Mysterious Track 61
Mysterious Track 61
Grand Central Terminal Track 61, which FDR used to sneak in and out of Grand Central and hide
his disability (he had severe polio) from the public. Was
Track 61 used other times by Presidents?
Matt Lauer of NBC put on his best play clothes May 8 2008 to examine “The Mystery of Track 61? on the Today show.
Lauer went 30 feet below the Waldorf to investigate the secret train track that has intrigued urban explorers for decades.
Lauer ended up with a nice 7-minute segment, with some commentary from colorful Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker and
Brooklynite historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. He spoke about not only the phantom track, but the mysterious bulletproof freight car
still located under the Waldorf that played some sneaky role in presidential security.
"His armor-plated Pierce Arrow car would drive off the train, onto this
platform and into the elevator, and it would bring him and his car into the
hotel garage,'' Metro-North Railroad spokesman Dan Brucker said while
offering a rare tour of the long-unused station. "He could take the
presidential train back to Hyde Park without ever leaving the building.''
This story gets taller and taller anytime someone tells it.
The Grand Central Palace, the railroad's heating and power facilities and Adam's Express Co. occupied
the area between 47th and 50th Streets and between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue . They were torn down in 1929.
In 1931, the Waldorf-Astoria completed its 40-story hotel on the site. Except for a small basement,
the Waldorf-Astoria is directly over the
tracks and the two platforms for the powerhouse and Adams Express.
The track 61 platform was of course never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service,
and it was not even built for the hotel; it just happens to be there.
A stairway and a freight elevator run from the platform to a street entrance on 49 St. The freight elevator is not original and was
probably built after the power house was torn down.
There is also another stairway exit, without an elevator, on the 50 St side of the hotel building.
So it amounted to a private railway siding underneath the building. Guests with private rail cars could have them routed
directly to the hotel and take a special elevator directly to their suites or to the lobby.
The baggage car ( "bulletproof freight car") was left by Penn Central for worktrain service and the
MNCX reporting mark was painted on the car in 1984 in
North White Plains shops (not by the Secret Service).
Also on the level:
In 1965, the platform was used for one of Andy
Warhol's underground parties. (I found this out from a
museum in Mouans Sartoux, France)
In 1946 the American Locomotive Company's 6000-horsepower Diesel-electric
locomotive that was headed to Santa Fe RR system to be used between
Chicago and Los Angeles, was exhibited on the Waldorf's private siding
beneath the hotel.
By Ken Kinlock at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Photo on track 61||Stairway leading to Track 61|
|Go underground to New York's secret rail platform under Grand Central Terminal - Track 61. It does not appear on any station maps or plans and was built specially for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to use in the 1930s. FDR had polio and used the hidden platform to get on and off vehicles without revealing his disability to the public. Heather Alexander from the BBC took a tour. We have selected photos throughout this page. See some more great pictures of Track 61.|
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We have some great coverage of the
Obama Inauguration train.
Following this inaugural train, you can see why the powers that be would rather see the President fly. The Northeast Corridor is easier than most other rail routes: their are no grade crossings to protect. Did you realize that they actually run three trains? First is the pilot train. Included it that train is the Corridor Clipper: It is a "track geometry car" that checks the rails. It also has a pantograph that does not draw electricity, but checks the height of the wire. Following the Obama train is a whole backup train. Bringing up the rear of it was Amtrak's Business Car, Beech Grove.
Lincoln was a hero to Obama. We have a section on Lincoln's rail travel.
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|Welcome to New York City, Grand Central Terminal and the New York City Subway|
|We have an extensive collection of material on railroads and transit in New York City. Much of this material is not published elsewhere on the Internet. If you are interested in Grand Central Terminal, New York City subways, or transportation around New York City, read on and enjoy!|
|Grand Central Terminal is one of the most significant landmarks in New York City. It is historical, but it is vital to transportation in the city. Some of the stories we have are about the signal towers that control trains entering Grand Central, the buildings that surround Grand Central, the electric engines that go into Grand Central. We have old postcards of Grand Central and the Hotel Commodore.|
New York City Subway System is massive and impressive.
