Tag Archives: Grand Central Terminal

The story of how Idlewild Airport was renamed for John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was memorialized in dozens of ways following his assassination on November 22, 1963. None of these are more vital to the daily lives of New Yorkers than John F. Kennedy International Airport — or Kennedy Airport or simply JFK — the busiest airport in the Northeast.

You may not realize how quickly it was renamed for the fallen president. On November 15, 1963, President Kennedy left Idlewild Airport (the airport’s former name) after a short stay in the city. Six weeks later, that airport would be named after him.

New York joined the nation in mourning following the televised funeral of President Kennedy on November 25, 1963. Thousands watched the ceremony from a large television screen hanging in Grand Central Terminal. Traffic stopped in Times Square and Boy Scout buglers played taps from atop the old Hotel Astor. All airport traffic at Idlewild stopped at noon.

New York Like A Vast Church ran the headline in the New York Times.

Calls immediately rose to memorialize the president in the city. On December 4, less than two weeks after Kennedy’s death, Mayor Robert Wagner announced that he would submit a bill to the city council to honor Kennedy with a name change to Idlewild.

Unfortunately, these ultimately successful calls to rename New York’s largest airport came at the cost of obliterating the memory of another notable American.

Wired New York

Idlewild was the popular name for the airport which opened on July 1, 1948, because it was built upon a former golf course and luxury accommodation of that name. According to the Times, “The name Idlewild is believed to have been inspired by the fact that the site at that time was wild and that the hotel and park constituted a recreational facility for the idle rich.”

But its full, official name was New York International Airport, Anderson Field, named for Major General Alexander E. Anderson, a decorated World War I veteran and Queens businessman. Unfortunately Anderson had few proponents fighting to keep his name on the airport by 1963.

The following week, “[i]n an action marked by solemnity and silent prayer, the City Council voted unanimously yesterday to change the name of New York International Airport at Idlewild, Queens, to the John F. Kennedy International Airport.” [source]

It was revealed then that city officials wished to name the airport after Kennedy even more quickly than that. Indeed, the idea had been unofficially suggested hours after Kennedy’s assassination but it had taken the extra time to get the official approval from his widow (and future New York City resident) Jackie Kennedy.

Photographer Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

By Wednesday, December 18, the name change had been formally approved and workmen busily rushed to change all the signs at the airport.  Idlewild officially became John F. Kennedy Airport in a ceremony held on Christmas Eve 1963.

The president’s younger brother Edward Kennedy was in attendance, helping to unveil a 242-foot-long sign emblazoned with the new name. Their brother Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to attend but canceled.

You would think such a name change to be relatively uncontroversial but this was not the case.

In an editorial which ran a few days after the ceremony, the New York Times remarked: “The speedy change of name — whether it be of an airport or a bridge or a park or a cape — reflects the love that millions of people all over the world had for Present Kennedy; but, as we have previously stated, it is only debasing the subject of our grief to attach his name so hastily to a miscellaneous collection of public works, almost as if we were afraid that without these tangible reminders he would be soon forgotten. “

Meyer Liebowitz/The New York Times

And President Kennedy almost got his name upon a newly built bridge in the New York City area, too.

That same month, a Staten Island politician filed a bill to the New York state legislature to name a new bridge being built in the Narrows after Kennedy. “Assemblyman Edward J. Amann Jr … profiled at Albany for introduction into the Legislature in January a bill calling for changing the name of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the John. F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge.” [source]

By the time it officially opened the following year, the Verrazano had kept its tribute name to the 16th century European explorer. But New York does have a bridge named for a Kennedy — the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (the former Triborough Bridge).

Below: A month after the dedication, Robert did stop by the airport named after his brother. 

JFK International Airport Chamber of Commerce

Supreme City: The ascent of Midtown Manhattan in the 1920s


A view of Midtown Manhattan, looking southeast, by the Wurts Brothers (NYPL)

Supreme City
How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America
by Donald L. Miller
Simon & Schuster

Supreme City, by Donald L. Miller, certainly one of the most entertaining books on New York City history I’ve read in the past couple years, is also one of the strangest.  Almost as an obligation, New York’s Prohibition-fueled nightlife and the rowdy administration of Jimmy Walker are conjured up front, and colorfully so, only to then be placed aside.

This is not a book about the standard subjects of the 1920s.  This is indeed an epic about New York City in the Jazz Age, but it’s a wildly different tune than the one in which you’re familiar.

This is a tale of architecture and invention, of a boldness and proportion that New Yorkers take for granted today.  Supreme City recounts the invention of Midtown Manhattan, but it’s also about a spiritual shift in urban life.  This is the story of how New York City became not only a supreme city, but a supersized one.

