Grand Central Terminal in New York City
Grand Central Terminal (GCT)—often incorrectly called Grand Central Station, or shortened to simply Grand Central—is a terminal station at 42nd Street and Park Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States. 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: 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, though the total number of tracks along platforms and in rail yards exceeds 100. When the Long Island Rail Road's new station opens in 2016 (see East Side Access), Grand Central will offer a total of 75 tracks and 48 platforms. The terminal covers an area of 48 acre.
The terminal 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. The terminal used to be served by Amtrak, but in 1991 their trains moved to nearby Pennsylvania Station as a result of the completion of the Empire Connection.
Although the terminal has been properly called "Grand Central Terminal" since 1913, many people continue to refer to it as "Grand Central Station." "Grand Central Station" is the name of the nearby post office, as well as the name of a previous rail station on the site, and it is also used to refer to a New York City subway station at the same location.
The tracks are numbered according to their location in the terminal building rather than the trains' destinations, because all of the trains terminate at Grand Central. 31 upper level tracks are in revenue service, numbered 11 to 42 east to west. Tracks 22 and 31 were removed in the late 1990s to build concourses for Grand Central North, track 12 was removed to expand the platform between tracks 11 and 13, and track 14 is only used for loading a garbage train. The lower level has 26 tracks, numbered 100 to 126, east to west, though only tracks 102–112, and 114–116 are currently used for passenger service. This makes it easy for passengers to quickly locate where their train is departing from, and this eliminates much of the confusion in attempting to locate specific trains in an immense terminal. Often, local and off-peak trains depart from the lower level while express, super-express, and peak trains depart from the main concourse. Odd numbered tracks are usually on the east side (right side facing north) of the platform; even numbered tracks on the west.
The public timetables for April 3, 2011 show 286 weekday departures: 74 Hudson, 101 Harlem and 111 New Haven Line.
Besides platforms, Grand Central has restaurants, such as the Oyster Bar and various fast food outlets surrounding the Dining Concourse on the level below the Main Concourse, as well as delis, bakeries, newsstands, a gourmet and fresh food market, an annex of the New York Transit Museum, and more than forty retail stores. Grand Central generally contains only private outlets and small franchises. There are no chain outlets in the complex, except for a Starbucks coffee shop and a Rite Aid pharmacy. Other chain stores anticipated to open in the future include an Apple Store and Shake Shack.
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 is a closely guarded secret and does not appear on maps, though it has been shown on television, most notably, the History Channel program Cities of the Underworld and also a National Geographic special. The original rotary converters were not removed in the late 20th century when solid state ones took over their job, and they remain as a historical record. During World War II, this was one of the most guarded facilities because its sabotage would have greatly impaired troop movement on the Eastern Seaboard. Despite it being a secret, Adolf Hitler was aware of this facility and sent two spies to sabotage it. The spies were arrested by the FBI before they could strike. It is said that any unauthorized person entering the facility during the war risked being shot on sight: the rotary converters used at the time could have easily been crippled by a bucket of sand.
From 1924 through 1944, the attic of the east wing contained a 7000 sqft art school and gallery space called the Grand Central School of Art.
The Main Concourse is the center of Grand Central. The space is cavernous – 275 ft long, 120 ft wide and 125 ft high – and usually filled with bustling crowds. The ticket booths are located in the Concourse, 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 attacks on the World Trade Center. 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 is made from opal, and both Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated the value to be between $10 million and $20 million. Within the marble and brass pagoda lies a "secret" door that conceals a spiral staircase leading to the lower level information booth.
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, Hercules, and Mercury and designed by French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan. At the time of its unveiling (1914) this trio was considered to be the largest sculptural group in the world. It was 48 feet (14.6 m) high, the clock in the center having a circumference of 13 feet (4 m).
The upper level tracks are reached from the Main Concourse or from various hallways and passages branching off from it. On the east side of the Main Concourse is a cluster of food purveyor shops called Grand Central Market.
In autumn 1998, a 12-year restoration of Grand Central revealed the original luster of the Main Concourse's elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling.
The original ceiling, conceived in 1912 by Warren and Paul César Helleu, was eventually replaced in the late 1930s to correct falling plaster.
This new ceiling was obscured by decades of what people thought was coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic examination revealed that it was mostly tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains above the Michael Jordan Steakhouse, 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 constellations are backwards because the ceiling is based on a medieval manuscript that visualized the sky as it would look to God from outside the celestial sphere. According to this explanation, 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 stars are displaced because the manuscript showed a (reflected) view of the sky in the Middle Ages, and since then the stars shifted due to precession of the equinoxes. Most people, however, simply think that the image was reversed by accident. The ceiling was deliberately painted in reverse by the artist Giovanni Smeraldi.
When the Vanderbilt family learned the ceiling was painted backwards, they maintained that the ceiling reflected God's view of the sky.
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 to erect the missile, the hole was cut so the rocket could be lifted 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.
Dining Concourse and lower level tracks
The Dining Concourse is below the Main Concourse. It contains many fast food outlets and restaurants, including the 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 at one time the office of 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell and replicates the galleried hall of a 13th-century Florentine palace.
Solari display board
The original display board was an electromechanical display that displayed times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains. It contained rows of flip panels that displayed 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 of device hangs in the Museum of Modern Art as an example of outstanding industrial design.
The flap-board destination sign was replaced with high resolution mosaic LCDs modules manufactured by Solari Udine of Italy, the maker of the original flap boards for train stations and airports. Similar modules are now also used on the trains, both on the sides to display the destination, and on the interior to display the time, next station, calling points, and other passenger information.