Some of our articles include a look at what has gone wrong with the subways since 1940. We have a report on a panel discussion on the merits of various types of subway maps hosted by New York City's Transit Museum.
|How about a story of a cab ride from Howard Beach to the new station at Queensbridge on the next-to-last day of operation of the "JFK Express?|
|Plans for better transit in the metropolitan area. An analysis of a early 1960's Ford Foundation study of commuting into Grand Central and what might be done to improve it. Some unique ideas and far ahead of its time. Developed early on in the history of aviation, JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark airports were intended to only be accessed by automobile.|
|Did you ever wonder who messed up the mass transit system in New York City? An in-depth look at Robert Moses and his life.|
Begun in 1846, the New York Central's
West Side Freight Line was the
only freight railroad directly into Manhattan.
Read about the history and future of this line.
Present Day terminology is the "High Line"
|Grand Central Terminal Track 61, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to sneak in and out of Grand Central and hide his disability (he had severe polio) from the public. Was it used other times by Presidents? Matt Lauer of NBC put on his best play clothes May 8 2008 to examine “The Mystery of Track 61? on the Today show. Lauer went 30 feet below the Waldorf to investigate the secret train track that has intrigued urban explorers for decades. Now they have included an armored baggage car too. This story gets taller and taller anytime someone tells it.|
Most railroad passengers today are commuters.
Taxpayers underwrite part of this cost and the ride is now more comfortable and the future
more secure than ever before. Many
ideas have been brought up over the years to ease commuting problems
from New Jersey. One of the most interesting was a 1935 proposal by L.
Alfred Jenny which consisted of a modern electrified railroad connecting
the various New Jersey railroads and bringing these lines into a new
passenger terminal in mid-Manhattan.
Read more about commuters
Read the full story on the Jenny Plan and lots more on commuters
The NEW YORK CENTRAL LINES magazine contains a wealth of information on Grand Central Terminal.
This most interesting period in the history of the New York Central was well-chronicled in its in-house magazine. We have excerpts from 1919-1931.
Stories about the Red Caps, police officers, long-time employees, Chauncey Depew, and much more about Grand Central.
Grand Central was owned by the
New York Central Railroad
Do you know who owns Grand Central now?
If you said Metro North Railroad, or its parent company, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, then you are wrong.
Nor is it Donald Trump, Disney or WalMart.
Click here to find the answer and find out a lot of interesting facts.
|In 1848, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company was granted rights "in perpetuity" to enter New York City and Grand Central.|
|Track 61 elevator going to Waldorf Astoria||FDR's car reputed to have arrived by baggage car and brought up on elevator|
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|Who Owns Grand Central Terminal?|
A big "paper railroad" that still exists after everything around it went away
is the New York & Harlem Railroad.
It was chartered 1831, built a line from New York City to Chatham, then leased to the New York Central in 1873 for 401 years. Funny thing, it still exists and owns a lot of New York City real estate including Grand Central Terminal!
After Conrail, Penn Central began a new life with non-rail assets such as the gas pipeline company, coal leases, and real estate such as New York City's Grand Central Terminal and Park Avenue. It should be noted that one corporation that still remains as an asset of the successor company (American Premier Underwriters) is the New York & Harlem Railroad Co. This company, founded in 1831, is responsible for $7.8 million in (redeemable in gold) 3 ½ bonds due in 2043. These bonds are legally secured by the 127-mile right-of-way from New York City to Chatham AND by GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL! Currently, these borrowings are rated "Baa1" by Moody's (not too bad since Penn Central seems to have sold off some of this property).
American Premier Underwriters, Inc. is now the direct descendant of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company which was founded in 1846 and the New York Central Railroad Company, founded in 1853, but tracing its roots back to 1826. They merged in 1968 to form the Penn Central Transportation Company and developed into a highly diversified conglomerate. In March, 1994, Penn Central dropped its well known rail-related name in favor of a title that more accurately described its business activities - property and casualty insurance. Today it employs 5,400 people, has sales of $1.8 billion and is publicly traded on five stock exchanges.
American Premier Underwriters is part of American Financial Group. American Financial Group, Inc. which, as the successor entity to Penn Central, is the largest holder of common stock in the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”). American Financial holds roughly 55% or 5,200,000 shares of outstanding Amtrak Common Stock, out of a total of about 9,000,000 shares.
In 1994, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority gained long-term control of Grand Central Terminal in the form of a 110-year lease from American Premier Underwriters, Inc.,
In 2004, American Premier Underwriters sold 1.3 million previously issued and outstanding American Financial Group common shares. These shares were held for the benefit of creditors of APU's predecessor, The Penn Central Transportation Company. Proceeds from that sale ($41.5 million) were placed in escrow to be used to pay APU environmental claims related to its former railroad operations.
