100 Facts For Grand Central Station's 100th Birthday

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Sasha Patkin
Grand Central Station is turning 100 on Saturday! She's getting pretty old. To celebrate the landmark, we've compiled 100 fascinating facts about the historic transit hub. Many of them we discovered in Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark by The New York Transit Museum and Anthony W. Robins, but some were also gathered from our recollections and obscure Google searches.

The station is celebrating its centennial with a huge party this weekend; see our handy party facts for more info.

The Basics:

1. Grand Central Station was officially opened on February 2nd, 1913, one hundred years ago this Saturday.

2. It's actual, proper name is Grand Central Terminal, but nobody calls it that.

3. Sometimes, people (mostly MTA conductors) call it Grand Central - 42nd Street. That's the name of the subway stop, not the terminal itself.

4. Its construction lasted for ten years (from 1903 - 1913).

5. The building was designed by a Francophile architect named Whitney Warren, who wanted to bring a whole lot of Parisian flair to New York City with his Beaux-Arts style.

6. Warren brought a bunch of his French buddies to work on the project with him: Jules-Felix Coutan, who created the sculptural facade that faces 42nd Street, Sylvain Salieres, who sculpted many of the smaller, indoor ornamentation, and Paul-Cesar Helleu, who planned the celestial painting above the main concourse.

7. 750,000 people pass through the station every day. To give you a sense of just how many people that is - it's almost half the current population of Manhattan.

8. Ranked by number of platforms, Grand Central holds the title of largest train station in the world with 44 total.

9. The station, as you've probably noticed, is huge: it occupies a total area of 48 acres.

10. In 2011, Grand Central was ranked sixth on Travel & Leisure magazine's list of the world's most-visited tourist attractions, falling behind Niagara Falls, the Las Vegas Strip, Union Station in Washington D.C. (Seriously? Come on, we could totally take those guys!), Central Park, and Times Square.

The Building:

11. Initially, a competition was held to select the architects. Warren's firm, Warren & Wetmore, never even entered the competition, but was brought in after the fact because Warren was a friend and distant cousin of the board chairman at the time, William K. Vanderbilt. Obviously, this pissed off the firm that did win (Reed & Stem) and, although the two companies managed to collaborate, the relationship was always testy and they eventually sued each other.

12. The station has very few stairs, relying instead on a network of ramps. The New York Tribune claimed the ramps were developed through scientific study, and the Times said, "If a child can toddle at all, it can toddle comfortably from a train to Forty-second Street." We're so glad toddling was part of the plan all along.

13. Indeed, the terminal was designed to be easy enough for babies to navigate. Warren told the Times in 1913, "Once having entered the station the traveler should find himself in a large vestibule and, theoretically, directly in front of the Information Bureau, so that in case he dos not know his way about and cannot read the various signs he may address himself and be properly directed without loss of time and encumbering space."

14. There's a ton of stuff underneath the main concourse of Grand Central: a double-decker train yard, a suburban concourse, and secret rooms (more on those later).

15. An electrical substation is also hidden four stories deep under the station. When the substation was under construction in 1929, the Times reported that it was the largest in the world and that it would be "covering a site 250 feet long by 50 feet wide under Forty-third Street. It will have a preliminary capacity of 25,000 kilowatts, with room for expansion up to 32,600."

16. The fancy Oyster Bar and Restaurant, one of the landmarks-within-the-landmark, nearly shut down in 1974 but was rescued from bankruptcy by new owners. Oysters were the only seafood served until after the purchase, when the owners added other fish to the menu.

17. Initially, the architects wanted skylights to fill the ceiling of the main concourse so that the actual night sky would be exposed. But, when that option proved too expensive, they commissioned Helleu to paint his mural instead.

18. There are 2,500 stars painted on the ceiling; roughly sixty electric bulbs add to the twinkling effect of the stars.

19. The constellations, with the exception of Orion, are painted backwards. Even when the ceiling was replaced in the 1940s, the new painter, Charles Gulbrandsen, stuck to the original design. He said, "The ceiling is decoration, not a map. The constellations are north. They should be south. So what?"

20. The star-spangled ceiling (which we obviously find fascinating) is 125 feet high.


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