In Midtown Manhattan, New York City, USA, GCT or Grand Central Terminal can be found. This former intercity railroad terminal is a popular commuter railroad that is located at Park Avenue and 42nd Street. It has 44 platforms that serve 67 tracks, making it the largest facility of its kind. GCT was named for and built by the New York Central Railroad during the height of American long-distance passenger rail travel.
There are 2 levels that comprise GCT and both are situated underground. There are 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 tracks on the lower level. In rail yards and along platforms the total number of tracks is greater than 100. Approximately 19 hectares or 48 acres are covered by the terminal area.
Penn Station, constructed from 1902 to 1911, is an even grander railway station to visit. It was designed by Charles McKim and modeled on the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome. During 1963-1966, acts of vandalism destroyed the impressive landmark. It was later replaced by an office tower and a banal railway station.
GCT almost fell victim to a similar fate; however, the New York City’s landmark preservation laws saved the day. These new laws were implemented as a result of the public outcry over the demolition of Penn Station and thankfully, the building was able to remain standing and avoid its’ date with the wrecking ball.
A New Railway Station
Not long after the accident, the New York Central Railroad came up with plans to establish a larger Grand Central Station. The cost to construct and electrify the construction of the new railway station was compensated by the use of air rights. It became possible for the tracts to be paved and covered all the way to 49th Street, thanks to electrification. Additionally, developers were capable of constructing buildings on top of the railway; although, they had to pay an extra amount of money to the railway company to cover their “air rights.” Interestingly enough, even the air space on top of low-level buildings can be sold in this manner in order to enable the construction of taller, neighboring buildings.
A competition was held in 1903 for the design of the new Grand Central Station. William K. Vanderbilt II, a descendant of the Commodore, was awarded the honour from the firm Reed and Stem.
Main Concourse, Grand Central Terminal
Reed and Stem collaborated with Warren and Wetmore for the Main Concourse portion. The overall layout and design was completed by Reed and Stem; however, the Beaux-Arts style and the architectural details can be attributed to Warren and Wetmore.
Of course, the entirety of the project does not just encompass a new railway station. A new complex of apartments and office buildings, known as Terminal City, was also developed. The design behind this was a “city in the city.” This concept is similar to Rockefeller Center which was constructed decades later. Particular attention was given to how traffic would circulate. Cars and pedestrians are separated by uniquely designed elevated ramps. These ramps lead traffic around the railway station and are called the Park Avenue Viaduct.
A Grand Design
The Beaux-Arts design on the building’s façade on 42nd street has become a famous landmark. Corinthian columns flank large arches. These columns are topped by an artistic sculpture group designed by Jules-Alexis Coutan. The customized sculptures are 15 meters or 50 feet high. They depict the God of Commerce, Mercury and are supported by Hercules and Minerva to represent moral and mental strength.
The main concourse is quite an impressive place to visit. It is 160 feet wide, 470 feet long and 150 feet high, or 43x49x143 meters. Paul Helleu, a French artist painted the ceiling. The design consists of zodiac constellations which were derived from a medieval manuscript. Allegedly, it was painted backwards so that the stars are shown in the way they would be seen by a God and not by man.
There are 6 arched windows that are 75 feet or 23 meters high. This is how light enters the main concourse area. A Botticino marble double staircase was designed after the large staircase found in the Opera Garnier in Paris. This staircase connects the entrance on Vanderbilt Avenue with the main concourse. Tennessee marble makes up the concourse floor and Caen stone compliments the walls.