Have heard that something like Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC purchased Grand Central Terminal from American Financial in December, 2006. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC is, in turn, controlled by Argent Ventures But frankly, all these corporations that followed Penn Central sound more like AIG or Bernard Madoff. We are unable to find out how much any of these corporations received in Federal Bail Out Funds (except AIG). NOTE: Mr. Madoff needs BAIL not bailout.
Grand Central Terminal Ownership 2012 Update
I don't think you can necessarily say that one company "owns" the entirety of GCT. GCT and its various appurtenances and buildings constitute one large property "block" (no. 1280, if you care to look it up on the nyc.gov ACRIS search divided into a handful of lots. The two biggest lots (nos. 1 and 10) take up the entire west half of the GCT block.
While it gets complicated -- particularly given various exceptions to title, consent agreements, leases, assignment of leases, easements, subterranean rights, and air rights -- to suss out anything that might resemble ownership of these lots as a whole, looking at the deeds for the two large lots gives an overview of ownership history.
Currently, the owner of these lots is Midtown Trackage Ventures, LLC, which purchased the lots (and a lot of other property) from the PCC successor entity American Premier Underwriters, Inc. in 2006. However, with respect to GCT, the deed contains many exceptions. These relate to things such as the NY&HRR's mortgage with JP Morgan, almost 30 indentures (smaller deeds) that range from the Yale Club to the Commodore Hotel to the post office, the perpetual easement to New York City (for the subway, etc.), earlier transfers of development rights, MTA/Metro North leases, etc. They are all listed on pages 10-16 of the deed, so if you look on those pages, you'll get an idea.
Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) allows you to search property records and view document images for Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, and Brooklyn from 1966 to the present.
Some aids to you in searching the ACRIS database
Some of the various players
More of the players
Gee! I thought the Owasco River Railway was in Auburn, NY!
Even the Owasco River Railway is involved in this whole mess!
OWASCO RIVER RAILWAY, INC.
So the Harlem Division still "hides under the covers" but it is still there. It is all about "shuffeling money". Guess a lot of people do that for a living. Even Warren Buffet describes Saint Romney as just "shuffeling money".
By Ken Kinlock at email@example.com
|Interested in Penn Central? New York Central? Pennsylvania Railroad? New Haven Railroad? or in the smaller Eastern US railroads? Then you will be interested in "What if the Penn Central Merger Did Not Happen". You will also enjoy "Could George Alpert have saved the New Haven?" as well as "What if the New Haven never merged with Penn Central?"|
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Grand Central...A Station in Time
When Grand Central Was Younger
Interesting photo essay from the New York Times. Turns out these photos have been on display near the
food court for the past year or so.
I loved those roll signs over the hallway leading to Lexington Avenue and accessing the gates for tracks 11 through 19. There was a roll sign over the hallway for each track and some of the destinations were still on them right up to the time that Metro-North went to a new system back in the 90's maybe. Cape Cod, Winsted, Portland, Maine, Vermont points and many bygone destinations.
|See KC Jones BLOG about Railroad History We cover New York Central, New Haven Railroad and other Eastern Railroads.||See Penney Vanderbilt BLOG about Golf and Vacations, especially on the French Riviera We have a lot about Nice, France. Not only do we cover golf on the French Riviera, but also Northwest France, Quebec, Golf Hotels and THE US Open|
This impressive building was the headquarters of the New York Central System. Read more about the Helmsley Building and see a review of the Helmsley Building.
Click on map to see full size or print
|Armored baggage car reputed to have carried FDR's car||Another view of Track 61 at Grand Central Terminal|
Signal Station "F" in Grand Central Terminal
This picture was from my grandfather
Read more about Grand Central's Signal Stations
Here's a more modern picture of how trains are controlled now.
New York Central
20th Century Limited along the Hudson
This was probably the all-time most famous train
Bruce Wolfe collection, courtesy of Bernie Rudberg
In 1947 a trio of EMD E units are powering the 20th Century Limited southbound along the banks of the Hudson River. This train had just thundered through Beacon and was heading for the engine change at Harmon. Since these diesel engines were not welcome under the streets of Manhattan, an electric engine would pull the limited the rest of the way into Grand Central Terminal.
Grand Central Terminal
See more historic photographs of Grand Central Terminal, New York's subway system, marine rail operations in New York Harbor and the New Haven Railroad.