Miller, a professor of history at Lafayette College perhaps better known for his works on World War II, approaches the sprawl of New York’s most ambitious decade almost like a mathematician. He ties this epic — a swirl of large personalities and impossible ideas — into a specific intersection of time and place.

It’s as though a slew of particles (comprised of ambitions and personalities) just slammed into each other one day, creating a new form of urban environment.

Industrial visions and personal journeys alike culminate in the year 1927, a watershed date for New York history, and arrive within the Manhattan grid system, mostly along 42nd Street between Eighth Avenue and Lexington Avenue, the nucleus of a new urban vision.  The story ventures out through the entire city of course but always to the beat of this new Midtown.

From here, Miller brings in the components of growth, the great innovators and personalities, plotted in relation to each other and to the great city blossoming under their feet.

These aren’t just the standard innovators, the expected cast — David Sarnoff, Duke Ellington, Charles Lindburgh. Sure, you get a bit Texas Guinan‘s drunken swagger, a little of Jack Dempsey‘s scrappiness.  But Miller gives equal prominence to perhaps less colorful real estate gurus and planners whose contributions created the playing field of modern New York. While it’s always nice to relive the 1920s through a lens of champagne and The Great Gatsby, Miller’s concern is with the players who actually built the city.

The engineer William Wilgus receives deserved placement in Supreme City for his innovations of covering the unpleasant tracks of Grand Central to create acres of new land, “taking wealth from the air” and inventing New York’s ultimate canyon of wealth — Park Avenue.

Architect Emery Roth brought the apartment skyscraper to Midtown and practically invented the allure of the penthouse.  The almost faceless Fred French — his section is actually called “Who on Earth was Fred French?” — turned the apartment complex into a swanky, thematic thrill with such Midtown projects as Tudor City (a 1928 illustration pictured at left).

Of course, it took the wealthiest New Yorkers to fuel these changes. New money sparked the new playing field.  The old families hastened their migration up Fifth Avenue, their mansions abandoned, torn down and replaced with the high-end shops in which they would later shop.

While department store masters like Edwin Goodman swept out the socialites to build his Fifth Avenue temple of commerce Bergdorf-Goodman, the pleasant rivalry between Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden helped generate the avenue’s reputation of social perfection and high glamour.

Sensing the upward surge of Midtown — its almost-amoral infinite rise — impresarios like Samuel “Roxy” Rothefeld, Florenz Ziegfeld and George “Tex” Rickard rose to create venues to corral the masses.  Midtown became home in the 1920s to the industries of entertainment — publishing, radio, television.  Even Seventh Avenue below Times Square found purpose in the swell as America’s Garment District.

As Midtown grew in the 1920s, the instruments of getting there also rose to the challenge, finally conquering the Hudson River, from the Holland Tunnel to the George Washington Bridge.

The story is so big that Miller can’t contain all of it. Supreme City captures that place before the Great Depression, perhaps New York’s single most decadent moment. He does not venture out into the other boroughs and rarely even ventures below 42nd Street. From the vantage of the Chrysler Building — the treasure most indicative of the age — those places are hazy and distant.  By the last page of this heavy tome, Midtown Manhattan creates everything, drives everything, almost entirely is everything.  That energy is certainly infectious, making Supreme City is an rich, propelling read.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr, released 20 years ago this week: Retracing the steps of this Gilded Age murder mystery

NOTE: This article has a few plot spoilers but no major twists are revealed or discussed.  I’ve tried to write the descriptions within the interactive map as vaguely as possible.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr was published 20 years ago this week, an instant best-seller in 1994 that has become a cult classic among history buffs.  Despite some creakiness uniquely inherent to early ’90s fiction thrillers, it remains today a page-turning and utterly spellbinding adventure.

Although the Jack the Ripper murders were an obvious inspiration for Carr, perhaps The Alienist‘s biggest influence is The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.  Carr completed his tale of serial murders in the Gilded Age just as a slew of Silence knockoffs began hitting the bookshelves.  The Alienist stands far above the pack, of course, but you can’t deny its success in 1994 was partially inspired by reader’s cravings for murderers with perverted tastes and body parts in formaldehyde jars.

The Alienist follows a quirky team of investigators in 1896 as they follow the bloody trail of a killer with a peculiar penchant for boy prostitutes, often dressed as girls to the delight of their clientele.  Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is the alienist (or psychologist) in charge of the case, stitching together a profile of the loathsome figure, conveniently using soon-to-be standard analytic techniques.

