Grand Central past and present

Grand Central is synonymous with New York’s railway.

This month, the station is 100 years old and celebrations are already underway to honour the iconic transport hub, but back in the late 1960s, there were some who sought to demolish the station and replace it with an 80-story skyscraper.

Completed in 1913 at a cost of $80 million, the station was, and still is, the largest in the world and the first in the U.S. to use an all-electric signalling system.

The building marked a new direction in station design and has become a must-see New York attraction in its own right, alongside the Empire State Building and Times Square.

But in 1963, the demolition of Pennsylvania station led to an architectural preservation movement within the United States and in an effort to protect Grand Central from a similar fate, New York City gave the station building landmark status.

Photo: SOM.
Photo: SOM.

Railway company Penn Central attempted to get around the ruling and pushed forward plans for a new office tower on the site until it was eventually forced to file a law suit against the Landmarks Preservation Commission after the authority rejected its plans.

The campaign made headlines and gained even greater notoriety when its most famous opponent, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, joined the front line.

The case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which came to Grand Central’s rescue and upheld the law in a landmark 1978 decision.

Fast forward 40 years and proposals to redevelop the area around Grand Central are once again being presented. But rather than tearing down the station, these plans put Grand Central right at the heart of a future vision for the area.

The Municipal Arts Society’s ‘Next 100’ scheme challenged architects and designers to come up with a new look Midtown which protected and enhanced Grand Central.

One of the most striking designs features a doughnut-shaped viewing gallery which is able to move up and down two skyscrapers either side of the station.

Peter Stangl is one of Grand Central’s many die-hard fans. As well as being co-chair of the centenary celebrations, Stangl oversaw the stations rennovation as a former president of Metro-North.

Quoted on the MTA website, Stangl said: “We polished the marble and we got it, GCT, shining again. And by making this space appealing and grand again, we wound up doing a lot more too, we revived the heart of New York.

“We fulfilled the promise of those who fought so hard to save this building from the wrecking ball,”

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