Grand Central Station in the early 1900s
Historic photos of the original Penn Station are almost as common as images of the current site, since its demolition in 1963 is often credited with spearheading the modern preservation movement (and because its grandeur is a startling reminder of how loathed the current station is). Conversely, Grand Central is typically celebrated as a preservation victory. In 1978, the courts ruled in favor of the Landmarks Preservation Commission when Penn Central Railroad sued them to build a huge tower atop the terminal and demolish one of its facades. But believe it or not, the 1913 Beaux-Arts building was not the first Grand Central, and photos of these grand earlier structures are rarely shared.
See them here and get the full history
These days if an architect were to ask a developer “What’s your sign?” they probably wouldn’t be taken very seriously. But in the early 1900s, it was an entirely different story.
A century ago, wealthy industrialists, bankers, businessmen and civic planners were erecting opulent buildings with the help of top architects and artists. And in addition to elaborate ornamentation, celestial ceilings with zodiac symbols were also requested in a number of iconic building designs. Ahead we point out six historic New York area buildings where you can still encounter these astral vestiges.
Where to find Zodiac signs in NYC
Perhaps the most detested midtown skyscraper by the public, this huge tower has, nevertheless, always been a popular building with tenants for its prime location over Grand Central Terminal and its many views up and down Park Avenue. It is also one of the world’s finest examples of the Brutalist architecture, commendable for its robust form and excellent public spaces, as well as its excellent integration into the elevated arterial roads around it.
However, it is also immensely bulky and its height monstrous. As shown in the photograph ahead, the building completely dominates and overshadows the former New York Central Building immediately to the north, which had been designed by Warren & Wetmore as part of the “Terminal City” complex. The New York Central Building, now known as the Helmsley Building, straddled the avenue with remarkable grace and its distinguished pyramid. As one of the city’s very rare, “drive-through” buildings, it was the great centerpiece of Park Avenue. But by shrouding such a masterpiece in its shadows, quite literally, the Pan Am Building (today the MetLife building) desecrated a major icon of the city that will unfortunately will never recover from this contemptible slight on such a prominent site.
Read more about the significance of this building here
Grand Central Terminal has a great deal of hidden history and underground secrets, but this powerful image of German helmets taken in 1918 might not be on everyone’s radar. The photo documents a collection of captured WWI helmets from German soldiers stacked in a pyramid shape on Victory Way. The politically potent tower was in view of the employees from New York Central Terminal with the famous train station visible in the background.
More on this alarming photo
Grand Central Terminal is one of New York City’s most beloved landmarks, and over the years this historic transportation hub has stood the test of time. While the majority of the structure has remained intact, the businesses inside the station have seen their fair share of changes since first opening in 1871. But one of the station’s more notable and less widely known tenants includes a special movie theatre designed specifically for travelers. Read more
Image © Emily Nonko for 6sqft
The iconic Grand Central Terminal is a building with more than a few secrets. Constructed in 1913 with the wealth of the Vanderbilt family, there was a lavish private office (now known as The Campbell Apartment), glass catwalks, a hidden spiral staircase, and even artists’ studios on an upper floor. One of the most infamous secrets of the terminal, however, was a secret track used specifically for a president to access one of the most famous hotels in the world. Known as Track 61, it leads to a special platform that was never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service—it just happened to be in the right place.
Keep reading about Grand Central’s secret track
Yesterday we rounded up some of the most heinous crimes committed against architecture in New York City, but today we’re taking a look at the sunnier side of things. Our list of architectural saviors includes sites saved from the wrecking ball, as well as those that have remained intact and been adaptively reused. And with city-wide preservationists celebrating this year’s 50th anniversary of the landmarks law, what better time to take a look back?
View our list of architectural saviors
- Forest City Enterprises is putting its 55% stake in Barclays up for sale. [Brooklyn Eagle]
- The Department of City Planning certified a five-block rezoning application today for a stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue near Grand Central Terminal that includes SL Green’s One Vanderbilt tower. [CO]
- Mayor Bill de Blasio has rejected JPMorgan Chase’s request for $1B in tax incentives to keep its headquarters in New York. However, he hasn’t ruled out offering some tax breaks. [Crain’s]
- Thor Equities has purchased two Williamsburg properties for approximately $17.8 million and is planning to turn the site into a 10,000-square-foot retail development. [CO]
Images: Barclay’s (left); One Vanderbilt (right)
As part of a five-year, $210 million plan to significantly upgrade Grand Central’s subway station, developer SL Green hopes to install new staircases to the train platforms, two new street-level entrances and a refurbished mezzanine level, and a 4,000-square-foot ground-level commuter waiting area. The improvements were conceived in conjunction with the MTA and the de Blasio administration earlier this year as the first component of the Midtown East Rezoning project.
The transit upgrades must all be completed before tenants can occupy One Vanderbilt (planned for completion in January 2020), SL Green’s new 65-story office tower planned for the entire block west of Grand Central and north of East 42nd Street. Designed by Kohn Pederson Fox, the tower will be the second-tallest building in the city when completed.
More on the upgrades ahead
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing today on a proposal by S.L. Green to build a huge tower on the northwest corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and 42nd Street directly across from Grand Central Terminal. The proposal before the commission was an application for a “certificate of appropriateness” for a transfer of air rights from the former Bowery Savings Bank Building at 110 East 42nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.
The developers of S.L. Green made their moves by wooing Landmarks with renderings of Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed tower which would be 1,350 feet tall not counting a 100-foot-high spire—this is significantly higher than the Chrysler Building on the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street and higher than all the supertalls in construction or planned for 57th Street.
Reactions from the hearing this way
It looks like the Chrysler Building is about to get a new neighbor. According to the New York Times, SL Green has reportedly proposed the development of a 1,200-foot, 65-story tower that would occupy the block between 42nd and 43rd Streets, and Vanderbilt and Madison Avenues. This proposal will have to undergo a review process as part of a new de Blasio administration plan to rezone an area of Vanderbilt Avenue for larger buildings.
De Blasio’s proposal is a 2.0 version of a failed bid by Michael Bloomberg that would rezone an area around Grand Central Terminal. Bloomberg’s proposal – which would affect a 73-block area around the terminal – concerned officials and preservationists, who were concerned that the plan would add to the congestion in the area. Fulfilling one of his campaign promises, de Blasio has devised a plan to mitigate those issues as well as keep the city competitive for decades to come, by creating more office space in the prime business location.
Learn more about the iconic tower’s new neighbor