At right: Alternate artwork for The Alienist (Courtesy Nerd Blerp)

As protagonist John Schuyler Moore, a reporter for the New York Times, explains it “[W]e start with the prominent features of the killings themselves, as well as the personality traits of the victims, and from those we determine what kind of man might be at work. Then, using evidence that would otherwise have seemed meaningless, we begin to close in.”

Carr’s book is finely detailed, perhaps overly detailed, which won’t be a problem if you love New York City history.  There are over two dozen scenes at various notable landmarks throughout Manhattan, some in various states of construction.  Several real-life figures make appearances, although the most entertaining characters are Carr’s own, including the intrepid proto-policewoman Sara Howard and scrappy errand boy Stevie ‘Stovepipe’ Taggart.

When I first read The Alienist back in 1994, I was struck by its preciseness, an expertly placed breadcrumb trail through old Gotham.  There is no romantic gloss, as in another history classic Time and Again. He makes it seem possible to retrace almost every step of our heroes. (In researching this article, I tried to do so.)  The original New York Times review noted that “[y]ou can practically hear the clip-clop of horses’ hooves echoing down old Broadway.”  They’re still echoing.

The story begins in the early months of 1896 during a robust winter. Below, from the Illustrated American, a depiction of a snowy Madison Square that year (NYPL):

His depiction of old New York is still glorious.  The book’s polite take on certain social issues, however, read a bit wobbly today.  To his credit, Carr tackles police corruption, gender discrimination, racial prejudice and the plight of homosexuals, all while elaborating on complicated psychological theories in service of an entertaining story.  He has stuffed a hidden epic of New York into the framework of a modern murder mystery.  That he chooses to handle hot-button social issues with kid gloves is not a misstep, but merely a symptom of its genre and day.

The Alienist is still greatly enjoyable, perhaps slightly more so now.  Thanks to renewed interest in New York City history, the details here are even more shimmering and vital.  This is not an old New York emerging from a mysterious fog, but a world that seems to exist alongside our own.

And to prove that — below you will find a detailed, interactive map of the pivotal locations used in the book.  You can click into various points for further details.  A few of these pins have pictures and other links. Just zoom in and choose a location!  (NOTE: Some locations are approximate and a couple are speculation.)

 

A little elaboration on certain elements of the book’s bigger places and themes:

Paresis Hall 
Most of the murder victims are boy prostitutes employed as several houses of ill repute throughout the city.  Paresis Hall, located steps from Cooper Union, sounds like it was both a place where gay men could congregate in private clubs and a place of sexual transaction, often (as in the book) with underage boys dressed up as girls.  This boy, Nathaniel ‘ The Kid’ Cullen, may have worked there, or may have just a habitue of the club. (He appears in this collection of photographs from Paresis Hill.)

Madison Square 
This was still a thriving center for culture and dignified entertainments in 1896. Many theaters clustered around the park, although newer stages were making their way up Broadway to Herald Square.  If Delmonico’s (on the northwest corner) is too crowded for you, head over to the tea room at Madison Square Garden on the northeast side.  Pictured here in 1893, three years before the events of the Alienist. (NYPL)

Murray Hill Distributing Reservoir
In 1896, New York still relied on this reservoir to provide most people with water.  But it was also a tourist destination in itself, with walking paths along the top.  Shortly after its appearance it the book, the Egyptian-inspired reservoir was torn down to make way for New York’s new public library. (NYPL)

Bellevue Hospital and Morgue
Check out our podcast and blog posting on the history of Bellevue Hospital, as many of the details mentioned there appear in this book.  Below: Bellevue in 1879.

Isabella Goodwin
Sara Howard seems to be a little bit Nellie Bly, and a lot Isabella Goodwin, the first female office promoted to detective in 1896 (the year the book is set).  Below: A front-page case cracked by Goodwin from February 1912.

New York Aquarium
Carr’s narrative features several New York landmarks in construction.  Two of those places take a morbid center stage in the book — the Williamsburg Bridge and the nearly completed New York Aquarium (the former Castle Garden) (NYPL)

Theodore Roosevelt
Carr weaves several real life figures into the storyline, from J.P. Morgan (who comes off quite ominous) to Jacob Riis (not a flattering portrait of him either).  But future president Roosevelt gets a glowing supporting role as New York’s police commissioner who directs Dr. Kreizler, Moore and Howard to investigate the murders using powers of psychological deduction.

