novel scheme: a bi-level station below ground.

Lower level (suburban) layoutArriving trains would go underground under Park Avenue, and proceed to an upper-level incoming station if they were mainline trains, or to a lower-level platform if they were suburban trains. In addition, turning loops within the station itself obviated complicated switching moves to bring back the trains to the coach yards for servicing. Departing mainline trains reversed into upper-level platforms in the conventional way.

Burying electric trains underground brought an additional advantage to the railroads: the ability to sell above-ground air rights over the tracks and platforms for real-estate development. With time, all the area around Grand Central saw prestigious apartment and office buildings being erected, which turned the area into the most desirable commercial office district of Manhattan.

The terminal also did away with bifurcating Park Avenue by introducing a "circumferential elevated driveway" that allowed Park Avenue traffic to traverse around the building and over 42nd Street without encumbering nearby streets. The building was also designed to be able to eventually reconnect both segments of 43rd Street by going through the concourse if the City of New York demanded it.

Terminal City

View of Grand Central around 1918.The construction of Grand Central created a mini-city within New York, including the Commodore Hotel and various office buildings. It spurred construction throughout the neighborhood in the 1920s including the Chrysler Building.

In 1928, the New York Central built its headquarters in a 34-story building (now called the Helmsley Building) straddling Park Avenue on the north side of the Terminal.

From 1939 to 1964 CBS television occupied a large portion of the terminal building, particularly above the main waiting room. The space was used for four studios (41-44), network master control, film projection and recording, and facilities for local station WCBS-TV. In 1958, the first major videotape operations facility in the world opened in a former rehearsal room on the seventh floor of the main terminal building. The facility used fourteen Ampex VR-1000 videotape recorders. The CBS Evening News began its broadcasts there with Douglas Edwards. Many of the historic events during this period, such as John Glenn's Mercury Atlas 6 space mission, were broadcast from this location. Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" originated from Grand Central, including his famous broadcasts on Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Murrow broadcasts were recreated in George Clooney's movie "Good Night, and Good Luck". The movie took a number of liberties, in that it was implied that the offices of CBS News and CBS corporate offices were located in the same building as the studios. (The news offices were located first in the GCT office building, north of the main terminal, and later in the nearby Graybar Building. Corporate offices at the time were at 485 Madison Avenue.) The long-running panel show "What's My Line" was first broadcast from the GCT studios. The former studio space is now in use as tennis courts, which are operated by Donald Trump.

Proposals for demolition and towers
In 1947, over 65 million people, the equivalent of 40% of the population of the United States, traveled through Grand Central. However railroads soon fell into a major decline with competition from automobiles and intercity plane traffic.

In 1954 William Zeckendorf proposed replacing Grand Central with an 80-story, 4.8-million square foot tower, 500 feet taller than the Empire State Building. I. M. Pei created a pinched-cylinder design that took the form of a glass cylinder with a wasp waist. The plan was abandoned. In 1955 Erwin S. Wolfson made his first proposal for a tower north of the Terminal replacing the Terminal's six-story office building. A revised Wolfson plan was approved in 1958 and the Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building) was completed in 1963.

Although the Pan Am Building bought time for the terminal, the New York Central Railroad continued its precipitous decline. In 1968, facing bankruptcy, it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was in its own precipitous decline and in 1964 had demolished the ornate Pennsylvania Station (despite pleas to preserve it) to make way for an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.

In 1968 Penn Central unveiled plans for a tower designed by Marcel Breuer even bigger than the Pan Am Building to be built over Grand Central.

The plans drew huge opposition including most prominently Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She said

"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."
New York City filed a suit to stop the construction. The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. The Court saved the terminal, holding that New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a "taking" of Penn Central's property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.

Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970 in what was then the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Title to Grand Central passed to Penn Central's corporate successor, American Premier Underwriters (APU) (which in turn was absorbed by American Financial Group. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) signed a 280-year lease in 1994 and began a massive restoration. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.[6] The New York Post reported in July 2007 that TDR is controlled by Argent Ventures[7]


Grand Central both inside and outside and its neighborhood fell on hard times during the financial collapse of its host railroads as well as the near bankruptcy of New York City itself.

