One of the world’s most visited tourist attractions (with an estimated 22 million visitors - not just passengers -per year) was just two blocks from our New York City apartment. Officially known as “Grand Central Terminal,” but somewhat affectionately called “Grand Central Station” ( but purests claim this latter name should more properly refer to the U.S. Post Office down the street) has been described by the BBC’s David Cannadine (February of 2013) as “... one of the more majestic buildings of the 20th century.” Covering 48 acres and with 44 platforms (more than any other railroad station in the world), the Terminal was built and named by the New York Central Railroad, which, at the time, was controlled by Cornelius Vanderbilt. The hall named for Vanderbilt, facing Pershing Square on 42nd Street, was the original main waiting room ( now it is used for the annual Christmas market, special events, and rentals for private social occasions). The center piece of Grand Central Terminal is its main concourse; covering 88,000 square feet, its 12 story tall ceiling is painted with 2500 stars and zodiac constellations. Facing 42nd Street on the outside of the Terminal is the 13 foot facade clock containing the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass, surrounded by a sculpture representing Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury.
Three buildings, serving the same function, have actually existed on this site; (1) The Grand Central Depot, financed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, opened in 1871 following the merger of the Hudson River and New York Central Railroads; (2) During the period between 1899 and 1900, the building was extensively renovated and expanded from three to six stories, which then became known as Grand Central Station; (3) Between 1903 and 1913, the entire building was demolished in stages and eventually replaced by the current Grand Central Terminal (opening on February 2, 1913 as the biggest Terminal in the world).
The construction of Grand Central Terminal created a mini-city, known as the “Grand Central Zone,” stretching from 42nd Street to 51st Street. This includes eight hotels, along with numerous office buildings and luxury apartments (truly prime real estate). From 1939 until 1964, CBS television occupied a large portion of the building above the main waiting room. From their studios here, WCBS-TV televised shows such as “Douglas Edwards with the News,” Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now,” and “What’s My Line?” CBS moved to its new headquarters in 1966 and the Grand Central Terminal’s studios were converted into the Vanderbilt Tennis Club. This area is now occupied by a Conductor Lounge and a smaller sports facility. Facing bankruptcy in 1968, the New York Central Railroad merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad, forming the Penn Central Railroad. In 1975, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark the following year. Having seen this structure in several movies and documentaries, we were thrilled at having the opportunity to explore it in person. It is huge, somewhat confusing, but a delight to visit.
Synced to the atomic clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory, the four faces of the clock above the information booth in the main concourse are made from very valuable opal and is estimated to be worth $20 million. Many folks trying to get together here often say “Meet me at the clock,” meaning this one (and not the Tiffany clock out on 42nd Street).