4, 5, 6, 7, S at Grand Central-42nd St.
In 1913, after his Grand Central rail line switched from steam to electricity, Cornelius Vanderbilt replaced his 1871 depot with a colossal, 49-acre "city within a city" of concrete, steel, and limestone that sat on three miles of tunnel and pushed 10 stories below its lowest level. With its majestic vaulted Sky Ceiling depicting constellations, a series of Roman-inspired ramps designed to keep pedestrians on the move from the street to their trains, and 60-ft. arched windows that streamed sunlight into a grand concourse that has become an enduring symbol of perpetual motion, the Beaux Arts terminal soon became the busiest train station in the nation. It also became an American landmark thanks, in part, to the role it played in welcoming Hollywood stars and in shuttling troops and supplies during World War II. In the late 1970s, after the downfall of the rail system, developers did their best to send the rapidly decaying and decrepit structure the way of its demolished rival Penn Station, but a Supreme Court ruling upheld its landmark status. In 1998, an extensive restoration that included the long overdue building of a second marble staircase has returned the jewel to its former radiance and polish. Today 750,000 people pass through the terminal daily, whether to rush to one of the 600 departures of the three commuter lines or to shop or dine in some of the city’s favorite shops and restaurants, or simply to bask in an atmosphere that some find reminiscent of a great cathedral.Time Pieces
With four faces made from precious opal, the gilded clock that tops that ultimate New York meeting place, the information station at the center of the concourse, is worth millions of dollars. The face of the exterior clock atop the 42nd-Street side of the terminal—flanked by Jules Felix Couton’s sculpture representing the gods of travel, strength, and wisdom—is perhaps the world's largest example of Tiffany.
The "whispering gallery" on the dining concourse near the Oyster Bar is the stuff of city lore: Sweet nothings whispered on one side will travel along the vaulted ceiling into the ear of a partner on the other side.
Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m.: Meet at the Main Concourse's information booth for a free architecture and history tour presented by the Municipal Arts Society. 212-935-3960. Fridays at 12:30 p.m.: The Grand Central Partnership presents a 90-minute walking tour of the Grand Central District. Meet in the Sculpture Court of the Whitney Museum at Altria on E. 42nd St. across from Grand Central. For more information, call 212-883-2420 or visit www.grandcentralpartnership.org. The official, self-guided audio tour focuses on the history of the terminal, little-known secrets, anecdotes, archival material, and architectural highlights, is also available: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and the disabled, $3 for students, $1 for children under 12. The tour can be downloaded as an mp3 for $3.99 at myorpheo.com.
Vanderbilt Hall, the 12,000-square-foot main waiting room decorated with 1913 chandeliers and tons of pink marble, can be rented for weddings after 5 P.M., albeit at a cost: $25,000 and up. Couples choose from twelve exclusive caterers. The space is unavailable from mid-November through the end of December.