Part of Grand Central Complex
New York City
Now Grand Hyatt Hotel
From postcard found in
St. Joseph, Michigan
Was one of several hotels
owned by the
New York Central
Grand Central Terminal from my postcard collection.
Other interesting Railway Stations
New York Central Railroad Police
OK, you found "Track 61", bet you are interested in similar "stuff" about the New York Central Railroad.
Below is an excerpt from the book "QUEEN OF MEAN" (LEONA HELMSLEY) by RANSDELL PIERSON:
"Hells Kitchen between 8th and 12th Avenues consisted of Freight yards, stock pens, tenements, factories,plus. Armed gangsters had terrorized the area between 1868 and 1910, when a special Police Force organized by the NYCRR finally returned a semblance of Law and Order" I guess this when the Police Dept NYC originated.
Actually, I think the NY Central police went back before 1910. I have notes from my grandfather, a former NYC paymaster, that "when we ran a paycar, we had two paymasters and a railroad detective on every paycar". He was born in 1890 and started at the Central upon completion of high school (1908?).
No officers shot on the West Side! But New York Central Police Force had 4 detectives killed by gunfire first in 1919 in Ohio, 1921 in Ohio, 1921 in Ohio, and in Indiana.
Here's some more great NY Central Detectives in action
|Some middle of the night pictures of Grand Central Terminal. Courtesy of Wayne Koch.|
|Now you have seen a hidden track at Grand Central Terminal, find out about a hidden subway station.|
|Grand Central Terminal Knowledge Database (your reward for finding "Track 61")|
|While much of this material appears on our numerous WebPages of Grand Central Terminal, New York City, New York Central Railroad (including the employee magazine from the 1920's era), mass transit, the New York City Subway, the West Side Freight Line and the New Haven Railroad; we have added as many verifiable references as we could. Keep watching, as we find them, we will add them.|
Below are some of the more interesting facts about the structure:
* ·Grand Central Terminal covers over 49 acres.
* ·Approximately 125,000 commuters transit Grand Central daily.
* In addition to commuters, over 500,000 people visit the terminal daily.
* ·Grand Central has been featured in numerous films, including Superman, The Fisher King, North by Northwest, and Madagascar. * ·In 1947, Grand Central was the busiest train station in the world. Over 65 million people, roughly 40 percent of the US population, passed through its corridors.
* ·Grand Central is the longest train station in the world, with 44 platforms and 67 tracks, divided between two underground levels.
Commuter Trains - Grand Central Terminal offers commuter service to Westchester, Putnam, and Duchess Counties in New York as well as Fairfield and New Haven Counties in Connecticut.
Subways - Grand Central is a major station on the Lexington Avenue line of the New York Subway.
Grand Central offers several dining options. The most historic and impressive of them is the New York Oyster Bar, built in 1913. The restaurant, popular with tourists and New Yorkers, is noted for its arched ceramic tiled ceiling, by Spanish artist and architect Rafael Gustavino. Other dining options include Michael Jordan's Steakhouse; Metrazur, a Mediterranean restaurant; a food court; a deli; and an extensive food market.
The Municipal Arts Society of New York sponsors a free tour each Wednesday at 1230pm, highlighting the structure's history, art, and architecture. In addition, several New York sightseeing companies offer walking tours of the Terminal and the surrounding area.
As well as "mysterious" Track 61, a "secret" sub-basement known as M42 lies under the Terminal, containing the AC to DC converters used to supply DC traction current to the Terminal. The exact location of M42 remains a closely guarded secret and cannot be found on maps though it has been shown on television. The original rotary converters were not removed in the late 20th century when solid state ones took over their job, and they remain for the purpose of historical record.
The Main Concourse is the center of Grand Central. The space is cavernous and usually filled with bustling crowds. The ticket booths are here, although many now stand unused or repurposed since the introduction of ticket vending machines. The large American flag was hung in Grand Central Terminal a few days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The main information booth is in the center of the concourse. This is a perennial meeting place, and the four-faced clock on top of the information booth is perhaps the most recognizable icon of Grand Central. Each of the four clock faces are made from opal, and both Sotheby's and Christie's have estimated the value to be between US$10 million and US$20 million. Within the marble and brass pagoda lies a "secret" door that conceals a spiral staircase leading to the lower level information booth.
