Mark Lamster | Essays

Grand Central Turns 100

What makes a New Yorker a New Yorker? There are many answers, but one at the top of the list is this: the native knows there's no such thing as Grand Central Station. It's Grand Central Terminal, and on February 2 it celebrates its centennary

There is no more beloved building in this city, and none more deserving of adulation, or offering more lessons about what makes architecture special. GCT has shaped the growth of Manhattan and it has served as the city's ennobling gateway. In the 1960s, the fight to save it from development inspired the preservation movement. (We should be on guard for current plans that might harm it, but this is not the place for that.) It looks great on film, and it's the subject of endless legend, from its reversed ceiling mural to the accoustical tricks of its vaulting to its various mysterious spaces known only to the chosen few

We are of an age that is obsessed with the superficial, but GCT resists those who would judge it from the outside. It's hard to get a good picture of the building's exterior, which is belted by an elevated roadway that keeps you from an easy frontal view; the rear is blocked out by its neighbors. The money shot of GCT is taken inside, of busy commuters hurrying in all directions across its main concourse in a kind of urban poetry. 

What makes the building so dynamic is how it works in section and plan, forming an almost absurd number of interlocking levels and spaces. They are a joy to explore, and for the most part are a wonder of circulatory function. And of course they are beautiful. 

There's no better way to celebrate GCT than with a visit, and while you're there you might want to stop in at Posman's and pick up Sam Roberts's new history of the place. All aboard. 


Comments [4]

Sad to say, but the original Penn Station was better.
Ed Nai

Never having experienced the McKim, Mead & White station in the flesh, I don't know that I can validly compare the two, but from what contemporary accounts lead me to believe, the old Penn Station was large, drafty, kind of dirty...certainly not the ne plus ultra of the firm's work. GCT IS Whitney Warren's masterpiece, and I have the sense that in spite of its vastness it has a kind of intimacy in the main concourse that Penn Station lacked. Warren certainly had plenty of talent backing him up with Wetmore, and Reed and Stem, but the aesthetics of the place I think were mostly his and truly worthy of a great metropolis. Does anyone know if it's true that the Yacht Club (Warren's other masterpiece) drew free electricity from GCT for decades, or is this another urban myth? (And yes, you must find a way to get a member of the latter to show you the "Model Room" as it is modestly named before you die...the fireplace surround is like nothing to be seen outside of the European Baroque at its most sumptuous).
Russell Flinchum

it is a wonderful place, no doubt about that.
thus maybe indicating that starch itects cannot solve all problems
is not the post office next door called "Grand Central Station", my memory seems to indicate that that is name above the door?

Large, drafty, kind of dirty--that can describe New York architecture in general. But it doesn't stop every writer from being obsessed with it.
Grand Central is nice, but i'm sure it has gotten quite the facelift over the years judging by its fresh looks. The old Penn could have used the same--that glass above would have been quite the sight to see.
Mike Lowe

Jobs | May 19