In fact, the book is actually a flashback by our hero Moore, recalled when he visits the Oyster Bay funeral of his dear friend in 1919 (pictured below). (LOC)

True Crime
And there are a great many real-life figures from New York’s criminal underworld as well.  In fact, most of the lecherous and notorious figures depicted in the book are real folks, from early gangsters like Paul Kelly to brothel owners such as Biff Ellison.  Carr also finds a few disturbing mental cases to bring into the story, including the young killer Jesse Pomeroy (pictured below), considered one of the most brutal of murderers at a ripe age of 14.

Grand Central Depot
The characters do venture to places outside the city for further clues, but they always come through Grand Central Depot, the most hectic place in New York.  (Pennsylvania Station had not yet been built.)  Within a few years, this too would be ripped down and replaced with the present Grand Central Terminal. (LOC)

And finally, there are three central locations from the book that are still around today:

Dr. Laszlo’s residence at Stuyvesant Park. Actually the address in the book doesn’t really exist.  But based on a couple descriptions — and its proximity to St. George’s Church, which is mentioned as close by — this building at 237 East 17th Street may be what Carr had in mind:

Murder headquarters at 808 Broadway — This exceptionally handsome building was constructed by James Renwick, playing nicely off its neighbor Grace Church.  It’s actually called the Renwick!  The team was located on the sixth floor.  Today, on the first floor, is one of New York’s most popular costume shops.

John Schuyler Moore’s home at Washington Square Park North, facing the park:


(My thanks to Dixie Roberts for the story idea!)

Frozen in time: The Blizzard of 1888 knocks New York City off its feet, creating the deadliest commute in history

PODCAST This year is the 125th anniversary of one of the worst storms to ever wreak havoc upon New York City, the now-legendary mix of wind and snow called the Great Blizzard of 1888.

Its memory was again conjured up a few months ago as people struggled to compare Hurricane Sandy with some devastating event in New York’s past.  And indeed, the Blizzard and Sandy have several disturbing similarities.  But the battering snow-hurricane of 1888, with freezing temperatures and drifts three stories high, was made worse by the condition of New York’s transportation and communication systems, all completely unprepared for 36 hours of continual snow.

The storm struck in the early hours of Monday, and many thousands attempted to make their way to work, not knowing how severe the storm would be.  It would be the worst commute in New York City history!  Fallen telephone and telegraph poles became a hidden threat under the quickly accumulating drifts.

Elevated trains were frozen in place, their passengers unable to get out for hours.  Many died simply trying to make their way back home on foot, including Roscoe Conkling (at right), a power broker of New York’s Republican Party.

But there were moments of amusement too. Saloons thrived, and actors trudged through to the snow in time for their performances,  And for P.T. Barnum, the show must always go on!

STARRING: Hugh Grant (although maybe not the one you’re thinking)

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to straight from here:
The Bowery Boys: The Great Blizzard of 1888

NOTE:  And, yes, we can’t believe the timing of this one, releasing on the same date of an ACTUAL blizzard.  We really had this one planned for awhile, delayed it a bit because it seemed too eerie to do it so close after Hurricane Sandy.

So if you’re in New York or the northeast United States, stay inside, stay safe and let this podcast be the only dangerous snow drifts you experience this week!

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In the blizzard of 1888, the streets disappeared and the snow came down almost horizontally. Imagine being trapped at work, several miles from your home. This was the plight experienced by thousands of New Yorkers (and others throughout the northeast) that Monday. (Library of Congress)

 

Why did the 1888 blizzard become such a hazard for New Yorkers? Let this picture be your first clue. The city was a cobweb of elevated telegraph, telephone and electric wires.  This picture is from 1887. (LOC)

One example of a terrible (although minor) snow drift that might have kept this family in their home all day.  Because of the unpredictable changes in wind, some houses might have been drift-free, while others close by completely locked in with snow. (LOC)

George Washington at the Sub-Treasury Building (today Federal Hall). I ran this photo a few weeks ago, but it’s so bizarre that I think it needs a second posting.

The Brooklyn Bridge, not even five years old, weathered the winds quite well, but became a hazard due to ice. In this picture, people are crossing over as there was no other way to get between Manhattan and Brooklyn.  It’s not clear if any of the trains are operating in this picture.

The biggest danger for those venturing outside were the hundreds of downed telegraph, telephone and electrical poles, no match for the intense gusts.  The poles would quickly fall then get covered with snow, creating deadly hazards for people walking past.  The snow would just as quickly cover over an unconscious individual; many New Yorkers froze to death when they fell and were instantly shrouded.

 

Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He did not survive the blizzard. (NYHS)

Transportation in and out of the city was at a complete standstill for half the week.  Here workers frantically try to clear the way for trains going into Grand Central Depot.

