One of the architectural gems of New York City, Grand Central Terminal is worth spending time in even if you aren’t going anywhere. Completed in 1913 after nearly a decade of construction, the beautiful Beaux-Arts station ushered in the era of electric train travel. Many of the grand apartment buildings and hotels in the area were erected around the new terminal, including The Roosevelt Hotel, The Park Lane, and The Waldorf-Astoria. By 1947, Grand Central Terminal was one of the most important transportation hubs in North America. That year more than 65 million people passed through, equal to about 40% of the US population of the time. But car travel and suburban living in the 1950s drastically reduced station traffic, and the building fell into disrepair. By the mid-1960s the roof was leaking and soot and grime covered the walls. Wrecking crews stood by while a protracted battle between conservationists, led by Jackie Onassis, and developers raged on. The station was finally saved by a Supreme Court ruling in 1978, and in the 1990s, a $425 million renovation project restored it to its original magnificence. Today Grand Central Terminal is once again a valued central hub of the city thanks to an efficient commuter train service, a steady stream of tourists, dozens of high- end shops, five restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and more than 20 eateries on the lower level.
The magnificent illuminated zodiac on the vaulted ceiling, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil, now gleams like new. All apart, that is, from a dark patch on the northwest lower corner. This was left untouched to give an understanding of the extent of the restoration effort. The gold-and silver-plated chandeliers were designed to show off the cutting-edge technology of the early 1900s: the light bulb. A marble staircase was added to east end of the concourse, matching that of the west end (both modeled on the staircase of the Paris Opera) and the marble flooring is sprung like a dance floor – which explains the strangely muted sounds of travelers threading their way across the vast concourse. Free architectural tours are given every Wednesday at 12.30pm (meet at the central information booth).
Downstairs, outside the wonderful Oyster Bar & Restaurant (an architectural and culinary landmark), is the Whispering Gallery: two people standing in opposite corners of the archway can speak to each other while facing the wall. Try it! For a quick snack, choose from any of the quality eateries.
Return to ground level for a cocktail at the grand Campbell Apartment by the southeast entrance near Park Avenue, formerly the private office of Jazz Age business magnate John W. Campbell, now one of the most elegant bars in New York.
Round off your visit with some shopping at the station’s high-end boutiques, or check out the temporary craft exhibits in Vanderbilt Hall near the 42nd Street main entrance.