Today marks the 100 year anniversary of an iconic New York City landmark — Grand Central Terminal. For the past century, it has served as a major hub of transportation for daily commuters coming or going to and from NYC. It also serves as a major tourist destination and is one of the top 10 most visited destinations in the world, according to Daniel Brucker, Manager of GCT Tours. Today, on its official birthday, the Guinness Book of World Records will bestow the building as “The Largest Station by Number of Platforms.” So, besides that, what’s so special about this train terminal?
The building is steeped in the history marked by its technological advancements in transportation, ingenuity in design and architecture and urban development that shaped NYC to be the metropolis we know today. Just think about the stories of the billions of commuters and travelers who have come and gone through the building over the years. Who knows how many hello and goodbye kisses and hugs have taken place within the confines of the building. And we’re sure that even the items in the station’s expansive lost and found room come with their own unsolved mysterious stories, including an urn of ashes or a basset hound that have both, somehow, been left behind. With nearly 700,000 people served daily, Grand Central also boasts an on-time performance of 98%, ensuring everyone arrives safely and promptly at their destinations.
Before their centennial celebration, I was able to partake in a very special behind-the-scenes tour to understand what makes this building and its services so unique. From the lowest depths of the building — which is the deepest basement in all over New York City — I, along with other special guests, got a glimpse into the enormous electrical infrastructure, both that power the station.
Prior to 1913, the trains coming to and from Grand Central were powered by coal, making any property along the open air tracks dirty and undesirable. With the introduction of electrically powered trains, the tracks could be enclosed underground, and the land above it (Park Avenue) became ripe for development. This area became, and still is, some of the city’s most lucrative and expensive properties.
In the upper reaches of the building, we sidled past busy men and women sitting in the Metro North control room. They were guiding train traffic in and out of the station by overseeing blinking lights and numbers on two enormous screens — leaving me cross eyed from its complexity. Luckily, we ducked into a door behind them to scale a couple of rickety ladders that led us to a small room. We found ourselves faced with the most beautiful Tiffany glass clock, which is visible along 42nd street. The “6” on the clock opens up to reveal the street below and Park Avenue leading up to the station. It’s a great view from a unique vantage point. We got another great view from the upper glass catwalks. This perspective allowed us to see the wonderful beaux-arts features of the building and to gaze closely at the ornate constellations painted on the ceiling. Peering down, we gained a birds-eye view of the expansive main concourse to watch the commuters, travelers and visitors from above.
If you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple before March 15, put Grand Central Terminal on your must-see list. MTA Metro-North Railroad — which operates the Terminal — is celebrating the centennial with an informative exhibit highlighting the history of the building through photographs, architectural drawings and interactive exhibits. You can even download a special app that will guide you through the unique elements of this centenarian landmark. Though you won’t be scaling any ladders or peering down from the catwalks, you’ll gain historical insight and visit some of the other unique features of the building.
See what other landmarks, events and cities are celebrating big birthdays this year in our Travel Anniversaries of 2013 slideshow.
- By Katie Hards