Grand Central Terminal opened its doors for the first time on 2 February 1913. However it was by no means the first transport hub to sit at 89 East 42nd Street.
Grand Central Depot
The first station here was Grand Central Depot, opened in 1871. It was the result of a cost-saving exercise by the Hudson, New Haven and Harlem Railroads who decided to club together and share a transit hub in New York. Dirty, grimy steam engines were banned from the residential heart of the city so the railroads opted to build their new depot at the boundary – 42nd Street.
But the new depot could not avoid public objections. There were complaints that the new railroads running into Grand Central cut the city in half. The first solution was to dig a long trench for the rails to sit in, which pedestrians crossed via bridges.
By 1876 the railroad had disappeared entirely into the Yorkville (later Park Avenue) Tunnel, which stretched between 59th and 96th street. The newly reclaimed road above became posh Park Avenue.
Rebuilding the Depot
By 1910 Grand Central Depot – by now Grand Central Station – was no longer capable of serving the needs of the fast growing city. A collision between two steam engines in the smoke-clogged tunnel in 1902 demonstrated the case for electrification but that would require a total redesign of the station.
Architects were instructed to create a new Grand Central that would truly live up to its name. It needed to mix scale and grandeur with absolute efficiency.
The new design faced critical challenges. Ever more trains required more platforms but how could a station, by now situated in the centre of a bustling city, possibly expand? The answer was to dig down. Three million cubic yards of rock were excavated in order to create vast new subterranean spaces.
“Slightly elevated, it is promised that [kissing galleries] will offer exceptional vantage points for recognition, hailing, and the subsequent embrace. Time was when the embracing went on all over the terminal and the indignant handlers of the baggage trucks would swear that their paths were forever being blocked by leisurely demonstrations of affection. But we have changed all that.”
‘Solving Greatest Terminal Problem of the Age’
New York Times, February 2nd, 1913
The rebuilding work took ten years to complete. More than 150,000 people visited the new station on its opening day. The new station incorporated innovative technology to direct arriving and departing trains.
It also used new systems to improve the efficiency of passengers’ journeys through the station itself, separating arriving and departing passengers and setting aside areas known as “Kissing Galleries” where people could go and meet a person arriving on a train without getting in anyone’s way.
The New York Times described the new station as “…the greatest station, of any type, in the world.”