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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
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Grand Central
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Expansion of the Public Realm
Grand Central
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Other grand Beaux-Arts–inspired buildings were also appearing in New York. And in fact, New York has the largest collection of great Beaux-Arts masterpieces. Pennsylvania Station was another one of the greatest buildings from this era, also one of the greatest buildings in America ever demolished.

And so you no longer can experience this sense of grandeur at Pennsylvania Station, but you can still experience it at Grand Central Terminal, which is the masterpiece of the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore. And Whitney Warren was also a Beaux-Arts–trained architect.

This building was the Vanderbilt railroad's main entry into New York. And they wanted to build a building that would symbolize the greatness of the New York Central Railroad, and also to be the great gateway into New York. And it was also built as a rival of Pennsylvania Station.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, which had a long history as a patron of great architecture, was building a new railroad station in New York that would bring its trains into Manhattan for the first time. So now the New York Central Railroad, which traditionally was the only railroad that actually came into Manhattan, was going to have a rival. So they needed a work of architecture that would rival McKim, Mead, and White's Pennsylvania Station, and so they commissioned the architects Reed and Stem, railroad architects, and then later added Warren and Wetmore to design this building.

An extremely beautiful building and a very interesting engineering feat as well. It's very French, very three-dimensional building with allegorical sculpture right in the center; right down your vista along Park Avenue is this sculpture that centers on a clock, and clocks of course are very important symbols at a railroad station, which runs on schedules.

And rising above the clock is Mercury, the god of commerce, and Mercury is flanked by Athena and Hercules. And so you have sort of brains and brawn creating the great railroad.

You enter, like at the New York Public Library, like at the Opéra, you enter through a series of ever-grander spaces, and you're carefully channeled through the entrance, into the great waiting room, and then into one of the most colossal spaces in New York, this great vaulted space where you buy your tickets and where you go to get to the trains. To this day one of the great spaces in New York, capped by a mural of constellations in the night sky, lit up by little light bulbs, and beautifully detailed.

The building is a terminal, not just a station. The New York Central trains end here. And so there are a number of interesting innovations that dealt with both the trains and the fact that this station is right in the heart of the city, and it blocks Park Avenue.

And so as part of the construction among the innovations are the fact that you can move through this station without ever going up or down a stair. So there's a whole system of ramps that take you through, which seems such an obvious thing to do in a train station, but nobody had ever done it before.

The station also has a double layer of trains, suburban trains on the lower level and long-distance commuter trains on the upper level. So structurally you had to deal with these two trains.

There was also a system had to be devised for turning the trains around. And so you're in this very cramped terminal area, but the architects and the engineer William Wilgus devised a method of looping the trains around so that they could actually go out of the station, which was also very, very innovative.

And most importantly was the fact that this terminal needed to be part of the greater whole of New York. And they didn't want Park Avenue just to stop. There was a realization that having Grand Central right on Park Avenue would inhibit the growth of the city, and that it would be very difficult to get around New York because Park Avenue, which in the original Commissioners' Plan was Fourth Avenue, would stop at Forty-second Street.

So William Wilgus devised a system whereby roadways go above Forty-second Street and around the station, and dump you out north of Grand Central Terminal, so that Grand Central is now a part of a growing, living city.


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