Please, do not, under any circumstance, call it a station. It’s a Terminal. Grand Central Terminal was built to house Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad network and was envisioned as a gateway to the city.
It’s hard to underestimate its grandeur: every day, more than 750,000 people pass through the Grand Central, which is more than the entire population of Alaska, or roughly the population of San Francisco. An estimated 10,000 people come into Grand Central every day to have lunch or dinner or meet for a drink. In 1947 alone, over 65 million people (40% of the US population!) traveled through Grand Central.
With 67 tracks and 44 platforms, Grand Central is still the largest in the world by the number of tracks and platforms. There is the “secret” track, number 61, that has a concealed entrance, along with a lift that goes straight up to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was once used to take paralyzed President Franklin D. Roosevelt directly into the hotel.
Besides the staggering statistics, its main revolutionary feature is the design. Grand Central was the first “stairless” station in the world. Replacing stairs by ramps allowed weary train passengers to easily maneuver around with their bulky trunks and suitcases.
The beautiful main lobby staircases – the only stairs in the terminal – were based on the designs of the Paris Opera House.
One of the most striking features of the main hall is the astronomical mural on the ceiling with 2,500 stars. The sky is shown in reverse either by design or by sheer mistake of the workers who looked at the diagram on the floor.
There is a treasure hidden in plain view in the middle of the terminal. It’s the magnificent clock over the information booth made from opal with an estimated value of more than $10 million. By the way, the staff at the information booth responds to around 1,000 questions an hour.
Another notable treasure is the clock adorning the main façade. The clock is designed by Tiffany and it’s the largest Tiffany glass clock in the world.
The world-famous Oyster Bar, the oldest restaurant in the Grand Central, carries up to 30 varieties of oysters each day.
A barbershop for men that existed at the terminal in 1913 boasted that the customer could be shaved “in any one of 30 languages.”
The terminal is adorned with acorns and oak leaves, the Vanderbilt family symbols. Vanderbilt conceived the project as “Terminal City” – a multi-lot development linking the new train station with hotels, apartments, office buildings – the concept that was later used in the Rockefeller Center and the World Trade Center.
Perhaps the most important innovation distinguishing Grand Central is that it was the first electrified train station in the world. The steam locomotives of the past were replaced with electric trains which would run below street level turning Park Avenue from an eyesore to the illustrious thoroughfare. The underground tunnel from 42nd to 97th streets turned Park Avenue into a boulevard of luxury.
There is a small touching detail in Grand Central – every departure time listed on the display board is one minute earlier than the trains’ actual departure time. It’s done by design to allow New Yorkers a curtesy of an extra minute to board a train.
And, of course, there is an Oster-tini…