In 1974 Donald Trump bought the Commodore Hotel to the east of the terminal for $10 million and then worked out a deal with Jay Pritzker to transform it into one of the first Grand Hyatt hotels. Trump negotiated various tax breaks and in the process agreed to renovate the exterior of the terminal. The complementary masonry from the Commodore was covered with a mirror-glass "slipcover" façade - the masonry still exists underneath. In the same deal Trump optioned Penn Central's rail yards on the Hudson River between 59th and 72nd Streets that would eventually become Trump Place—the biggest private development in New York City.

The Grand Hyatt opened in 1980 and the neighborhood immediately began a transformation. Trump sold his interest in the hotel for $142 million, establishing him as a big-time player in New York real estate.

Throughout this period the interior of Grand Central was characterized by huge billboard advertisements, with perhaps the most famous being the giant Kodak Colorama photos running along the entire east side and the Westclox "Big Ben" clock over the south concourse.

Amtrak left the station on April 7, 1991, with the completion of the Empire Connection, which allowed trains from Albany, Toronto and Montreal to use Penn Station. Previously, travellers would have to change stations via subway, bus, or cab. Since then, Grand Central has exclusively served Metro-North Railroad.

In 1994, the MTA signed a long term lease on the building and began massive renovations. All the billboards were removed. These renovations were mostly finished in 1998, though some of the minor refits (such as the replacement of electromechanical train information 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. The original baggage room, later converted into retail space and occupied for many years by Chemical Bank, was removed, and replaced with a mirror image of the West Stairs. Although the baggage room had been designed by the original architects, the restoration architects found evidence that a set of stairs mirroring those to the West was originally intended for that space. 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.

The original quarry in Tennessee was located and reopened specifically for the purpose of providing matching stone for not only replacement of damaged stone, but also the new East Staircase. Each piece of new stone was required to carry a marking on it denoting its installation date, and the fact that it was not a part of the original Terminal building.

The exterior is once again being cleaned and restored, starting with the west façade on Vanderbilt Avenue and gradually working counterclockwise. The northern facade, abutting the MetLife 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 façade, restoring the copper roof and the building's cornice, repairing the large windows of the Main Concourse, 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; as of 2006, restoration of the west and south façades has been completed.

July 18 2007 pipe explosion
Explosion, steam eruption near Grand Central Terminal in New York City
On July 18, 2007 a steam pipe explosion came out of the ground outside of Grand Central Terminal, killing one and injuring 44 critically and non-critically. The explosion was caused by a condition known as "water hammer," the result of condensation of water inside a steam pipe.

LIRR's East Side Access Project
The MTA is in the midst of an ambitious project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into the terminal via the East Side Access Project. The project was spurred by a study that showed that more than half of the LIRR riders work closer to Grand Central than Penn Station.[8]

A new bi-level, eight-track tunnel will be excavated under Park Avenue, more than 90 feet below the Metro-North track and more than 140 feet below the surface. Reaching the street from the lowest level, more than 175 feet deep, will take about 10 minutes.[9]

LIRR trains will access Park Avenue via the existing lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel, connecting to its main line running through Sunnyside Yards in Queens. Extensions are being added on both the Manhattan and Queens sides.

Cost estimates jumped from $4.4 billion in 2004 to $6.4 billion in 2006. The MTA has said that some small buildings on the route in Manhattan will be torn down to make way for air vents.[10] Edward Cardinal Egan has criticized the plan, noting concerns about the tracks, which will largely be on the west side of Park Avenue, and their impact on St. Patrick's Cathedral.[11]

The project is scheduled for completion by 2012.

Impact on design of transit centers
The design for Grand Central 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 were later incorporated into the hub airports that were built.

Grand Central Terminal was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.