A reimagined and masterful Grand Central Terminal brought jaw-dropping opulence to the heart of New York City after 10 years of reconstruction when it opened on this day in history, Feb. 2, 1913.
Its stately Beaux Art design, soaring celestial ceiling, shopping and dining concourses, scores of rail and subway lines, mysterious “whispering walls” and central location in the heart of America’s biggest city make Grand Central a tourist attraction — as well as a vital transportation hub.
“There are a lot of great train stations in the world. There is nothing, nothing like Grand Central,” Greg Young, co-host and producer of “The Bowery Boys” podcast, a popular chronicle of New York City history, told Fox News Digital.
“It took everyone’s breath away when it opened.”
It still does. An estimated 150,000 gawkers walked through Grand Central for its opening in 1913 — a mere fraction of the nearly 400,000 people, about the population of New Orleans, who now use the terminal each day.
Grand Central is, among many other claims to fame befitting its boisterous name, the largest train station in the world by area (49 acres) and by train services (40 platforms, 67 tracks), according to numerous sources.
The terminal handles 768 commuter train arrivals and departures each day, while subway trains make 2,400 stops at Grand Central each day, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
“Grand Central took everyone’s breath away when it opened.” — Greg Young, “The Bowery Boys” podcast
And yet it continues to grow to serve the city, and by proxy serve the nation.
Grand Central Madison, a massive expansion that was 16 years in the making, opened on January 25. It adds 16 acres and eight lines of the Long Island Railroad to the Grand Central complex, deep underneath the existing network of rail tracks — about 140 feet below street level.
The new concourse will handle an additional 296 daily arrivals and departures at full service.
“The Grand Central Terminal is not only a station, it is a monument, a civic center, or, if one will, a city,” The New York Times declared on Feb. 3, 1913, the day after it opened.
“Without exception, it is not only the greatest station in the United States, but the greatest station, of any type, in the world.”
The media outlet had dubbed the previous Grand Central “a cruel disgrace” in 1899, as momentum grew to give a city bursting at its seams a new world-class transportation hub.
The original Grand Central Depot was built in 1871 by railroad titan Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was replaced in 1899 by a much larger but widely panned Grand Central Terminal.
Construction began in 1903 on the current landmark.
A spectacular new city skyline rose around the new Grand Central after it opened in 1913.
The Chrysler Building was the tallest structure in the world when it opened to the immediate east of Grand Central in 1930.
New skyscraper One Vanderbilt, which opened in 2020, towers over the terminal’s west entrance.
At 1,401 feet tall, One Vanderbilt is the fourth tallest building in New York City, soaring 150 feet higher than the world-famous Empire State Building.
Its four-story observatory, a popular new tourist attraction, is accessible through Grand Central.
The majestic terminal also paved the way, quite literally, for one of America’s most lavish thoroughfares.
Park Avenue sits above what were once open-air tracks that formed “a disgusting little gash” polluted by steam engines in the middle of Manhattan, said Young of “The Bowery Boys” podcast.
The advent of electric trains in the late 1800s made it possible to close the gash and put the entire infrastructure of Grand Central underground.
Park Avenue and its stately high rises for New York City’s nouveau riche covered up the eyesore.
The terminal occupies a trophy location on the east side of Midtown Manhattan between 42nd and 45th Streets. Park Avenue is actually elevated between those cross streets to wrap around the east and west sides of the terminal.
“Jackie Kennedy Onassis led an effort to gain landmark status for the terminal in the 1970s – taking the fight all the way to the Supreme Court.”
Commuter train routes to upstate New York, Long Island and Connecticut begin and terminate at Grand Central. None pass through.
Grand Central does serve as a station, however, for five New York City subway lines that pass deep beneath it — making for an extraordinary network of tracks on multiple levels, which only grew more complex with the opening last week of Grand Central Madison.
One of those subway lines, the S (shuttle) train, stops only at Times Square about four blocks west; then it makes the return trip two minutes away to Grand Central. The shuttle runs back and forth between the two Midtown hubs 18 hours a day.
Grand Central’s decorative highlights include its elaborate celestial ceiling with more than 2,500 stars, with astrological constellations such as Aquarius and Cancer, set in gold against a turquoise backdrop.
Visitors also marvel at the whispering walls beneath the main concourse where visitors can chat with each quietly over great distances as sound travels up the vaulted ceiling; and at Grand Central’s signature 14-foot central Tiffany clock.
It was the world’s largest Tiffany clock in 1914 when it was installed.
“Grand Central Terminal is a story of great engineering, survival and rebirth,” says the Grand Central Terminal website, operated by Metro-North Railroad, which serves New York and Connecticut.
Added “Bowery Boys” co-host Young, “Grand Central symbolized New York City coming out of the Gilded Age as this global supercity of incredible wealth, and the capital city in many ways of the United States.”