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Grand Central Terminal
 

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal, NY

Grand Central Terminal

In 1869, American entrepreneur, Cornelius Vanderbilt, purchased a large area of land in New York between 42nd and 48th Street along Lexington and Madison Avenue for the construction of a new terminal. Here, the first Grand Central Terminal would be built; allowing Hudson River trains to arrive at a common East Side terminal with New York Central Railroad passengers. The depot received further expansion under the wishes of architect Bradford Lee Gilbert in 1898. Similarly, in 1900, Samuel Huckel Jr. renovated further interior design to make the station alluring. However, although the updated station received a “classical” facelift, public uproar began to breach as steam locomotives were seen as a public concern. Unfortunately, on January 8, 1902, smoke filled Park Avenue Tunnel after seventeen commuters were killed and over thirty were injured in a tragic train collision. Moreover, noise and air pollution proved to be frequent and after the catastrophic train accident, the community responded in an outcry for electric trains.

New York Central’s chief engineer, William J. Wilgus, was responsible for destroying the existing station in lieu of a new double level terminal. The arrangements would be costly, a whopping $80 million (roughly $2 billion in today’s terms), however, architects knew of the significance and potential of an electric railroad station. In 1903, an exclusive handful of architects were invited to compete and contribute designs for the new Grand Central Terminal. Featured amongst the group included the architectural firm, Mckim, Mead, and White; famous for their contributions to Pennsylvania Station (1910) and their renovations to the East and West wing of the White House (1903). However, it was the work by Reed and Stem of the St. Paul firm that captured the hearts of the committee. Shortly after, New York architects Warren and Wetmore submitted their own proposal, despite the success of Reed and Stem. Conventionally, in February 1904, The Associated Architects of Grand Central Terminal was created as an agreement between Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem to act as a single force. The team spent the next six years deliberating and revising blueprint plans for the new station and construction lasted ten years. Alas, on Sunday, February 2, 1913, New York featured its newest commodity, Grand Central Terminal. The new terminal contained massive marble stairways, seventy-five foot windows, and a ceiling with a mural of assorted stars and zodiacs. Furthermore, a secret passage was installed underground, used by United States Presidents to transport them directly to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where the men stayed during their visits to New York City. However, some of the most unique features of the new Grand Central Terminal include the various materials used to construct the station. Specifically, the granite that was used came from Stony Creek in Branford, Connecticut. The intriguing pink granite can be seen along the exterior base as it complements the  One-hundred and fifty-thousand people visited the new station on its opening day and from that day forward, New York City would never be the same.

Grand Central Terminal opened many doors for businessmen and commuters as development around the latest attraction escaladed. During the years between 1913 and 1917, Hotels, Clubs, and office buildings began to rise as opportunists saw the station as a new source of income. Grand Central grew such a buzz that the media started to use it in TV productions and films. Kyle McCarthy, an employee of MTA Metro-North Railroad, states, “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”. Grand Central Terminal has been featured in films such as I Am Legend (2007), Men In Black (1997), and Superman (1978). Additionally, the station hosted greater ventures such as art galleries held inside Grand Central, as well as numerous exhibitions. With so much to offer, it was to no surprise that in 1947, over 65 million people traveled through Grand Central Terminal (equivalent to 40% of the United States population).

Although the station received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, it faced its first dilemma in 1954 when plans to demolish Grand Central Terminal for a six-million square foot office tower were placed. The plan never went through, however in 1963, the rear of the station was replaced with a fifty-nine-story Pan Am (now, MetLife) Building near the New York Central Building. The second battle Grand Central faced started on August 2, 1967 when New York City formed the Landmarks Preservation Commission. This group was created in response to the destruction of Pennsylvania Station and formally declared the new terminal as a landmark subject to the protection of law. Furthermore, the Landmarks Preservation Commission was responsible for ensuring the Terminal’s safety. A year later, Penn Central, the conglomerate of a merger between Pennsylvania Railroads and New York Central, leased the Grand Central Terminal to UGP Properties, Inc. in 1968. The same developer working alongside UGP introduced the idea of a fifty-five story tower, designed by Marcel Breuer, above Grand Central. What did this mean for the new terminal? The entire Main Waiting Room and a portion of the Main Concourse would have to be knocked down. Unfortunately for UGP Properties, the Landmarks Preservation Commission did not approve of the project. A second proposal was presented by Breuer and UGP Properties; however, the plan was not approved. The Landmarks Preservation Commission did not want to jeopardize any part of the Grand Central Terminal for the construction of another building. Unfortunately for New York, Penn Central filed an eight-million dollar lawsuit against the City; challenging the strength of the City’s landmarks law in response to the previous events including UGP Properties and Marcel Breuer.  The lawsuit traveled all the way to the United States Supreme Court when finally, on June 26, 1978, the decision to uphold New York’s landmark law was determined. Therefore, Grand Central Terminal dodged the wrecking ball and continued to remain a National Historic Landmark, as declared by the National Register of Historic Place in December 1976.

Inside Grand Central Terminal

Although Grand Central Terminal was spared from the crane and wrecking ball, the station still suffered. Consequently, the lack of maintenance within the station caused the building to fall apart. Reports claimed that eventually the roof was leaking and stonework on the interior and exterior of the building began to deteriorate. Moreover, pollution and dirt from cars and consumers stained walls and surfaces. Such inflictions to the appearance of the Grand Central Terminal may have deterred travelers; however, in 1983 Metro North began an operation within the station. The process of repairing and improving the Grand Central Terminal would cost nearly $4.5 million dollars. Moreover, the project would ensure that leaky roofs and damaged skylights would be replaced.

In 1988, Metro North ordered a Master Plan from Beyer Blinder Belle, the architects responsible for the renovation of Ellis Island. This revitalization plan would cost $425 million and would help restore, what was, the beautiful interior and exterior of the terminal back when it was unveiled in 1913. Furthermore, an investment of $160 million in April 1990 was inherited to upgrade utilities and services such as electricity, gas, and water. The new plan would also ensure the re-establishment of the Main Waiting Room. Here, the space would be reconstructed and refurbished to be used for public exhibitions and special events.

After the restoration of the station, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gained long term control of Grand Central Terminal in 1994. The 110 year lease from American Premier Underwriters, Inc. enabled the MTA to enter an agreement with GCT Venture Inc.; a partnership with developers such as LaSalle Partners Incorporated and William Jackson Ewing. This venture facilitated a revitalization plan based on the Master Plan introduced from Beyer Blinder Belle in 1988. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority adopted the concept for Grand Central Terminal and construction was set to begin in 1996 with the cleaning of the Main Concourse Sky Ceiling. The city of New York benefitted from the project because it produced more than 2,000 construction related jobs. A Rededication Celebration of Grand Central Terminal culminated on October 1, 1998 and brought together both national and international media attention. This hereby marked the beginning of a new chapter for the New York City landmark.

Finally, the station was completely restored back to the same grandeur it was in 1913. Now, Grand Central Terminal is a midtown destination for travelers and those who wish to dine in any of the exquisite restaurants, such as Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C, and cocktail lounges located inside. With over thirty casual international eateries and fifty unique specialty shops, ranging from Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole, and M.A.C. Cosmetics; one could mistake the terminal for a mall. However, it is their exceptional dedication to transportation that sets apart Grand Central Terminal from other stations. For this reason, it remains listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the greatest station in America since 1976.

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Sources:

http://gonyc.about.com/cs/attractions/p/grandcentral.htm

http://tlc-mag.com/TLC_grand_central_oct05.html

http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1549&ResourceType=Building

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 14:02  

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