Clean-up was truly chaotic, a feeble effort by the city paired with private contractors with horses, shovels and carts. The piles of snow were taken to water’s edge and dumped, or, in a few less preferred cases, people just started bonfires and melted it away. (For a great picture of a snow dump in the river, see this photo at Shorpy of a blizzard from 1899.) Top pic courtesy LOC, at bottom Maggie Blanck.

The cover of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, usually one of the more sensational pieces of journalism people might have found at their newsstand.

Grand Central Terminal’s Ten Greatest Moments on Film

Grand Central Terminal has seen millions of people rush across its Main Concourse over the past one hundred years, and more than a few movies have captured that commuter ebb and flow.  But while Grand Central is occasionally a backdrop for romance — especially during World War II, when returning soldiers would arrive to meet their loved ones — filmmakers have preferred to capture a darker aspect to the landmark.

The Beaux-Arts train station has become an ideal location for thrillers, mysteries, fantasies and horror films, a backdrop for chases and a metaphor for chaos and disorientation.  In the movies, its concourse feels even more cavernous and mythic, its train tunnels havens for the unknown.

During its first half-century, Grand Central was known mostly for its trains — in particular, the Twentieth Century Limited, the luxurious passenger locomotive that attracted the most famous people in the world.  In fact, the most common place to see a celebrity in the 1930s and 40s would probably have been Grand Central, watching politicians and stars boarding the most famous train in the world.

So it’s no surprise that Grand Central’s most notable early film appearances relate to the Twentieth Century, including, of course, Twentieth Century, the ribald 1934 comedy that made Carole Lombard a star.  Other glamorous features of this era — including Grand Central Murder (1942) and The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) — use Hollywood reconstructions of Grand Central as a backdrop.

Below: A phony version of Grand Central Terminal used in the film The Thin Man Goes Home. (Courtesy On The Set of New York)

As the train station deteriorated after the 1950s — as train travel itself fell into disregard — Grand Central became a darker, dangerous place in the movies. The travelers, the commuters, are now a backdrop for chase scenes and violent shootouts, homeless people and even psychos stalking the yellowing, banner-filled concourse of the 1970s and 80s.

Its rehabilitation in the 1990s brought monumentality back to Grand Central and brought it back to the movies as a place of respect and beauty. I would never recommend you watch the remake of Arthur starring Russell Brand except for this particular scene which demonstrates the Terminal’s remarkable transformation.

Grand Central makes a brief appearance in the 1988 comedy Midnight Run with Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro. (Courtesy On The Set of New York)



Here are my personal choices for Grand Central’s top ten moments in cinema.  I’m sure I’m forgetting a few choice ones, so please add them in the comments section if they come to mind:

10 The Avengers (2012)
The Terminal as a fortress, a hall of justice.  The MetLife Building behind it is completely dismantled and replaced with Iron Man‘s new headquarters, but nobody would ever think of doing that to Grand Central. In fact, our heroes fight inter-dimensional aliens right in front of it, their phalanx mounted on the overpass below.  As Earth’s finest stand in akimbo waiting for the attack, the statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt stands equally defiant in the background.  (For another sci-fi use of Grand Central’s exterior, see Will Smith in I Am Legend.)

9  Necrology (1971)
The building has inspired the avant garde as well.  Years after Andy Warhol turned his camera to the Empire State Building, experimental filmmaker Standish Lawder found supernatural inspiration inside Grand Central for this odd little film ostensibly about the afterlife.  Stay for the credits.

8 Spellbound (1945)
This isn’t even Alfred Hitchcock‘s best film usage of Grand Central (see below), but it’s notable in that both Grand Central and Pennsylvania Station are used in this psychological thriller starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.  I can’t recall any other film that would have included both iconic New York landmarks. With this film, Hitchcock also playfully mocks Grand Central’s wartime reputation as a place for departing lovers, even while giving into those romantic impulses.

7 The House on Carroll Street (1988)
This somewhat unsuccessful thriller (with a spectacular cast) is notable for its creativity involving a climactic chase scene up in Grand Central’s inaccessible upper tiers.  You can see a little bit of it in this trailer:

6 Superman (1978)
Lex Luther’s secret lair, eccentrically decorated, is hidden in a forgotten tunnel underneath Grand Central.  His lackey Otis (Ned Beatty) is tracked to the concourse by police officers, but Luther has set a deadly trap for one of them.  Another reason not to roam the tracks by yourself!

Later, the super villain waxes about the benefits to his Grand Central lair as the trains rumble overhead.

