The Rescue of Grand Central Terminal: Jackie and the Landmark Express go to Washington

PODCAST The story of how Grand Central was saved from the wrecking ball.

The survival of New York City’s greatest train station is no accident. The preservation of Grand Central Terminal helped create the protections for all of America’s greatest landmarks.

By the 1950s, this glorious piece of architecture — opened in 1913 as a sensational example of Beaux-Arts architecture — was severely unloved and truly run down. It was also in danger. Long distance railroad travel was no longer fashionable and its real estate seemed better suited for a trendier skyscraper.

With the destruction of Penn Station in the mid-1960s, it seemed Grand Central was next. Let’s make room for progress! So how did it manage to survive?

In this episode, we welcome special guest Kent Barwick, the former executive director of the Municipal Art Society, who was there, in the middle of the fight to save Grand Central. He joins us to talk about the preservation battle and the importance of one particular ally — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

It certainly took thousands of people — idealists, activists and regular New Yorkers — to save this iconic building. But how did this one woman of great renown and prominence bring her personal history into the building, all in earnest efforts to save it?


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The original plan for Grand Central, burying its tracks (to create Park Avenue) and concealing its rail yard, creating valuable real estate above it.

The terminal in 1913 and again in 1927. Note the difference in surroundings.

Library of Congress/Clean-up version by Shorpy


Irving Underhill, MCNY

1960s — before the Pan Am Building ….

Alfred Mainzer/MCNY

…. and after.

Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY

A lapel button from 1968, promoting the preservation of Grand Central. No such buttons were made for Penn Station a few years earlier, but the demolished train station would boost preservation efforts for other endangered buildings.

Museum of the City of New York

Jackie stands in front of Grand Central, preparing to turn on the lights in 1976. Mr. Barwick mentions this event in our interview with him.

CHARLES RUPPMANN/Courtesy New York Daily News


Bess Meyerson, Philip Johnson, Jackie Kennedy Onassis and then-congressman Ed Koch in 1975

Mel Finkelstein/NY Daily News Archive

Jackie and other activists, all aboard the Landmark Express!

Amtrak NEWS




Official Grand Central Docent-Led Tours from the Municipal Art Society
Prowler NYC — Architectural/Historical Walking Tours of New York featuring the tour  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the Preservation of Our Architectural Treasures


We mentioned these past Bowery Boys podcast on the show. After you’ve finished listening to our Rescue of Grand Central show, give these a try!


  • S C

    What about the ceiling mural in Grand Central?
    I can’t believe you skipped so quickly over the celestial mural in Grand Central. There are so many stories there. The fact that the mural we see isn’t the original. That the first one was simply covered up with wooden planks the outlines of which you can see today.
    That during the recent cleaning and restoration a patch was left uncleaned to see years from now if the cleaning solutions damaged the mural. So there’s a way to see how black the mural had been.
    How the mural was painted backward—East is West and West is East. But Orion isn’t backward! And how the guys in charge of the mural didn’t care.
    That there are two constellation of triangles but only one on the original maps.
    Do a little research and I think you’ll find you have enough info for an entire podcast just on Grand Central’s ceiling.

    • Bowery Boys

      We agree the ceiling is lovely however this show is about a specific moment in Grand Central’s history, not the entire building. For that, please see our episode #45 which is linked above. Also our book Adventures in Old New York, which has an entire section on the ceiling.

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  • redboy70

    Here’s a pic of I.M. Pei’s ‘Hyperboloid’ idea that I’m surprised never popped up somewhere else.