Anthony W. Robins, formerly survey director for New York’s Landmarks Commission, has written and lectured about the city’s architecture and history for 30 years. Anthony is co-author of our new book, Grand Central Terminal 100 Years of a New York Landmark with the New York Transit Museum. His previous works include Classics of American Architecture: The World Trade Center and Subway Style. He has also written for the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Architectural Record. Visit his website, anthonywrobins.com.
What a wonderful opportunity for a New Yorker to write a book about Grand Central Terminal! And what a challenge to find something new to say about this century-old landmark that has been the subject of half a dozen books and hundreds – if not thousands – of articles. Gabrielle Shubert, director of the New York Transit Museum, met the challenge by organizing the book to focus on not just the building, but also its 100 years of history at the center of New York – its special place in the city, its role as a haven for soldiers and sailors during World War II, its function as a town square where thousands gathered to watch moonshots on giant TV monitors. The museum’s expert archivists, Carey Stumm and Brett Dion, unearthed countless pages of documents. For my part, in researching the terminal’s history I found hundreds of quotations whose voices brought those 100 years of history to life. Add to all that the historic photos, the gorgeous photos by Frank English taken over 25 years as Metro-North’s official photographer, and an introduction by Tony Hiss, who’s written dozens of beautiful New Yorker articles about the Terminal, and we have a brand-new book about the Terminal unlike any that’s gone before.
My favorite quotation from the book is the one that opens the first chapter. It refers to the original Grand Central Depot – predecessor of the Terminal (which is the third Grand Central on the site) – being planned by Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt:
“People who come to New York should enter a palace on the end of their ride, and not a shed. The stranger who visits us for business or pleasure should be impressed by the magnificence of the great city upon his very entrance within its limits. So we endorse Mr. Vanderbilt’s proposed depot on 41st street. Let it be worthy of him and of the metropolis.”
That was an editorial in the Real Estate Record and Guide of June 5, 1869. One hundred forty-four years and three Grand Centrals later – and thanks to a painstaking restoration carried out by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects – the terminal contiues to impress New Yorkers and visitors alike with its magnificence, which we now celebrate with this new book.
Here are some more photos from the book:
Though the name Vanderbilt today suggests vast and ancient wealth, the Commodore came from humble roots, and the family had no coat of arms. Vanderbilt selected the acorn as the family symbol, and adopted the old saying “Great oaks from little acorns grow” as the family motto.
“The thoughts of millions of New Yorkers were riveted for hours yesterday on one man alone in space…. The most spectacular display of interest occurred in Grand Central Terminal…. They began to arrive about 6:30 a.m. Their numbers swelled rapidly after 8 a.m. Just before the blast-off, Captain Frank Campbell of the railroad police estimated that 9,000 to 10,000 persons stood shoulder to shoulder, their faces turned like sunflowers to the screen.”
—NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 21, 1962
Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark by the New York Transit Museum and Anthony W. Robins, Introduction by Tony Hiss (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012) is available now wherever books are sold.