Before you enter the swinging bronze and timber doors of 42nd Street, take a moment to look up. It’s not often that two icons of a city can be seen in one frame. Over the entrance, a sculpture of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury stand atop the large Tiffany glass clock. In the other corner, the top of the glistening Chrysler Building peers over a nearby building.
Grand Central Station is located at 42nd Street and Park Avenue (map). It can be also accessed from Lexington Avenue on the East, Vanderbilt Avenue on the West and 46th Street on the North. Millions of people have passed through these building’s halls on their way to catch a train, eat at one of the famous restaurants or just ogle at the amazing architecture. If you are a Hollywood buff, chances are you have the scenes embedded in memory.
Grand Central Terminal (also called as the Grand Central Station) was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1869. After an accident in 1902, steam trains were outlawed and the electrification of the railway resulted in a new and larger station being built. Buildings and apartments were included in this grand design and on February 2nd 1913, Grand Central Terminal was opened.
The Facade : In designing the facade of Grand Central, the architects wanted to make the building seem like a gateway to the city. The south facade, facing 42nd Street, is the front side of the terminal building, and contains large arched windows. The central window resembles a triumphal arch. There are two pairs of columns on either side of the central window. The facade was also designed to complement that of the New York Public Library Main Branch, another Beaux-Arts edifice located on nearby Fifth Avenue.
The facade includes several large works of art. At the top of the south facade is a 13-foot-wide (4.0 m) clock, which contains the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass. The clock is surrounded by the Glory of Commerce sculptural group, a sculpture of Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury. At its unveiling in 1914, the work was considered the largest sculptural group in the world. Below these works, facing the Park Avenue Viaduct, is an 1869 statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt, longtime owner of New York Central.
The Eagles : Look for the eagles perched on the corner of the building. These eagles actually adorned the previous Grand Central Station, which opened in 1869. Locals tell you that the ferocious look of the eagles also help scare the pigeons aways and keep it clear of them.
The Main Concourse : The Main Concourse, originally known as the Express Concourse, is located on the upper platform level of Grand Central, in the geographical center of the station building. It leads directly to most of the terminal’s upper-level tracks, although some are accessed from passageways near the concourse. The Main Concourse is usually filled with bustling crowds and is often used as a meeting place.
The terminal’s ticket booths are located in the Main Concourse, although many have been closed or repurposed since the introduction of ticket vending machines. The concourse’s large American flag was installed there a few days after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Stairs lead down to two levels of platforms, forty four in all, that make Grand Central the largest train station in the world (according to platform numbers).
The Opal Clock : Grand Central is a place where time is of the essence, so it makes sense that it should boast such a beautiful four-sided clock. Atop the information booth at the center of the terminal is a clock that features four faces made out of one solid piece of precious opal. Beautiful, and pricey: The gold-colored clock, which is situated directly under the station’s famed ceiling, is thought to be worth $10 to $20 million, according to estimates provided by auction houses. Inside that same info booth is a secret steel staircase shrouded by the cylindrical brass container that leads to the lower level information booth.
Dining Concourse : Access to the lower-level tracks is provided by the Dining Concourse, below the Main Concourse and connected to it by numerous stairs, ramps, and escalators. For decades, it was called the Suburban Concourse because it handled commuter rail trains. Today, it has central seating and lounge areas, surrounded by restaurants and food vendors. The shared public seating in the concourse was designed resembling Pullman traincars. The famous Oyster Bar and Restaurant is on the dining level just below the main concourse.
The Whispering Gallery : Don’t rush inside but stop outside under the arched entranceway. You may notice people standing in the corner and talking to the wall. No they are not mad, they are just learning one of Grand Central Station’s secrets. If you stand in one corner and whisper into the wall, your friend standing in the other corner will be able to hear everything you say, loud and clear. The acoustics of the low ceramic arches have created this well known ‘whispering gallery’.
Constellation Ceiling : Rebuilt in the 1930s, the astrological ceiling of Grand Central’s main thoroughfare is one of its most dazzling sights. With depictions of constellations scattered across an azure background, the ceiling conjures images of the night sky, lending the interior of the station a beauty and openness that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at any other commuter hub. But that doesn’t mean the architectural wonder is without flaws: After the ceiling was built it was discovered that its depiction of the night sky was backwards. While some believe that painter Charles Basing was holding the depiction the wrong way when replicating it, Cornelius Vanderbilt claimed that the mural was intended to depict the way it looks from heaven rather than earth.
Grand Central’s ceiling also contains two features that tell us a lot about the history of the station. The first is a tiny rectangular patch, located near the outstretched claw of Cancer, that has never been (purposefully) cleaned. Its sootiness, in comparison to the relative pristineness of the rest of the ceiling, telegraphs both the age of the station and the unhealthiness of New York of yore. As it happens, most of the 100 years of dirt is a combination of accumulated nicotine from cigarettes, cigars and pipes.
The second piece of Grand Central history contained in the station’s ceiling is a small dark hole located near the depiction of Pisces. The hole dates to 1957, when the U.S. government installed a Redstone rocket into Grand Central to be put on display, as way of exhibiting showiness to counter the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the first artificial Earth satellite. The hole was created to make way for stabilizing cables (a common misconception is that it was too tall and pierced a hole in the iconic ceiling); it now stands as a testament to both the station’s longevity and its central place in the American imagination.
Track 61 : While you can’t technically see Grand Central’s Track 61, knowing it’s there will no doubt enrich your visit to the station. Located behind a locked door on 49th Street, the now-defunct track was once served as a direct subterranean route from Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Among the luminaries who enjoyed such a privileged commute was Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Grand Central has been built 3 times : The Grand Central you see now is not the original building. Indeed, the terminal as it exists today is actually the third iteration of the structure. The original station was known as the “Grand Central Depot” and erected in 1871. The depot served the region’s three major lines, but the city’s rapidly growing population ultimately led to its demolition in 1900. Soon after, a six-story structure replaced the depot and it was renamed “Grand Central Station.” However, the design of Grand Central Station was flawed as the interior was not equipped to deal with exhaust from steam-powered trains. Conductors were often blinded by the smoke in front of them, and unable to see the tracks, several deadly accidents occurred. After 15 passengers died in one collision, the station was torn down in 1905 and rebuilt as Grand CentralTerminal.
The Tennis Court : Tennis courts at Grand Central Station?! You better believe it. The station’s “secret” tennis center reopened as the Vanderbilt Tennis Club a few years back. Tucked away on the fourth floor of the station, the recreation area would probably elude most harried passers-by, but anyone with an hour or two on their hands is able to play for $200-$280 per hour depending on the time of day and the day of the week.
Grand Central Terminal has been the subject, inspiration, or setting for literature, television and radio episodes, and films. MIB, Superman, Madagascar, Armageddon Avengers, North by Northwest and you can go o on. Almost every scene in the terminal’s train shed was shot on Track 34, one of the few platforms without columns.