Group of statues and clock on the facade.Outside the station, the clock in front of the Grand Central facade facing 42nd Street contains the world's largest example of Tiffany glass and is surrounded by sculptures carved by the John Donnelly Company of Minerva, Hermes and Mercury. For the terminal building French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan created what was at the time of its unveiling (1914) considered to be the largest sculptural group in the world. It was 48 feet (14.6 meters) high, the clock in the center having a circumference of 13 feet (4 meters).
Grand Central Terminal, along 42nd Street, next to the Grand Hyatt New York and the Chrysler Building.The upper level tracks are reached from the Main Concourse or from various hallways and passages branching off from it.
In fall 1998, a 12-year restoration of Grand Central revealed the original luster of the Main Concourse's elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. The original ceiling, painted in 1912 by French artist Paul César Helleu, was eventually replaced in the late 1930s to correct falling plaster of the original ceiling. This new ceiling had been obscured by decades of what people thought was coal and diesel smoke. Spectroscopic examination revealed that it was actually tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains above Michael Jordan's Steak House, left untouched by renovators to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.
There are two peculiarities to this ceiling: the sky is backwards, and the stars are slightly displaced. One explanation is that the ceiling is based on a medieval manuscript, which visualized the sky as it would look from outside the celestial sphere: this is why the constellations are backwards. Since the celestial sphere is an abstraction (stars are not all at equal distances from Earth), this view does not correspond to the actual view from anywhere in the universe. The reason for the displacement of the stars is that the manuscript showed a (reflected) view of the sky in the Middle Ages, and since then the stars have shifted due to precession of the equinoxes. Most people, however, simply think that Helleu reversed the image by accident. When they learned that the ceiling was painted backwards, the Vanderbilt family tried to explain that the ceiling reflected God's view of the sky.
There is a small dark circle in the midst of the stars right above the image of Pisces. In a 1957 attempt to counteract feelings of insecurity spawned by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Grand Central's Main Concourse played host to an American Redstone missile. With no other way of erecting the missile, the hole had to be cut in order to lift it into place. Historical Preservation dictated that this hole remain (as opposed to being repaired) as a testament to the many uses of the Terminal over the years.
Ramp to Lower Concourse. - area under archway has remarkable acoustical properties. The Oyster Bar, Grand Central's oldest business. Lower Concourse - Food Court. Dining Concourse and lower level tracks The Dining Concourse is below the Main Concourse. It contains many fast food outlets and restaurants, including the world-famous Oyster Bar with its Guastavino tile vaults, surrounding central seating and lounge areas and provides access to the lower level tracks. The two levels are connected by numerous stairs, ramps, and escalators.
Vanderbilt Hall, named for the Vanderbilt family who built and owned the station, is just off the Main Concourse. Formerly the main waiting room for the terminal, it is now used and rented out for various events. The Campbell Apartment is an elegantly restored cocktail lounge, located just south of the 43rd Street/Vanderbilt Avenue entrance, that attracts a mix of commuters and tourists. It was not only at one time the office of 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell, but also for a time his home, and is designed to replicate the galleried hall of a 13th-century Florentine palace. 
The Omega Board was an electromechanical display used to display the times and track numbers of arriving and departing trains. It contained rows of flip panels to display train information. It became a New York institution, as its many displays would flap simultaneously to reflect changes in train schedules, an indicator of just how busy Grand Central was. A small example of this type now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art as an example of outstanding industrial design. It was replaced with an LED display during renovation in the 1990s.
The subway platforms at Grand Central are reached from the Main Concourse. Built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) rather than the New York Central Railroad, the subway areas of the station lack the majesty that is present throughout most of the rest of Grand Central, although they are in similar condition to its track levels. The shuttle platforms were originally an express stop on the original IRT subway, opened in 1904. Once the IRT Lexington Avenue Line was extended uptown in 1918, the original tracks were converted to shuttle use. One track remains connected to the downtown Lexington Avenue local track but is not in revenue service. A fire in the 1960s destroyed much of the shuttle station, which has been rebuilt. The only sign of the fire damage is truncated steel beams visible above the platforms.
