Grand Central Centennial
A CENTURY OF TRANSPORTING NEW YORK
Grand Central Terminal stands as one of America's greatest transportation hubs and one of New York City's most iconic buildings. It is both a national institution and an international example of giving new life to an historic building that may otherwise have been destroyed. Over the course of a colorful and tumultuous 100-year history, Grand Central has gone from being simply the start and end points of long-distance rail travel, to being the iconic home of Metro-North Railroad and a destination for commuters, tourists and residents that boasts restaurants, cocktail lounges, a gourmet market, and numerous specialty shops. Its storied Vanderbilt Hall, once the receiving area for travelers, is one of the most-desired public events spaces in the city.
A Triumph of Civil Engineering and Architecture
Grand Central Terminal has long been recognized as a landmark, particularly for the architectural achievements of its Beaux-Arts façade on 42nd Street and its main concourse, one of New York City's greatest public spaces. However, the railroad station is as much a triumph in civil engineering as it is in architecture, a little-known fact because the much of the engineering that went into constructing the terminal is largely hidden from public view—including its massive underground two-story train yard. This is because New York Central Railroad chief engineer William J. Wilgus had a brilliant idea to take advantage of the change in power from steam to electricity and use the new concept of "air rights" to construct revenue-producing buildings over the rail yards, helping offset the project's enormous cost.
The Largest, Greatest, Grandest Railway Terminal on Earth
Completed in 1913 at a cost of $80 million, Grand Central was hailed as the largest and greatest railway terminal in the world. The terminal encompassed a total area of 69.8 acres (two and a half times the size of New York's Pennsylvania Station), has 123 tracks including had 46 with platforms (more than double amount of Penn Station), and included 30 platforms (compared to 19 at Boston's South Station and 16 at St. Louis' Union Station). Within the terminal building, separate concourses were provided for incoming and outgoing long-distance trains, and suburban trains to avoid friction between opposing flows of passengers, who reached the different levels of the underground terminal using ramps. The station has been able to efficiently handle enormous growth over the years with virtually no major structural changes.
Construction, Completion – and Electrification
The new terminal took nearly a decade to build; its construction was complicated by the need to maintain train service throughout the entire period to the existing Grand Central Station, which was used by 75,000 to 100,000 passengers daily. For this reason, construction was divided into twelve sections -- new portions of the terminal were placed in service as soon as they were completed so that parts of the old station could be taken out of service and demolished. The new terminal included an all-electric signal system, the only one in the U.S., and the longest amount of mainline railroad electrification in the nation.
Grand Central –City within the City
In addition to its role as a train station, Grand Central served as the catalyst and anchor for the development of a civic center within Manhattan. The use of air rights to construct buildings above the rail yards opened 30 city blocks to development and knitted together the street grid. Many of the offices and hotels near the Terminal along with adjacent subway stations, were connected to Grand Central by underground passageways lined with retail shops, making it a "city within the city," an integrated transportation hub, and a true transit-oriented development. Electrification of the railroad resulted in increased property values along Park Avenue; the expansion of the station's capacity and increased frequency of commuter train service resulted in a dramatic growth in the population of the Bronx and the northern suburbs.
A Landmark Decision on Historic Preservation
The 1963 demolition of cross-town neighbor Pennsylvania Station served as catalyst for an architectural preservation movement within the United States. Grand Central Terminal was subsequently designated as a New York City Landmark in 1967 by the city's newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission. When Penn Central's plans to develop a skyscraper of 50 stories atop Grand Central Terminal were rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1968 and drew public opposition (most notably from former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), the railroad filed suit against the landmarks law. This case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the law in a landmark 1978 decision (the first time the court ruled on historic preservation). The move led to the protection of other landmarks across the nation.
Moving and Growing with MTA Metro-North Railroad
Metro-North Railroad was created in 1983, in part to consolidate operations for the lines that ran into Grand Central. Over 30 years it has grown to be the largest commuter railroad service in the United States. Although long-distance trains stopped serving Grand Central in 1991, by that time Metro-North's reputation for unprecedented on-time commuter service had ushered in a new chapter in the Terminal's role as a key transportation hub. Under Metro-North's management, the Terminal saw a two-year, $196 million restoration project that included cleaning of the main concourse ceiling, construction of an east staircase, and conversion of the main waiting room into an exhibition hall. The restoration, finished in 1998, was financed by the addition of 65,000 square feet of retail space including restaurants and a dining concourse on the lower level. Along with MTA, Metro-North has developed the Terminal into a unique retail offering, further developing its own success as a brand name for service excellence.
Grand Central's New Century of Progress
With the planned completion of Metro-North's East Side Access project into Grand Central – including a new concourse and platforms for Long Island Railroad trains– Long Island commuters will be able to travel directly to Manhattan's east side, extending the impact and importance of Grand Central Terminal.
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