5 A Stranger Is Watching (1982)
Had Lex not been defeated, he would have been sharing the tunnels with the maniacal killer of this schlocky thriller, based on a novel by Mary Higgins Clark.  While this movie is pretty bad, Grand Central is used to superb effect, a veritable haunted house of dark tunnels and abandoned elevators.  There’s even mention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secret elevator!

4 Carlito’s Way (1993)
The famous escalator shootout scene (it’s Battleship Potemkin-meets-violent cop show) is probably the goriest scene ever filmed directly in Grand Central, topped by Carlito (Al Pacino) running to meet Penelope Ann Miller.  Let’s just say, he misses his train.  Watch the scene here.

3 Seconds (1966)
This bizarre John Frankenheimer drama starring Rock Hudson uses Grand Central Terminal (and a unique camera angle) to set the film’s off-kilter and twisted perspective.  It becomes the crossroads where opportunities of a second chance are literally handed to you, if you dare to take them.

2 The Fisher King (1991)
Having hosted various mentally disturbed escapades in prior films, we now get to look in on an actual Grand Central fantasy in this Robin Williams film, as the deranged hallucinations of his character turn the bustling room into a glorious dance floor.

1 North By Northwest (1959)
Has Grand Central Terminal ever looked as beautiful as it does in this pivotal scene from Hitchcock’s great 1959 masterpiece?  It gives Cary Grant opportunities to be suave, pensive and fabulous all at once.  It also embodies the tension and danger that would influence other filmmakers in later years to come to Grand Central for inspiration.

Grand Central Terminal: The original plan from 1910

Continuing the celebration of Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, here’s a look at the proposed street plan which was run in the New York Tribune on June 26, 1910.

“The front faces on 42nd Street, with a bridge crossing that busy thoroughfare to the Park Avenue slope. Under the vacant blocks to the north lie the tracks, switches and mechanisms of the huge train yard. The surface of these vacant blocks will be occupied by fine buildings, devoted to commerce or to the arts.

Park Avenue is seen stretching away to the north. It is split by a new station and runs around both sides of it, joining again at the bridge over 42nd Street. Cost of this new terminal is estimated at $180,000,000.”

This was the beginning of the ‘Terminal City’ plan, a group of linking buildings with similar design. Sadly, many of those buildings were never built, and those that were have been torn down during the furor of the midtown skyscraper boom.

The plan below shows Terminal City from a different angle, and with new features:

The uniformity intended for Terminal City stands in stark contrast to the multiplicity of towering structures in the area today. In particular, the graceful New York Central Building (today the Helmsley Building) would finally rise to Grand Central’s north in 1929. The decidedly ungraceful Pan Am Building (today the MetLife Building) was planned during the late 1950s, when commuter travel by train decreased and Grand Central was considered an antiquated relic.

But it’s not what you see that New Yorkers marveled at back in 1910. It’s what you didn’t see. “[A]ll of  this machinery of this vast terminal — the signals, the tracks and the hundreds of trains — will never be seen from the street,” proclaimed the 1910 Tribune article. “They will be less in evidence than the engines at the heart of an ocean liner.”

Electric trains afforded such a disappearance from street level, creating an entirely new boulevard from 45th Street to 57th Street.  In some serious understatement, the Tribune continues, “These changes will revolutionize the character of this part of the city. Along the new part of Park Avenue will be constructed a mile and a half of imposing apartment houses.”

Spectacular apartment complexes would appear on Park Avenue, but mostly above 57th Street.  Commerce would eventually fill in the block below, bringing the most innovative skyscrapers of the 1950s, structures like the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and the Lever House at 53rd Street, buildings which toyed with the city’s zoning laws and created new public spaces.

Below: A cross-section plan of the new structure, created in 1905, focuses on what would have focused on the terminal’s most magnificent secret — the buried tracks and public spaces.

Top two images courtesy Library of Congress; bottom image from New York Public Library

Grand Central Terminal: The original plan from 1910

Continuing the celebration of Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, here’s a look at the proposed street plan which was run in the New York Tribune on June 26, 1910.

“The front faces on 42nd Street, with a bridge crossing that busy thoroughfare to the Park Avenue slope. Under the vacant blocks to the north lie the tracks, switches and mechanisms of the huge train yard. The surface of these vacant blocks will be occupied by fine buildings, devoted to commerce or to the arts.

Park Avenue is seen stretching away to the north. It is split by a new station and runs around both sides of it, joining again at the bridge over 42nd Street. Cost of this new terminal is estimated at $180,000,000.”

This was the beginning of the ‘Terminal City’ plan, a group of linking buildings with similar design. Sadly, many of those buildings were never built, and those that were have been torn down during the furor of the midtown skyscraper boom.