Grand Central North, opened on August 18, 1999, provides access to Grand Central from 47th Street and 48th Street. It is connected to the Main Concourse through two long hallways, the Northwest Passage (1,000 feet long) and Northeast Passage (1,200 feet long), which run parallel to the tracks on the upper level. Entrances are at the northeast corner of East 47th Street and Madison Avenue (Northwest Passage), northeast corner of East 48th Street and Park Avenue (Northeast Passage) and on the east and west sides of 230 Park Avenue (Helmsley Building). The 47th Street passage provides access to the upper level tracks and the 45th Street passage provides access to the lower level tracks. Elevator access is available to the 47th Street (upper level) passage from street level on the north side of E. 47th Street, between Madison and Vanderbilt Avenues. (Note there is NO elevator access to the actual train platforms from Grand Central North, handicapped access is provided through the main terminal)
In order to accommodate ever-growing rail traffic into the restricted Midtown area, William J. Wilgus, chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad took advantage of the recent electrification technology to propose a novel scheme: a bi-level station below ground.
Lower level (suburban) layout. Arriving trains would go underground under Park Avenue, and proceed to an upper-level incoming station if they were mainline trains, or to a lower-level platform if they were suburban trains. In addition, turning loops within the station itself obviated complicated switching moves to bring back the trains to the coach yards for servicing. Departing mainline trains reversed into upper-level platforms in the conventional way.
Burying electric trains underground brought an additional advantage to the railroads: the ability to sell above-ground air rights over the tracks and platforms for real-estate development. With time, all the area around Grand Central saw prestigious apartment and office buildings being erected, which turned the area into the most desirable commercial office district of Manhattan.
The terminal introduced a "circumferential elevated driveway" that allowed Park Avenue traffic to traverse around the building and over 42nd Street without encumbering nearby streets. The building was also designed to be able to eventually reconnect both segments of 43rd Street by going through the concourse if the City of New York demanded it.
In 1928, the New York Central built its headquarters in a 34-story building (now called the Helmsley Building) straddling Park Avenue on the north side of the Terminal.
From 1939 to 1964 CBS television occupied a large portion of the terminal building, particularly above the main waiting room. The space was used for four studios (41-44), network master control, film projection and recording, and facilities for local station WCBS-TV. In 1958, the first major videotape operations facility in the world opened in a former rehearsal room on the seventh floor of the main terminal building. The facility used fourteen Ampex VR-1000 videotape recorders. The CBS Evening News began its broadcasts there with Douglas Edwards. Many of the historic events during this period, such as John Glenn's Mercury Atlas 6 space mission, were broadcast from this location. Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" originated from Grand Central, including his famous broadcasts on Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Murrow broadcasts were recreated in George Clooney's movie "Good Night, and Good Luck". The movie took a number of liberties, in that it was implied that the offices of CBS News and CBS corporate offices were located in the same building as the studios. (The news offices were located first in the GCT office building, north of the main terminal, and later in the nearby Graybar Building. Corporate offices at the time were at 485 Madison Avenue.) The long-running panel show "What's My Line" was first broadcast from the GCT studios. The former studio space is now in use as tennis courts, which are operated by Donald Trump.
In 1954 William Zeckendorf proposed replacing Grand Central with an 80-story, 4.8-million square foot tower, 500 feet taller than the Empire State Building. I. M. Pei created a pinched-cylinder design that took the form of a glass cylinder with a wasp waist. The plan was abandoned. In 1955 Erwin S. Wolfson made his first proposal for a tower north of the Terminal replacing the Terminal's six-story office building. A revised Wolfson plan was approved in 1958 and the Pan Am Building (now the MetLife Building) was completed in 1963.
Although the Pan Am Building bought time for the terminal, the New York Central Railroad continued its precipitous decline. In 1968, facing bankruptcy, it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad was in its own precipitous decline and in 1964 had demolished the ornate Pennsylvania Station (despite pleas to preserve it) to make way for an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.
In 1968 Penn Central unveiled plans for a tower designed by Marcel Breuer even bigger than the Pan Am Building to be built over Grand Central.
The plans drew huge opposition including most prominently Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She said
"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes." New York City filed a suit to stop the construction. The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. The Court saved the terminal, holding that New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a "taking" of Penn Central's property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.
Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970 in what was then the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Title to Grand Central passed to Penn Central's corporate successor, American Premier Underwriters (APU) (which in turn was absorbed by American Financial Group. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) signed a 280-year lease in 1994 and began a massive restoration. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.
Grand Central both inside and outside and its neighborhood fell on hard times during the financial collapse of its host railroads as well as the near bankruptcy of New York City itself.