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 the connection is not in revenue service. A fire in the 1960s destroyed much of the shuttle station, which has been rebuilt. The only signs of the fire damage are truncated steel beams visible above the platforms.
Grand Central North
Grand Central North, opened on August 18, 1999, provides access to Grand Central from 45th Street, 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.
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. Prior to the closing, about 6,000 people used Grand Central North on a typical weekend, and about 30,000 on weekdays.
Ideas for a northern entrance to Grand Central were discussed since at least the 1970s. Construction on Grand Central North lasted from 1994 to 1999 and cost $75 million.
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 head house, 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. The Harlem, Hudson and New Haven trains were initially in side by side different stations, which created chaos in baggage transfer. The combined Grand Central Depot serviced all three railroads. The founders had sought a location in Manhattan that was central and easily accessible, and through the support of Alfred Holland Smith, president of the New York Central Railroad, the top of the terminal was made available. A 10-year lease was signed, and the galleries, together with the railroad company, invested more than $100,000 in preparing the space. The architect was William Adams Delano, best known for designing Yale Divinity School's Sterling Quadrangle.
At their opening, the galleries extended over most of the terminal's sixth floor, 15000 sqft, and offered eight main exhibition rooms, a foyer gallery, and a reception area. A total of 20 display rooms were planned for what was intended as "...the largest sales gallery of art in the world."
The Grand Central Art Galleries remained in the terminal until 1958, when they moved to the Biltmore Hotel. When the Biltmore was demolished in 1981 they relocated to 24 West 57th Street. They ceased operations in 1994.
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 government subsidized highways and intercity airline traffic.
In 1954, William Zeckendorf proposed replacing Grand Central with an 80-story, 4800000 sqft tower, 500 ft 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, most prominently from 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."
Six months prior to the unveiling of the Breuer plans, however, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Grand Central a "landmark." Penn Central was unable to secure permission from the Commission to execute either of Breuer's two blueprints and filed suit against the city, alleging a taking. 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, an investment group controlled by Argent Ventures, purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.
On September 11, 1976, a group of Croatian nationalists planted a bomb in a coin locker at Grand Central Terminal, as well as hijacking a plane. After stating their political demands, they revealed the location and provided the instructions for disarming the Grand Central Terminal bomb. The disarming operation was not executed properly and the resulting explosion wounded over 30 and killed one NYPD bomb squad specialist.
- Donald Trump
Grand Central and its neighborhood fell on hard times during the financial collapse of its host railroads and the near bankruptcy of New York City itself.
In 1975, 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 eventually became 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 dominated by huge billboard advertisements, with perhaps the most famous being the giant Kodak Colorama photos that ran 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, travelers had 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 billboards were removed. These renovations were mostly finished in 1998, though some of the minor refits (such as replacement of electromechanical train information displays with electronic displays at track entries) 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 to provide matching stone to replace damaged stone and for the new East Staircase. Each piece of new stone is labeled with its installation date and the fact that it was not a part of the original Terminal building.
Ending in 2007, the exterior was again cleaned and restored, starting with the west facade on Vanderbilt Avenue and gradually working counterclockwise. The project involved cleaning the facade, rooftop light courts, and statues; filling in cracks, repointing stones on the facade, restoring the copper roof and the building's cornice, repairing the large windows of the Main Concourse, and removing the remaining blackout paint applied to the windows during World War II. The result is a cleaner, more attractive, and structurally sound exterior, and the windows allow much more light into the Main Concourse.
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 LIRR riders work closer to Grand Central than Penn Station.
A new bi-level, eight-track tunnel will be excavated under Park Avenue, more than 90 ft below the Metro-North track and more than 140 ft below the surface. Reaching the street from the lowest level, more than 175 ft deep, will take about 10 minutes.
LIRR trains will access Park Avenue via the existing lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel, connecting to its main line running through Sunnyside Yard 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 said that some small buildings on the route in Manhattan will be torn down to make way for air vents. Cardinal Edward Egan 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.
The Grand Central Terminal Park Avenue Viaduct was added to the National Register in 1983.
Grand Central Terminal has been used in numerous film and TV productions over the years. Kyle McCarthy handles production at Grand Central Terminal for MTA Metro-North Railroad. According to McCarthy, "Grand Central is one of the quintessential New York places. Whether filmmakers need an establishing shot of arriving in New York or transportation scenes, the restored landmark building is visually appealing and authentic."
Some films that have been filmed at Grand Central Terminal include:
- The Bone Collector
- Carlito’s Way
- Conspiracy Theory
- The Cotton Club
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Falling in Love
- Friends with Benefits
- The Fisher King
- The Freshman
- Gossip Girl
- The House on Carroll Street
- I Am Legend
- Men In Black
- Men in Black II
- Midnight Run
- North By Northwest
- One Fine Day
- The Perfect Score
- The Prince of Tides
- Revolutionary Road
- Step Up 3
- The Taking of Pelham 123
- Pennsylvania Station
- Transportation in New York City
- Architecture of New York City
- Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City
- Official site
- Upcoming Departures and Track Assignments from MTA
- Grand Central Terminal station listing at Metro-North website
- Inside Grand Central
- New York Architecture Images — Grand Central Terminal
- PBS's American Experience: Grand Central
- 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue entrance from Google Maps Street View
- 42nd Street and Park Avenue entrance from Google Maps Street View
- 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue entrance from Google Maps Street View