Grand Prize Grand Central Terminal dodged the wrecking ball and - TopicsExpress


Grand Prize Grand Central Terminal dodged the wrecking ball and survived neglect to reach its centennial in exquisite fashion—with help from some of New York’s select Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on print Share on email Share on linkedin More Sharing Services Society and Culture - Grand Prize POSTED BY: JoAnn Greco September 11, 2013 0 It’s hard to think of any public building that has worked itself into the public consciousness as thoroughly as Grand Central Terminal. The Beaux-Arts masterpiece—which celebrated its 100th anniversary this year—has become a handy metaphor for a familiar kind of orchestrated busyness, a place where the urban ballet is played out in a swarm of people rushing to catch a train to work or simply see the sights in New York, the nation’s most populous city. But midtown Manhattan’s huge train terminal—with its 13-foot Tiffany clock, twinkling ceiling of celestial constellations and cathedral-like main concourse—has also earned a place in the annals of historic preservation. The 10-year battle to save it included everything from a powerful grassroots effort marshaled by a former first lady to a Supreme Court decision, before setting a precedent for the public’s right to protect historic structures. This particular building is only the most recent of several splendid rail stations that graced this 48-acre site. In 1871, shipping magnate “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt built a massive pile of red bricks he dubbed Grand Central Depot. “Behind the building, rail yards stretched for 16 blocks,” says Anthony W. Robins, author of Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark. “This area was the sticks, but by the time the Depot was annexed in 1885 and then almost totally renovated in 1900 to become Grand Central Station, an entire neighborhood had developed.” The turn of the 20th century demanded a completely new structure, one that would be a bit more protective of the burgeoning tony neighborhoods surrounding the station. “No one wanted the smoke and steam that the trains brought,” says Robins. “Least of all, the owners of the mansions nearby on Fifth Avenue.” When a fiery train collision in the Park Avenue tunnel killed 15 people in 1902, the public outcry for electrification—a new technology—sealed the demise of the steam locomotive. By the year’s end, plans were under way to demolish the existing station and create a terminal equipped to handle electrified trains. The responsibility for that task went to the railroad’s chief engineer, William J. Wilgus, who devised a plan to sink the rail yards underground. Demolishing the surrounding buildings, excavating the 16 city blocks and constructing a brand-new terminal would take a decade and cost $43 million. The mechanics utilized underneath the city may have been revolutionary for the times, but so were the station’s interiors, which included an ingenious use of ramps by Reed and Stem, the St. Paul, Minn., railroad architects who had won the commission over higher-profile contenders like McKim, Meade and White and Daniel Burnham. When the station was completed, The New York Times called Grand Central the “first stainless railway terminal in history.” Robins says it was the “first people-mover, designed not just for the convenience of passengers but to keep the crowds flowing smoothly.” The terminal’s ornamental splendor—its heroic statuary, triumphal arched entranceways, carved friezes, marbled expanses and glittering chandeliers—came courtesy of an associate architectural firm, Warren and Wetmore, and the coterie of French-trained artisans it hired. Their work amazed those who first saw it; 150,000 spectators came to gawk when the terminal opened. The Washington Post deemed it “one of the phenomenal modern structures of the world.” The New York Herald gushed: “Here is a space like the nave of an Old World cathedral.” Many special features were added: a circular information booth; the famed Oyster Bar restaurant outfitted in Guastavino tile; and the gigantic Kodak “Colorama” advertisement. There were also celebrations (countless New Year’s Eve events, many a baseball championship), exhibitions (a 1957 Redstone missile) and regular organ concerts. But none of it was enough. When in the 1950s New York City was engaged in another round of modernization, the terminal soon became a target for redevelopment. In 1963 demolition began on Pennsylvania Station, the great depot across town. Built in 1910 in a style that merged the Roman Baths of Caracalla with the soaring glass of Europe’s great train sheds, its loss was dubbed a “monumental act of vandalism” by the Times and resulted in the formation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. In 1967, that body designated Grand Central Terminal a landmark, subject to the protection of the law. A year later, though, the terminal’s owner, Penn Central, announced plans to build a tower over the building that would obscure, and even partially demolish, some of it. For many, this was unfathomable. A handful of determined New York luminaries, architectural cognoscenti, civic leaders and institutions—including, for starters, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, architect Philip Johnson, then congressman (and future city mayor) Ed Koch, and the Times—rallied to save the terminal. “The National Trust got involved, there was a considerable private sector effort, there was a very serious legal and scholarly set of activities, and there was a host of concerts and benefits,” recalls Kent Barwick, then executive director of the Municipal Art Society, which took the helm in leading the fight. “Seemingly all of New York came out in support of a modern engineering project that stirred the soul. They understood that built works of art could be as valuable as change.” The developers countered, saying that landmark protection impinged on their rights. The legal dispute ultimately arrived at the doorstep of the Supreme Court, which in 1978 ruled in the city’s favor. The building was spared but soon fell victim to the general neglect that plagued New York and other large American cities during the era. The homeless took over the waiting rooms, the stonework fell into disrepair, the roof leaked. By 1990, a new tenant—Metro-North, formed from a consolidation of several older rail lines—had taken over operations of the building. It created a $425 million master plan to restore the terminal’s glory. Over the next decade, an effort led by architects from Beyer Blinder Belle painstakingly brought the building back to its original splendor—and even added a few flourishes. There was a second grand staircase to match the existing one in the main concourse and a food court on the lower level. A freshly cleaned, heavenly blue ceiling was unveiled, a revelation to a generation of commuters who had never really noticed what was above them. Today some 750,000 people swirl through the massive rail station every day, and more than 21 million visit Grand Central annually. The terminal still isn’t finished (plans call for the addition of tracks serving the Long Island Railroad), nor is the surrounding neighborhood. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has expressed a willingness to up-zone the entire area, allowing for the erection of still taller buildings, a move he says is necessary to keep the city competitive with growing commercial epicenters like Shanghai. But not everyone has bought in, signaling that the battles over the future of Grand Central Terminal may not be over. “There’s the fear that, again, we’re rushing things to keep up,” says Barwick. “It reminds me of that old line that says New York will be a great place if they ever finish it. Maybe we haven’t learned as many lessons from Grand Central as we thought.”
Posted on: Tue, 24 Sep 2013 04:13:56 +0000

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