The plan below shows Terminal City from a different angle, and with new features:

The uniformity intended for Terminal City stands in stark contrast to the multiplicity of towering structures in the area today. In particular, the graceful New York Central Building (today the Helmsley Building) would finally rise to Grand Central’s north in 1929. The decidedly ungraceful Pan Am Building (today the MetLife Building) was planned during the late 1950s, when commuter travel by train decreased and Grand Central was considered an antiquated relic.

But it’s not what you see that New Yorkers marveled at back in 1910. It’s what you didn’t see. “[A]ll of  this machinery of this vast terminal — the signals, the tracks and the hundreds of trains — will never be seen from the street,” proclaimed the 1910 Tribune article. “They will be less in evidence than the engines at the heart of an ocean liner.”

Electric trains afforded such a disappearance from street level, creating an entirely new boulevard from 45th Street to 57th Street.  In some serious understatement, the Tribune continues, “These changes will revolutionize the character of this part of the city. Along the new part of Park Avenue will be constructed a mile and a half of imposing apartment houses.”

Spectacular apartment complexes would appear on Park Avenue, but mostly above 57th Street.  Commerce would eventually fill in the block below, bringing the most innovative skyscrapers of the 1950s, structures like the Seagram Building at 52nd Street and the Lever House at 53rd Street, buildings which toyed with the city’s zoning laws and created new public spaces.

Below: A cross-section plan of the new structure, created in 1905, focuses on what would have focused on the terminal’s most magnificent secret — the buried tracks and public spaces.

Top two images courtesy Library of Congress; bottom image from New York Public Library

Grand Central’s golden anniversary: Some ways to celebrate

Above: Interior shots taken most likely before its opening on February 2, 1913

The Grand Central Terminal building turns one hundred years old this Saturday. It’s perhaps New York’s finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture and a landmark embedded into American culture. And thanks to film and photographs, Grand Central is unusual in that its interior is probably more recognizable to most non-New Yorkers than its exterior.

Here’s a few ways to celebrate this special anniversary:

Party in the Terminal:  This Friday, February 1st, the terminal itself will be decked out for its birthday, with  all-day “exhibits, special offers, performances, notable speakers, surprise entertainment, photo opportunities and more,” according to their website. They also hint at a “specially designed tribute” by Metro-North.  If you’re planning on using the terminal to go and from somewhere that day, you might want to get there early to enjoy some of the festivities.

It will also be the debut of “Grand By Design,” an installation in the Vanderbilt Hall event space presenting the terminal’s history.

Tour the Terminal: Every Wednesday, the Municipal Art Society sponsors a tour of the terminal, with docents leading groups through its 100 year history is about 75 minutes.  Tours begin at 12:30pm, meet in front of Track 29 in the Main Concourse and have a suggested donation of $10. More information at their website.

Eat and Shop: On February 1st, many shops and restaurants in Grand Central will sell their wares at “1913 prices,” including ten-cent scoops of gelato, shoeshines for a dime, and the “75 cent Adirondack cocktail” at the steak house named for Michael Jordan. And if that’s even too expensive, Carvel will be giving out hundreds of free ice-cream sandwiches from 2-6pm.

Read about the Commodore: My favorite biography from 2010 was T.J. Stile’s captivating story “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbiltcharting Vanderbilt’s journey from the shores of Staten Island as a ferry operator to America’s most ruthless transportation mogul.  What’s interesting is the almost accidental way in which Vanderbilt got into the railroad business having spent most of his career dominated the waters of New York.

There are also two new books about Grand Central itself: “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” co-written by Sam Roberts and Pete Hamill, and “Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark” by Anthony W. Robins and the NY Transit Museum.

Listen to our podcast: Download our history of Grand Central here (Episode #45) or you can find it on iTunes.  It’s in our second podcast feed of older episodes — NYC History: Bowery Boys Archives.

Here’s the original blog page for our Grand Central podcast, with many more additional photograph.

Grand Central’s golden anniversary: Some ways to celebrate

Above: Interior shots taken most likely before its opening on February 2, 1913

The Grand Central Terminal building turns one hundred years old this Saturday. It’s perhaps New York’s finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture and a landmark embedded into American culture. And thanks to film and photographs, Grand Central is unusual in that its interior is probably more recognizable to most non-New Yorkers than its exterior.

Here’s a few ways to celebrate this special anniversary:

Party in the Terminal:  This Friday, February 1st, the terminal itself will be decked out for its birthday, with  all-day “exhibits, special offers, performances, notable speakers, surprise entertainment, photo opportunities and more,” according to their website. They also hint at a “specially designed tribute” by Metro-North.  If you’re planning on using the terminal to go and from somewhere that day, you might want to get there early to enjoy some of the festivities.

