‘The stranger who visits us for business or pleasure should be impressed by the magnificence of the great city upon his very entrance within its limits.’
And indeed, a palace of sorts still stands today and who better to provide a tour than Anthony Robins, co-author of ‘Grand Central Terminal: 100 years of a New York Landmark’, as the building marks its centenary on February 2nd 2013.
Upon meeting Anthony, with his wide brim hat, fast-talking New York accent and contagious enthusiasm, he quickly begins to resemble Willy Wonka. But instead of a fantasy chocolate factory, the very real and iconic New York terminal is the magical place to be discovered.
We start on the outside. The snow falls around us as we stand before this grand dame of architecture on East 42nd Street and Anthony talks of the days when nearby Union Square was once deemed the city and the station’s location was ‘far away’. In many ways, 100 years later, she stands as the heartbeat of the city.
We marvel at Jules-Félix Coutan’s incredible sculptures on the outer facade, which includes Hercules standing tall, surrounded by Mercury and Minerva, representing the foundations of transportation and commerce.
The colourful 14-foot-diameter glass clock, made by Tiffany, that sits at Hercules’ feet has marked time passing for a century and, Anthony tells me, there is a hidden door at the Roman numeral, VI.
Inside, the Vanderbilt Hall, named after the family who funded the terminal’s construction, the 12,000-square-foot area was once filled with benches for those waiting to catch long distance trains.
It’s hard to imagine that in the Seventies and Eighties, these same benches would become beds for the many homeless people that had set up camp. The majestic space now resembles a ballroom — chandeliers weighing several tons sparkle against the marble in all their glory.
The vast zodiac ceiling in the main concourse is simply breathtaking. As Anthony and I look up, he rather poetically says: ‘Call it psychology, call it spiritual, it opens you up inside… especially in a dense city like New York.’
And he is right, even though it’s a bustling weekday morning filled with commuters scurrying to work and tourists clicking their SLRs. Up there in the gods all is calm.
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