One of New York's Grande Dames Turns 100

As the 100th anniversary of its opening approaches, The New York Times recounts the birth of one of the finest railway stations in the world - Grand Central Terminal.

The "product of local politics, bold architecture, brutal flexing of corporate muscle and visionary engineering," Grand Central Terminal officially opened to the public in February 2, 1913 after 10 years of construction. The Times excerpts the story of the $2 billion (in today's dollars) terminal's birth from “Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America,” by Sam Roberts.

Among the most radical of the terminal's innovations in replacing the former Grand Central Station was that by accommodating electric trains, rather than steam locomotives, "[t]he 'veritable Chinese Wall’ that bisected the city for 14 blocks could be eliminated. The air above the yards could be magically transformed into valuable real estate in the heart of Manhattan."

Though a decade and millions of dollars were spent constructing the station's various feats of engineering, no expense was spared in accommodating the station's passengers either. "When it was finally completed, Grand Central could boast a separate women’s waiting room with oak floors and wainscoting and maids at the ready; a ladies’ shoe-polishing room 'out of sight of the rubbernecks' and staffed by 'colored girls in neat blue liveries'; a telephone room for making calls; a salon gussied up with walls and ceilings of Carrara glass, 'where none but her own sex will see while she had her hair dressed'; a dressing room attended by a maid (at 25 cents); and a private barbershop for men, which could be rented for $1 an hour, and a public version where 'the customer may elect to be shaved in any one of 30 languages.'”

"When Grand Central was finally finished, the only thing lacking was adjectives. The Times produced a special section of the newspaper and hailed the terminal as 'a monument, a civic center, or, if one will, a city.'”

“Without exception,” the newspaper said, “it is not only the greatest station in the United States, but the greatest station, of any type, in the world.”

Full Story: 100 Years of Grandeur

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Listen to author talk about the history of the terminal

NPR's Robert Siegel interviews Sam Roberts in an 18-minute broadcast filled with humor and fascinating trivia on this "temple of transit, full of people going somewhere else in a hurry."

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