The first rail line into New York City, the New York and Harlem Railroad, was formed. The following year, it began service to a terminus at Fourth Ave. and 23rd St.
Over the next five years, the New York and Harlem Railroad Station was built and would come to occupy the entire block bounded by 4th and Madison Avenues and 26th and 27th Streets.
In the latter part of the decade, the New York and New Haven Railroad and the Hudson River Railroads were built, precipitating the advent of terminals, depots, freight houses and passenger stations throughout the city.
Steam locomotives had been progressively banned from crowded areas and were no longer in service below 42nd Street, giving rise to the need for a new terminal.
Soon after shipping magnate "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the Hudson River Railroad, he added the New York Central Railroad to his holdings. He created a rail-link between Spuyten Duyvil and Mott Haven, allowing Hudson River trains to arrive at a common east side terminal.
Vanderbilt purchased property between 42nd and 48th streets, Lexington and Madison Avenue for construction of a new train depot and rail yard. It was on this site that would rise the first Grand Central.
Grand Central Depot, designed by John B. Snook, was built at a cost of $6.4 M. Virtually obsolete at the time it opened, it served three distinct rail lines - the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. Each line maintained its own waiting room, baggage facilities and ticketing operation at the station.
P.T. Barnum purchased the New York and Harlem Railroad station and converted it into Madison Square Garden, the first of several structures to bear that historic name.
Reborn as "Grand Central Station," the depot’s most prominent feature was its enormous train shed. Constructed of glass and steel, the 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivaled the Eiffel Tower and Crystal Palace for primacy as the most dramatic engineering achievement of the 19th century.
The updated station also featured a "classical" facade, a unified 16,000 square foot waiting room, and distinctive ornamentation, including monumental cast-iron eagles with wingspans of 13-feet. One of these eagles was recently salvaged and will rise again above Grand Central’s new entrance at 43rd street and Lex. The other can be found on the corner of 42nd and Vanderbilt.
The age of the steam locomotive was drawing to a close. A catastrophic train collision on January 8, 1902 in the smoke-filled Park Avenue tunnel killed fifteen and injured thirty-eight, causing a public outcry and increasing demand for electric trains.
One week after the crash, New York Central and Hudson River Railroad announced plans to improve the Park Avenue tunnel and expand Grand Central. By the end of the year, plans were in development, spearheaded by chief engineer William J. Wilgus, to demolish the existing station and create a new double level terminal for electric trains.
The winning submission was from the St. Paul firm of Reed and Stem, who had done work for the New York Central. Reed's sister was married to William Wilgus, who by that time was the New York Central's vice president in charge of construction.
Subsequent to the competition, New York architects Warren and Wetmore presented the selection committee with their own proposal for the terminal. Warren, a cousin of New York Central chairman William Vanderbilt, succeeded in his "appeal." The following year, Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem entered an agreement to act as the associated architects of Grand Central Terminal.
It took ten expensive years of excavation and construction. The railroad needed to invest in electrifying its rails, and carve deep into Manhattan's bedrock (The grade of the rail yard had been lowered to an average depth of 30 feet below street level.) Yet, in spite of the upheaval, rail service continued uninterrupted.
Grand Central Terminal officially opened to great fanfare at 12:01 am on Sunday, February 2, 1913, and more than 150,000 people visited the new terminal on its opening day. Although construction was not yet entirely complete, Grand Central Terminal had arrived and New York City would never be the same again.
The Biltmore Hotel and the Yale Club were constructed across Vanderbilt Ave. During the 1920's, warehouses gave way to skyscrapers like the Chanin building, the Lincoln Building and the Chrysler Building. The Hotel Commodore opened in 1919, and the Graybar Building, was completed in 1927, each with a passageway connection to Grand Central’s main concourse.
As the neighborhood prospered, so did Grand Central. Grand Central Terminal at various times housed an art gallery, an art school, a newsreel movie theater, a rail history museum, and innumerable temporary exhibitions.
Grand Central remained the busiest train station in the country, with a bustling suburban concourse on the lower level and famous long-distance trains like the Fast Mail, the Water-Level Limited, the Wolverine, and the Twentieth Century Limited departing from its main concourse.
Over 65 million people — the equivalent of 40% of the population of the United States — traveled the rails via Grand Central Terminal.
On August 2, 1967, New York City's recently established Landmarks Preservation Commission — formed in response to the demolition of Pennsylvania Station — designated Grand Central Terminal as a landmark, subject to the protection of law. The decision ensured the terminal's safety. For the moment.
Penn Central, the resultant conglomerate of a merger between the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, leased Grand Central Terminal to developer UGP Properties, Inc. UGP proposed building a 55-story tower designed by Marcel Breuer above Grand Central. The terminal's facade would have been preserved, but rendered virtually invisible; the entire main waiting room and part of the main concourse would have been demolished.
Penn Central filed an $8 million lawsuit against the city of New York, which was blocking the renovation. Litigation lasted for nearly a decade. City leaders, including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Brendan Gill, rallied against changes to Grand Central Terminal. In December 1976, the national register of historic places named Grand Central Terminal as a national historic landmark.
Grand Central had been spared the wrecking ball, but was far from saved. After decades of deferred maintenance, the building was crumbling. The roof leaked; stonework was chipping away; structural steel was rusted. Pollution and dirt had stained surfaces; commercial intrusions, like the Kodak sign and the Newsweek clock, blocked out natural light.
Metro-North, which had taken over operation of Grand Central, commissioned a master revitalization plan from Beyer Blinder Belle, the architects responsible for the restoration of Ellis Island. Metro-North then asked retail specialists Williams Jackson Ewing to prepare a master retail plan to address amenities and services in Grand Central.
A $425 million master plan for Grand Central was presented at a public hearing and subsequently adopted in concept by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. This significant decision was followed by an investment of $160 million in utility upgrades, main concourse improvements, and structural repairs.
The former main waiting room was also restored in accordance with the new master plan, and was inaugurated as a public exhibition and special events space.
Construction began with the cleaning of the main concourse sky ceiling. As restoration and renovation continued, the project generated more than 2,000 construction and construction related jobs throughout New York state. The revitalization project culminated with a gala rededication celebration of Grand Central that garnered both national and international media attention, and marked the beginning of a new chapter of this venerable New York City landmark.
Restored back to its 1913 splendor, Grand Central has become a major New York destination. There are five exquisite restaurants and cocktail lounges, 20 casual eateries in the lower level dining concourse, gourmet foods from Grand Central Market and 50 unique specialty shops throughout the concourses, all in addition to transportation.
Throughout the year, Vanderbilt Hall, the Terminal's 12,000 square foot former main waiting room, is the site for ongoing free promotions and entertainment ranging from tennis exhibits to the annual holiday fair, which brings 72 craftsmen, artisans and international importers to the terminal, selling an outstanding array of merchandise for holiday gifts.
Grand Central has become an international example of a successful urban project that gave new life to an historic building which otherwise would have been discarded and destroyed.