Edifice complex

Terminal marks its centennial with plenty of fanfare

Photographs by Bob Rozycki

Over the years, Grand Central Terminal has played host to shoppers and soldiers, filmmakers and preservationists – not to mention countless commuters. Now a yearlong centennial celebration of the iconic building has begun, putting the spotlight on its historic past, bustling present and plans for the future.

The party – complete with a cake in the shape of its famed clock and the singing of “Happy Birthday” – officially began Feb. 1 with a rededication ceremony filled with dignitaries and celebrities alike. It led seamlessly into a full day of performances (including one by the Westchester Philharmonic), exhibitions and centennial events, with special 1913 prices at a number of destinations (5-cent coffee, anyone?).

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg kicked off the program that morning with a tribute to the Beaux Arts landmark.

“It’s not easy to last 100 years in a city of constant change,” Bloomberg said, noting that with the ever-growing list of restaurants, shops, shows and entertainment sheltered within Grand Central, it’s become “a city within a city.”

But, he added, “At its heart, this is a commuter train station,” one poised to address the needs of contemporary society.

“It represents beauty and art but also commerce and industry.”

And that is clear from even the quickest trip through the terminal, which today houses nearly 70 shopping destinations and three dozen dining options.

Everyone who has walked, or more likely hustled, through the iconic hallways, concourses and platforms surely finds different, perhaps always changing, reasons to visit.

For some, it might simply be the way a day starts and ends, the place to grab the Harlem, Hudson or New Haven lines.

But, of course, Grand Central’s so much more. It’s the place for a seafood feast at The Oyster Bar & Restaurant, an elegant cocktail in the swanky surroundings of The Campbell Apartment or perhaps even a slice from Two Boots. You can grab a best-seller at Posman Books or sample Junior’s cheesecake, select treats from Li-Lac Chocolates or a new lipstick from MAC, pick up a bouquet of flowers from a bloom-filled stand in Grand Central Market or a new tote from Tumi. You can even get your shoes shined at an old-fashioned stand or play a game of tennis.

Centennial days

And that’s besides taking part in the exhibits and special events that have kicked into high gear for the centennial.

“Grand By Design: A Centennial Celebration of Grand Central Terminal,” which continues through March 15 in Vanderbilt Hall, chronicles the history of the terminal and its effect as one of the world’s most famous transportation sites. “On Time/Grand Central at 100” will be presented March 6 through July 7 at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store at Grand Central, one of the terminal’s perennially popular exhibition spaces. For this special event, more than a dozen contemporary artists will showcase work inspired by Grand Central and its stories.

Australian singer, songwriter, author and artist Nick Cave will present “Heard-NY,” an installation and performance piece choreographed especially for Grand Central, March 25 to 31 in Vanderbilt Hall. A rare public display of train cars is set for May. And the list goes on.

All tie back to Feb. 1, 1913, the day the first set of keys was handed to the terminal’s stationmaster, with the first train departing just after midnight.

Today, the terminal celebrations mark those days – and move things ahead.

The festivities fall into a series of themes – “Happy Birthday to Grand Central”; “Preserving a Landmark”; “Creating a Legacy,” focusing on the renovation of the 42nd Street entrance and other physical improvements; “Grand Centennial Parade of Trains,” which features a rare public display of historic train cars and offers related programming; and “Grand Central: The Next 100 Years,” which continues the celebration throughout 2013.

A companion book, “Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark,” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by the New York Transit Museum and Anthony W. Robins, has just been published. It’s a wonderful trip through the terminal’s history, one filled with historic images of its iconic elements, from the Paul-César Helleu celestial ceiling on the Main Concourse to the information desk clock, from the operations control center to details of the statuary that makes its façade so memorable.

Always in motion

Change is a constant at Grand Central, with old-timers remembering the Kodak Colorama display (honored by the Transit Museum recently), while the youngest visitors will likely always recall the Apple Store being on the balcony.

Holiday markets, along with tours to explore the terminal’s history and secrets, like the underground features, abound.

Of course, there are always moments to pause. Who can forget how a condolence book invited New Yorkers to leave signatures and memories when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a driving force in Grand Central’s preservation efforts in the 1960s and ’70s, died in 1994? Her legacy is honored with a plaque. Her efforts are also credited with fueling the preservation movement throughout the country.

The terminal has also been host to movie scenes and flash mobs, art installations and photo shoots. They all seem to want to capture a bit of Grand Central’s enduring allure.

On the birthday

Back on Feb. 1, as the centennial got under way, the variety of speakers and performers signified just how broad Grand Central Terminal’s reach is.

Those sharing personal memories along the way included actress Cynthia Nixon, former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins (who spoke of his Westchester roots), former New York Mets’ star Keith Hernandez and author and attorney Caroline Kennedy (who offered the words her mother had written in the bid to save Grand Central). There were also songs from Melissa Manchester, joined by a choir from The Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.

It was, though, perhaps Howard Permut, president of the MTA Metro-North Railroad, who summed up the timeless spirit of Grand Central Terminal best:

“It heralded to New Yorkers, then and now, you have arrived – and you have places to go.”

For more on the centennial, visit grandcentralterminal.com/centennial.

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