New York’s Grand Central Terminal turns 100 today. A vast complex of marbled halls, museums, boutiques and restaurants, it’s more than just a train station, says Douglas Rogers.Happy Birthday Grand Central.
America’s most famous train station, the sprawling Beaux-Arts masterpiece that takes up two blocks of Manhattan, is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The terminus, which took 10 years to build at a cost equivalent to $2 billion (£1.26bn) today, began its first service at a minute past midnight on February 2, 1913. A star-studded ceremony yesterday, at which red carpets were unfurled and shops and restaurants put some prices down to 1913 rates – 10c shoe shines!; 19c cheesecake! – marked the start of a series of events that will take place throughout 2013.
Grand Central is so much more than a train terminus. A vast complex of marbled halls, museums, tunnels, ramps, boutiques, bars and restaurants, it’s almost a city in itself. Hard to believe that in the late Seventies it was crumbling, covered in soot, and slated for demolition. A campaign led by Jackie Kennedy Onassis helped save it, and over the past 15 years it has had a spectacular overhaul.
The focal point remains the Main Concourse, its dramatic 125ft-high ceiling with a mural of a Mediterranean night-sky constellation is a destination in itself. When light streams through the towering windows onto the marble, it has the feeling of a cathedral. In the middle sits the four-faced Grand Central Clock, $20 million worth of brass and precious opal; probably the most iconic meeting point in the city.
You need not have been here to recognise it: the Concourse has featured in dozens of movies from The Godfather to Superman, and it was here that Cary Grant first went on the run from government agents at the start of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Indeed, amid such cultural and architectural splendor, it’s easy to forget the Concourse is, ultimately, a hub; an estimated three million people pass through it every day.
Adjacent to it is Vanderbilt Hall, the former passenger waiting room, now used for exhibitions and private events. Showing here, until March 16, is Grand by Design, the centrepiece of the centennial celebrations: a multi-media exhibit of wall-sized photographs and digital projections about the history of the building, its design, and how the station has shaped modern life in New York. This is to be followed on March 25-31 by a performance piece, Heard-NY, by artist Nick Cave, in which 30 colourful model ‘horses’ take up residence in the hall and break out into choreographed dance. And rail enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Grand Centennial Parade of Trains Weekend (May 10-12), a rare display of historic train cars that have served the station over the years, including the celebrated 20th Century Limited (1902-1967), known to rail buffs at the time as The Greatest Train in the World.
If you miss these shows, the terminal has other permanent attractions. Accessed by stairs at the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance is The Campbell Apartment, a swanky (no trainers or jeans) cocktail lounge, that was once the office of 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell. The highlight though is the Food Concourse below ground that features dozens of stores and restaurants. The best of them is the timeless Oyster Bar & Restaurant, with its Rafael Guastavino-designed vaulted ceiling. The only business still going that was here the day the terminus opened in 1913, order a dozen Prince Edward Island oysters and a glass of Sancerre, and toast Happy Birthday. Just don’t expect the cheesecake to still cost 19c.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.