A Former First Lady Saves A Classic Building

Grand Central Terminal, one of the most magnificent structures in New York City, has secret staircases, a hidden bar, a whispering gallery, a tennis court, art galleries, and the most mysterious basement in the city.  Tourists and New Yorkers alike whisper at the whispering gallery where low arches carry sounds.  Over 250,000 people pass through the Terminal every day.   

Before Grand Central Terminal, there was Grand Central Depot, then the largest railroad station in North America.  New Yorkers laughed at Cornelius Vanderbilt when he built a railroad depot so far north as 42nd Street.  During that period, a walk through the developed part of New York City would have ended 28 blocks further downtown at 14th Street.  At Grand Central Depot, horse-drawn carriages moved on tracks transporting passengers from East 42nd Street to Harlem.  As the city continued to expand, Grand Central Depot became one of the busiest terminals in the world and much too small for a fast growing metropolis.   

Today's Grand Central Terminal replaced Grand Central Depot on February 2, 1913.  Its Beaux Art design was created by the architectural firm of Reed and Stem and Warren and Wetmore.  The largest Tiffany clock in the world, a 13 foot clock weighing 1,500 tons, graces the grand front facade of the terminal's main entrance (pictured above).  The sculptured figures surrounding the clock are of Mercury (representing commerce), Hercules (strength) and Minerva (wisdom) were designed by by Jules A. Coutan.  

Inside the terminal is another clock, the Big Clock, perched on top of the Information Center, is the concourse's center piece.  The Big Clock has been featured in several moviesIt made its film debut in the Grand Center Murder, a 1942 in which an actress is found dead in a railroad car.  The beauty of the concourse is brilliantly illustrated in a scene from the Robin Williams' film, The Fisher King, when the concourse magically becomes a large ballroom where everyone is waltzing.  

The interior's 75-foot windows, a ceiling with a zodiac mural of 2,500 stars by French artist Paul Helleu, and massive marble stairways, is stunning.  The huge glass windows and towers are actually catwalks “designed by Whitney Warren to maximize the daylight entering the terminal.”  Within these seven-story glass towers are offices used by railroad employees.   The mysterious basement's existence was unknown until the late 1980s.  It contained a hidden power station that provided power for the New York Central Railway during WWII that was a target of German spies seeking to obstruct vital wartime railroad movement.     

The massive building is constructed of various materials including granite (from Stony Creek in Branford, Connecticut), marble, and limestone.  Granite from Stony Creek has been used in the construction of several New York City Landmarks including Grand Central's exterior base, the Statue of Liberty's base, in the Brooklyn Bridge and in Grant's Tomb. 

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and architect, Philip Johnson, formed a Committee to Save Grand Central Terminal in 1975.  This Committee, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission fought to prevent Grand Central from being destroyed.  The railroad planned to demolish the terminal and replace it with office buildings.  The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Grand Central Terminal as a landmark and it was saved.  

The Chrysler Building and the old Daily News building are also on East 42nd Street and only a brief walk away.  The United Nations is nearby on First Avenue and E. 42nd Street.