In 1974 Donald Trump bought the Commodore Hotel to the east of the terminal for $10 million and then worked out a deal with Jay Pritzker to transform it into one of the first Grand Hyatt hotels. Trump negotiated various tax breaks and in the process agreed to renovate the exterior of the terminal. The complementary masonry from the Commodore was covered with a mirror-glass "slipcover" façade - the masonry still exists underneath. In the same deal Trump optioned Penn Central's rail yards on the Hudson River between 59th and 72nd Streets that would eventually become Trump Place—the biggest private development in New York City.
The Grand Hyatt opened in 1980 and the neighborhood immediately began a transformation. Trump sold his interest in the hotel for $142 million, establishing him as a big-time player in New York real estate.
Throughout this period the interior of Grand Central was characterized by huge billboard advertisements, with perhaps the most famous being the giant Kodak Colorama photos running along the entire east side and the Westclox "Big Ben" clock over the south concourse.
Amtrak left the station on April 7, 1991, with the completion of the Empire Connection, which allowed trains from Albany, Toronto and Montreal to use Penn Station. Previously, travellers would have to change stations via subway, bus, or cab. Since then, Grand Central has exclusively served Metro-North Railroad.
In 1994, the MTA signed a long term lease on the building and began massive renovations. All the billboards were removed. These renovations were mostly finished in 1998, though some of the minor refits (such as the replacement of electromechanical train information displays by the entry of each track with electronic displays) were not completed until 2000. The most striking effect was the restoration of the Main Concourse ceiling, revealing the painted skyscape and constellations. The original baggage room, later converted into retail space and occupied for many years by Chemical Bank, was removed, and replaced with a mirror image of the West Stairs. Although the baggage room had been designed by the original architects, the restoration architects found evidence that a set of stairs mirroring those to the West was originally intended for that space. Other modifications included a complete overhaul of the Terminal's superstructure and the replacement of the electromechanical Omega Board train arrival/departure display with a purely electronic display that was designed to fit into the architecture of the Terminal aesthetically.
The original quarry in Tennessee was located and reopened specifically for the purpose of providing matching stone for not only replacement of damaged stone, but also the new East Staircase. Each piece of new stone was required to carry a marking on it denoting its installation date, and the fact that it was not a part of the original Terminal building.
The exterior is once again being cleaned and restored, starting with the west façade on Vanderbilt Avenue and gradually working counterclockwise. The northern facade, abutting the MetLife Building, will be left as is. The project involves cleaning the facade, rooftop light courts and statues; filling in cracks, repointing the stones on the façade, restoring the copper roof and the building's cornice, repairing the large windows of the Main Concourse, and removing the remaining blackout paint that was applied to the windows during World War II. The result will be a cleaner, more attractive and structurally sound exterior, and the windows will allow much more light into the Main Concourse. The work should be finished in 2007; as of 2006, restoration of the west and south façades has been completed.
On July 18, 2007 a steam pipe explosion came out of the ground outside of Grand Central Terminal, killing one and injuring 44 critically and non-critically. The explosion was caused by a condition known as "water hammer," the result of condensation of water inside a steam pipe.
The MTA is in the midst of an ambitious project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into the terminal via the East Side Access Project. The project was spurred by a study that showed that more than half of the LIRR riders work closer to Grand Central than Penn Station.
A new bi-level, eight-track tunnel will be excavated under Park Avenue, more than 90 feet below the Metro-North track and more than 140 feet below the surface. Reaching the street from the lowest level, more than 175 feet deep, will take about 10 minutes.
Long Island Rail Road trains will access Park Avenue via the existing lower level of the 63rd Street Tunnel, connecting to its main line running through Sunnyside Yards in Queens. Extensions are being added on both the Manhattan and Queens sides.
Cost estimates jumped from $4.4 billion in 2004 to $6.4 billion in 2006. The MTA has said that some small buildings on the route in Manhattan will be torn down to make way for air vents.Edward Cardinal Egan has criticized the plan, noting concerns about the tracks, which will largely be on the west side of Park Avenue, and their impact on St. Patrick's Cathedral.
The project is scheduled for completion by 2012.
The design for Grand Central was an innovation in the way transit hubs were designed, and continues to influence designers to this day. One new concept was the use of ramps (as opposed to staircases) for conducting the flow of traffic through the facility (as well as aiding with the transport of luggage to and from the trains). Another was the wrapping of Park Avenue around the Terminal above the street, creating a second level for the picking up and dropping off of passengers. As airline travel superseded the railroads in the latter half of the 20th century, the design innovations of Grand Central were later incorporated into the hub airports that were built.
Grand Central Terminal was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
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