As we move forward and modernize, history can be forgotten. Or demolished. Nowhere has that been more evident than in New York, where gorgeous landmarks have been razed to the ground for more "progressive" and modern buildings. The old Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, and the Manhattan Theatre are just memories, supplemented by grainy photos that only hint at their former grandeur.Today, the most famous building to have narrowly avoided that same fate is celebrating its 100th birthday, and a new book by Sam Roberts details its history and an unprecedented fight to save it in the '60s and '70s.
In 1913, the Vanderbilt family financed the 48-acre train Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan, fashioned in over-the-top Beaux Arts style. The keys were handed to the station manager on this exact date, and trains began to roll out across the country.
The building was meant to reflect the grandeur and wealth of the city (and of the Vanderbilts, of course), and includes a fabulous signature clock with its faces made of opals, the largest piece of Tiffany glass in existence, and a ceiling painted sky blue and featuring one of the most discussed errors in history – constellations that are reversed from their actual position in the night sky.
Among the most famous of its lines was the 20th Century Limited, a super-luxury train that ran between New York and Chicago, offering an ultra-premium service that was unparalleled for its time. Today, its 63 tracks offer local-only trains that travel throughout New York and its environs. And, oddly, Grand Central is also one of the biggest shopping destinations in the city.
According to the book Grand Central, though, today's 700,000 daily visitors (yes, I said daily) almost missed out on a trip to this top landmark. In the late '60s, Grand Central Terminal was destined for the dustbin, with a decrepit interior and its permanent cast of homeless people and drug addicts. You can almost imagine the real estate barons standing off to the side and twisting their mustaches in anticipation of getting their hands on the prized lot.
Thanks to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the site was saved with a ruling by the Supreme Court that cities had the right to preserve historic buildings.
After several renovations and restorations, Grand Central Terminal is back to its former glory (despite a small mark on the ceiling where a 1957 rocket installation miscalculated the fit).
The book Grand Central is not only a fun read of the history and little-known facts of this most-famous station, but it also offers stunning and intimate photos that are worth the price alone.
Here are a few photos from my recent trip to Grand Central, just to whet your appetite.