Located in Manhattan, NYC, Grand Central Terminal is a 48-acre commuter railroad terminal in the city’s Midtown neighborhood, home to 44 platforms, the most of any railroad station in the world. Three separate train stations have stood at the site of Grand Central Terminal since the late 19th century. In October 1871, the original Grand Central Depot was opened, intending to bring the trains of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the New York and New Haven Railroad, and the New York and Harlem Railroad to one central location.
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In 1899 and 1900, the building was renovated extensively and renamed Grand Central Station, given a new facade and increased in size from three to six stories. A fatal train collision in 1902 prompted the city’s switch from steam to electric trains, however, and as a result, the Grand Central Station building was demolished and replaced by the current Grand Central Terminal.
Between 1903 and 1913, the building was torn down in sections, allowing stations to remain open incrementally during the transition. The large-scale design for the new Grand Central Terminal, a beaux arts-style building designed by the architectural firms of Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore, was intended to compete with its rival, Pennsylvania Station, which began construction in 1901. The final train left the old Grand Central Station facility on June 5, 1910, and the new terminal opened at midnight on February 2, 1913.
At its opening, Grand Central Terminal was more than twice the size of Penn Station, placing an emphasis on its luxury features and friendly, accommodating environment for travelers of all ethnicities and social classes. The area around the terminal quickly became known as “Grand Central Zone,” featuring luxury hotels such as the Biltmore and Waldorf Astoria and inspiring construction of skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building. A large art gallery occupied the building’s sixth floor from 1922 to 1958, and from 1939 to 1964, the CBS television network operated two studios out of the terminal. By 1947, nearly 40% of the United States’ population traveled through Grand Central Terminal annually, equivalent to 65 million riders.
With the advent of the interstate highway system and increasing air travel, American railroads fell into decline in the mid-20th century, and in 1964, Penn Station was demolished to make way for the Madison Square Garden arena. The original design of Grand Central Terminal allowed for the possibility of building a skyscraper on top of its roof, resulting in several design propositions throughout the 1950s and 1960s for updates to the building that would have destroyed much of its original facade and interior. In 1963, the Pan Am Building, now known as the MetLife Building, was constructed to replace the terminal’s six-floor office building, and a plan by Marcel Breuer for a tower to be constructed over the terminal was unveiled in 1968. Six months prior, however, the terminal had been declared a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the controversy over the proposed Breuer tower resulted in a historic Supreme Court case, which ruled in favor of the station’s preservation.
In 1988, Amtrak announced a move of all of its operations from Grand Central Terminal to the reconstructed Penn Station. Since 1991, the terminal has been the home of the Metro-North Railroad, a commuter railway connecting the city to New Jersey, Connecticut, and northern New York suburbs. Major renovations by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority restored the station to its original condition throughout the 1990s, including a full restoration of the main concourse’s ceiling. An ongoing MTA project will bring the Long Island Rail Road to the terminal via the East Side Access project.
Today, the terminal houses 44 platforms, all below ground level, although only 43 are in current use for passengers. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, hosting over 21 million annual visitors. The granite terminal is known for its ornate construction, often considered one of the most majestic examples of 20th-century architecture. Its large main concourse is its most iconic site, featuring a four-faced brass clock designed by Henry Edward Bedford and an elaborate ceiling with astronomical designs. The original display board near Track 36, a Solari flip-panel board, has been replaced by a large electromechanical display. For safety reasons, all trains at the terminal depart one minute after their posted departure time, encouraging rushing passengers to slow down to avoid accidents. A northern entrance to the station, Grand Central North, was opened in 1999.
Sixty shops and 35 restaurants are housed inside Grand Central Station, including the Oyster Bar, the terminal’s oldest business. A dining concourse is located below the main concourse, and a European-style food court known as Grand Central Market is located on the Concourse’s east side. Vanderbilt Hall, once the terminal’s main waiting room, is now used for special events, and the Campbell Apartment, the former office space of John W. Campbell, has been converted into a restored cocktail lounge. A branch of the New York Transit Museum is also located inside the terminal. Outside the station, a 14-foot clock contains the world’s largest Tiffany glass structure, and a series of sculptures by French artist Jules-Félix Coutan depict the Roman gods Hercules, Mercury, and Minerva.
Audio tours presented in conjunction with Orpheo USA are available 7 days a week, providing visitors with a state-of-the-art headset and terminal map. Listeners may choose between the local and express tours, highlighting the terminal’s architecture and history. There are also 75-minute docent-led tours available. The terminal is the site of many major events throughout the year, including an annual Holiday Train Show presented by the New York Transit Museum.
89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, Phone: 212-340-2583