As we mentioned in the article about the secret train platform beneath Grand Central Terminal, the venerable New York City landmark turned one hundred this month. The anniversary is being marked by a number of events, sales, displays, and tours that unfortunately were already sold out by the time I learned about them. Still, not one to be deterred, a crew of us dropped in for the birthday celebration and sought out our own Grand Central sights and curiosities. I’ve poked through the station numerous times yet still managed to find some things I’d never seen before.
Happy 100, Grand Central. The clock above the information booth has an opal face and is worth somewhere around $10-15 million, though rumor has it that the one on display is a replica. There is also a tiny cylindrical tube inside the booth. It contains a stairwell that leads to an employees’ only area below the floor of the plaza.
The massive mural adorning the ceiling of the concourse was obscured by filth for decades and was nearly forgotten about until restoration began. The constellations appear in reverse from how they would appear looking at the night sky. The idea was that this is the night sky from the view of God.
Tucked away in the corner of the cavernous space is a small, near pitch black rectangle. That is an uncleaned and unrestored portion of the ceiling, to let people see what it looked like before the restoration.
When it was originally built, light used to stream into the grand concourse through its large arched windows. Office towers eventually sprouted up on either side of the Terminal, cutting it off from the once dramatic stream of sunlight. The windows themselves are still impressive, but it would have been wonderful to see it as it was meant to be.
A portion of the concourse has been devoted to an exhibit covering the history of the building, from its beginning as a depot to the design of the Terminal to the collapse into decay and neglect,and finally, the grand and laborious restoration spearheaded by Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
No trip to Grand Central is complete without a visit to the Whisper Gallery, one of those domed corridors that produce an acoustic anomaly that allows you to whisper to a person standing on the other side of the space and be heard as if you were standing next to them. It’s not marked, but the gallery is right out front the storied Oyster Bar, where Ian Fleming — and by extension, James Bond — said he had the best meal of his life: a bucket of oysters and a couple Miller High Lifes. Your opinion may vary.
After that, we decided to roam the Terminal and see if we couldn’t stumble upon some sights we’d never noticed before. Luckily, the building graciously obliged. The Graybar Passage that leads to the Lexington Avenue entrance to the building proved a wealth of treats I’d never noticed before.
For example, I’d never noticed the domed ceiling is covered with murals celebrating the sturdy laborers who made Vanderbilt’s American rail empire a reality.
Also noticed, for the first time, that the columns lining the wall are adorned with dragons that seem to be eating themselves.
Next to a pamphlet booth and flanking a brass door leading to, I assume, a maintenance and storage area, we found these two brave gargoyles solemnly keeping guard.
Also noticed these guys. Not sure who the bodybuilder is supposed to be, or the…acrobat? Guy playing chicken in the pool? No idea. Our best guesses were Samson or Hercules, both of which are probably wrong. Whatever the case, it’s nice to know they are up there looking out for us.
Finally, it was out onto Lexington Avenue, where first we noticed this gargoyle dutifully holding up the awning. Is that…is that a gillman?
And finally, the art deco-ish rats scampering up the building.
So happy birthday, Grand Central Terminal. You’ve provided us with plenty of interesting curiosities, and I’m sure you have many more yet discovered.