It will also be the debut of “Grand By Design,” an installation in the Vanderbilt Hall event space presenting the terminal’s history.

Tour the Terminal: Every Wednesday, the Municipal Art Society sponsors a tour of the terminal, with docents leading groups through its 100 year history is about 75 minutes.  Tours begin at 12:30pm, meet in front of Track 29 in the Main Concourse and have a suggested donation of $10. More information at their website.

Eat and Shop: On February 1st, many shops and restaurants in Grand Central will sell their wares at “1913 prices,” including ten-cent scoops of gelato, shoeshines for a dime, and the “75 cent Adirondack cocktail” at the steak house named for Michael Jordan. And if that’s even too expensive, Carvel will be giving out hundreds of free ice-cream sandwiches from 2-6pm.

Read about the Commodore: My favorite biography from 2010 was T.J. Stile’s captivating story “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbiltcharting Vanderbilt’s journey from the shores of Staten Island as a ferry operator to America’s most ruthless transportation mogul.  What’s interesting is the almost accidental way in which Vanderbilt got into the railroad business having spent most of his career dominated the waters of New York.

There are also two new books about Grand Central itself: “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” co-written by Sam Roberts and Pete Hamill, and “Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark” by Anthony W. Robins and the NY Transit Museum.

Listen to our podcast: Download our history of Grand Central here (Episode #45) or you can find it on iTunes.  It’s in our second podcast feed of older episodes — NYC History: Bowery Boys Archives.

Here’s the original blog page for our Grand Central podcast, with many more additional photograph.

Four New York City landmarks turn 100 years old this year

1) Grand Central Terminal
The Grand Central Depot was first built at 42nd Street in 1871 as a hub for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s railroad operations. It was greatly expanded at the turn of the century. and by this time, the tracks headed north were electrified and buried, creating Park Avenue.

The present terminal was conceived in 1903 by two teams of architects and took a decade to construct. Meanwhile, the tracks heading north, now sunken and electrified, were covered with a new street and its air rights sold to become Park Avenue.

The ne plus ultra of Beaux-Arts New York opened in February 1, 1913, and its first train, the Boston Express, left the station two days later.

For more information, listen to our podcast on Grand Central Terminal (Episode #45)

2) Woolworth Building
The Woolworth Building and the current One World Trade Center are separated by a couple blocks — and one century. Just as New Yorkers marveled last year at what will be the city’s tallest building as it began to tower over downtown Manhattan, so too did the New Yorkers of 1912, at the ornate Cass Gilbert structure rising near City Hall. In January of 1912, newspapers were already proclaiming Woolworth the crown of “:the world’s greatest construction era.”

One World Trade Center will open later in 2013. The Woolworth opened on April 24, 1913 as New York’s tallest building until 1930. As you can tell from the 1910s postcard above, it rose next to the garish old New York Post Office at the foot of City Hall Park.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Woolworth Building (Episode #76)

3) The Apollo Theatre
The theater that eventually became one of America’s top spotlight for new entertainers was constructed in 1913 — its architect, George Keister, designed many great theaters of the day, including the Belasco — and quickly became a home for Harlem burlesque acts under the name Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater.  While far from Times Square’s Broadway district, its stage has actually outlasted most of the theaters there.

It reopened in 1933 as the 125th Street Apollo Theater. It was around this time that the doors were opened to African-American entertainers.  Its ‘amateur nights’ would soon become world-famous for discovering major talent.

For more information, listen to our podcast on the Apollo Theatre (Episode #15)

4) Hotel McAlpin
New Yorkers got a look at Herald Square’s Hotel McAlpin — the tallest hotel in the world at the time — in a lavish open house on December 29, 1912.  Thousands marveled at its almost absurd size, suitable for 2,500 guests and 1,500 employees.  It was ready to welcome guests with the new year.

“The McAlpin has many features peculiar to it among hotels,” proclaimed the New York Times. “For one thing there is a woman’s floor to which no men are permitted and where even the clerks are women …The twenty-second floor is devoted exclusively to men.” And the 16th floor was known as the ‘Sleepy Sixteenth’, the silent floor.

Today the Hotel McAlpin is an apartment complex, the Herald Towers.

For more information, listen to our last podcast on the history of Herald Square (Episode #146)

Note: I don’t think the McAlpin is officially landmarked, only one in the historical sense.

Courtesy 1) Wurts Brother/NYPL; 2) NYPL; 3) Long Wharf Theatre; 4) NYPL