I'm a little bit out of sequence on this post, considering I was in NYC a few weeks ago, but with something as historical as Grand Central Terminal, I didn't want to mess up the detail.  There are options for guided tours of GCT, but I opted to go with the official docent led tour provided by GCT itself.  Sometimes, at least I hope, you get what you pay for (since this isn't the cheapest option).  The tours are offered daily at 12:30pm and depart from the Track 29 gate.  It is advised to get a ticket in advance.


Most of the tour time was spent in the great hall explaining the history and the renovations of the building done to restore the interior.  Grand Central Terminal was originally called Grand Central Depot. It was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt who controlled stock in three of the four major railroad lines that served the north and east.  You can still see the names of these lines today above the ticket counter on the schedule boards (now digital).  The location of Grand Central Depot was no fluke.  The early steam driven train engines caused fires from flying embers - clothes, especially womens' skirts, and buildings were all victims - and the soot was intolerable.  The city banned trains below 42nd Street to contain the risks to the less populated areas in North Manhattan.  The Depot opened in 1871 but improvements continued as the railroad owners were forced to respond to resident complaints, which in addition to the fire risks were primarily focused on the traffic caused by the tracks and the disruption getting from the east side of the island to the west.  As a solution, Vanderbilt dug a tunnel from 42nd Street to 97th Street, creating an underground rail network and "paving the way" for Park Avenue.




Grand Central Depot was expanded and renovated in 1901 to meet the demands of growing rail traffic.  This larger building was rechristened Grand Central Station, which lasted for 12 years until it was then renamed Grand Central Terminal when the building grew one more time when it underwent a massive overhaul from steam engines to electricity.  This is the building we get to enjoy today, for practical purposes and its historical beauty, thanks to the preservation efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis who was able to get landmark status for the building after it's partner station, Penn Station, was demolished.   If you look closely at the photo above (click to enlarge), you may notice a tiny black rectangle that shares the space of the marble trim and ceiling paint.  The interior of building was cleaned and renovated in the past two decades to remove the effects of over 100 years of soot and cigarette smoke inside.  The cleaning company left this small rectangle as a reminder of how grimy the walls really were.  It is unfathomable how thick the dirt and tar/nicotine appears!  We should feel really lucky that New York City has supported and prioritized the efforts to maintain or return the beauty to its historical buildings.



The main room of the terminal has Tennessee marble for the floors, Botticino marble for the lower side walls, and imitation stone made to look like marble to extend the walls up to meet the curved teal ceiling with its ornate gold leaf constellations.  The ceiling has 2,500 stars, of which 60 are now lit with LED bulbs.  Critics have commented on how the constellations are painted "backwards," but it is correct if you think of it as depicting "God's view" of the stars, or so the story goes.  Potato...Potahto!  You may also notice a small hole that is in the ceiling near Pisces.  It is a souvenir of the time when the Redstone rocket was set up in the concourse and someone mis-measured the height of the ceiling, so a hole had to be cut to accommodate the 1957 vertical display.  The main feature of the terminal's exterior is the giant grouping of Mercury, Minerva, and Hercules huddled over the world's largest Tiffany clock.  I also particularly love all of the exterior iron work and the beaux-arts details from the turn of the 20th century era.



The side hallways of the main concourse are decorated with 10 enormous oval beaux-arts chandeliers that light the south ramps that take you down to the lower levels and the north balcony (restaurant seating and Apple Genius Bar area).  These nickel and gold plated chandeliers, you may think, look like gas chandeliers that were converted, but you would be wrong.  In 1913, these chandeliers each held 110 bare incandescent bulbs that were a novelty in that day.  They have been rewired to be more environmentally friendly in their energy usage today.



In addition to serving as a train terminus, Grand Central Terminal also has many other attractions. The Oyster Bar is an original restaurant from 1913.  The archways just outside the restaurant entry area, at the bottom of the ramps, are known as the Whispering Gallery because if you stand at one corner of the tiled square area, the acoustics will make the sound travel the other side of the 2,000 square foot chamber.  Elevators, up the west ramp from The Oyster Bar, will take you to a public tennis court (reservations required).



Track 35 was a famous track because it was used for the exclusive luxury train called the 20th Century Limited, which served the rich with an express (read: slightly faster) train ride from New York to Chicago from 1907 to 1967. Bob Hope was a frequent traveler on that train.  Track 34 is the "hollywood" track because its lack of columns on the platform makes it easy to shoot scenes, especially if the actor in the film is Fred Astaire, dancing up the platform in "The Band Wagon."  There has to be a reason why I took this photo of Track 42 in particular, but don't be disappointed if in the end it was just because I liked the old brass lighting fixture and stop board. If I'm remembering correctly, however, walk down to the platform of Track 42 to see a great example, for its time, of a modern engineering marvel loop track system below the terminal that made moving the trains around underground a lot more efficient.


The Campbell Apartment, now turned into an early 20th century cocktail lounge that you can experience (in proper dress attire), was once the opulent office of business tycoon John W. Campbell. After business hours, Campbell would often entertain small parties and invite musicians to play on his piano for his friends.  Campbell occupied this space from 1923 to his death in 1957.
 

There are two places in Grand Central Terminal that this tour is not going to take you.  The first is the "secret" M42 substation that provides all of the electricity for GST.  Separate tours of that exist through other providers that I have seen before, maybe through the MTA Transit Museum.  The second is Track 61 that was once exclusive to the Waldorf Astoria's most famous guests, as it was located under the hotel, and was the platform that President Roosevelt (FDR) was rumored to have used to hide that he needed to be in a wheelchair.


The wide angle photo of the main concourse above was taken from the top of the stairs in front of the East Balcony.  This staircase was not original to the 1913 terminal, but was added as part of the extensive renovations to the building to provide symmetry...and perhaps it was funded by Apple so people to get to their East Balcony store more easily.  Just kidding!


Finally, one more look at the original clock atop the Information Booth.  Each convex face of the lit clock is made out of opal, which lends credibility to the rumor that it is worth $10-20 million.  The acorn atop is actually part of a compass - the acorn, along with other acorns around GCT, is a reference to the Vanderbilt family motto: "From the acorn grows the mighty oak."  Just beneath the clock, inside the information booth, is one of GCT's secret staircases - a spiral staircase inside a hidden door that goes to the lower level information area.


Grand Central Terminal, in its tradition of expanding to meet the demand for train travel, is slated to be an additional home of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in 2023 as part of the East Side Access project. This will connect 11 branches of the LIRR to the terminal and will ease commuter congestion from Long Island and Queens, while also significantly reducing travel time. This shouldn't impact the historical section of the building except to add more crowds, perhaps.

And that is it. That is all I can remember from my tour!  Quite a lot of information on a fascinating tour of this 102 year old building, with reminders of the past around every corner.  All of this in just 90 minutes, too, so the perfect microadventure in my opinion!
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