Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grand Central Station

You’ve probably heard of the “Commodore” in regard to American history. He—Cornelius Vanderbilt—was the founding father of the Vanderbilt dynasty in the mid-1800’s. He began earning his fortune in steam shipping, and expanded to railroads. He was ruthless, and became one of the richest men in America. When he died in 1877 he left $100 million--$95 million to one son and his four sons, and $2 million each to a grandson and two other sons, and a piddling $250,000-$500,000 each to his eight daughters.  One "wastrel" son, Cornelius, got a $200,000 trust fund. He considered the one lucky son--William Henry Vanderbilt--the only one capable of continuing his business.  And even the ones who received the lesser amounts were considered wealthy for it.
Grand Central from Lexington 1890

But enough about the Commodore's wealth, and back to railforads...  In New York City, Vanderbilt bought the key land between 42nd & 48th Street, Lexington to Madison, with the intent of constructing a new train depot. In 1871, at a cost of $6.4 million, the first Grand Central would arise—and be out of date even before it opened. Why? 

It was the time of the Industrial Revolution, and times were changing. Constantly. Even as the Commodore had the Grand Central depot built, the steam engine—for which it was built—was on its way out. Steam engines were noisy, dirty, and potentially dangerous—and one arrived every 45 seconds!

Streetcars arriving at Grand Central

 In 1902 there was a collision in the smoke-filled Park Avenue Tunnel that killed 17 and injured 38 people. This catastrophe fueled the demand for the cleaner electric trains. By the end of 1902 there were plans to demolish GSS and build a double-level terminal. Isn’t that the way? It takes the loss of life to get our attention, and get much-needed changes implemented. Here are some original news articles about it: Grand Central 1902 crash 

Interior 1880's?  This is what I used
in my novel An Unlikely Suitor
Another negative about the design was its congestion. Originally the GSS served three rail lines—that each had its own facilities for waiting, baggage, and ticketing. Talk about confusing! The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, all shared the space. 

Clearing the tracks after Blizzard of 1888
Although updated in 1899, in 1913 the GSS that we know now was unveiled, and 150,000 people attended the ceremonies. The 1930’s and 40’s were the heyday of train travel. “In 1947, more than 65 million people -- the equivalent of 40% of the U.S. population -- traveled through Grand Central Terminal.”  
New Grand Central about 1918

But then . . . during the Fifties . . . people started to drive and fly and train travel waned. GSS was nearly demolished to make way for more of the skyscrapers that surround it. But concerned citizens rallied (including Jackie Kennedy Onassis) and the original 1913 station was preserved—and restored. Today it houses many restaurants and shops and gives us a glimpse of the past. //Nancy

Restored Grand Central terminal today

Here is a great website about the Grand Central Station, with some interesting “secrets” and trivia: Grand Central Station Info

Some famous movies filmed there: “North by Northwest”, “The Cotton Club”, “The Fisher King”, “Superman”… and wasn’t there a scene in “The Prince of Tides” filmed there? With the kid playing his violin?  Grand Cental Movies

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