Lighting Up Grand Central – The Centennial Holiday Light Show

Hopefully by now you’ve heard about Grand Central’s Holiday Light Show, one of the final events in this celebratory centennial year. Grand Central has hosted several holiday light shows in the past, but this year’s is most certainly my favorite. Taking over the Terminal’s west windows, LED lights turn each individual window pane into a “pixel” of color. In concert, all of these “pixels” can display colors, letters, and even basic shapes.


Behind the scenes: a Textilene scrim hangs in each window pane, onto which LED lights are projected. The windows on the west wall contain over 350 window panes, so setup was a daunting task. I wasn’t quite sure if walking behind the setup would be visible from below, so I didn’t!

The light show that you see each night, starting at 5 PM and continuing to 11 PM, is a collaboration by several groups. Sponsored by Toshiba, the show was designed by Michiru Tanaka, a lighting designer that has worked with Toshiba on several lighting projects. Bestek Lights brought the concept into the real world with LED light fixtures, and fabricated everything required to hold the lights. All of that work had to abide by landmarks preservation guidelines, as well as safety guidelines, since behind the window panes are walkways used by employees.


Concept rendering of the light show (left), and lighting designer Michiru Tanaka in front of her creation (right, photo by Charles Norfleet).
 
President of Bestek, Van Allen Rice, experiments with different fabrics for the light show (left), and the control setup for the light show (right). Photos via Bestek.

Because the window panels are a major source of light in the main concourse during the day, one of the requirements for the installation was that it could not block the sun. After several trials, it was decided that Textilene scrims would be hung in each window panel. The scrims would allow the LED light to be reflected onto it for the show, but would also allow sunlight to pass through during the day. Below each scrim is a Stagebar 54, a light fixture that contains 54 LED lights in five colors – red, green, blue, amber, and white. A total of 354 of these fixtures were installed to create the grand effect you see in the show.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to see the light show yet, you have until December 26th to check it out (which is definitely worth it). The thirty minute shows run continuously from 5 PM to 11 PM each night. Note that you can see the show from inside the main concourse, as well as from outside the building on Vanderbilt Avenue.

 
  
   
 
  
 

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James P. Carey, Grand Central’s Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

When Grand Central Terminal opened, some of its most touted amenities included the special waiting rooms for men and women located right next to the general waiting room. Included within were a barbershop, dressing rooms, and a manicure parlor, and all were operated by a rather ingenious entrepreneur by the name of James P. Carey. Not only did Carey have a gift for making and creating businesses, he recognized Grand Central as a prime opportunity, and the perfect place to launch those businesses.


Left: Photograph of James P. Carey with his dog Kerney, Right: Advertisement for Williams’ Shaving Soap, with testimonial by Carey and citing his barber shop in Grand Central Station.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut around 1869, James P. Carey was a trained barber that just happened to have a knack for business. After moving to New York City in his youth, he eventually started a chain of 25 barber shops, which he ultimately sold to focus on business ventures in Grand Central. His first established Grand Central endeavor was a barbershop in 1905 – several years before today’s Terminal was constructed. Like several other businesses in the old station, Carey reestablished his barbershop in the Terminal when it was completed, though it was much expanded.


Postcards showing Carey’s barber shop in Grand Central Terminal. From the collection of Steve Swirsky.

Carey’s barbershop in the new Terminal was truly a spectacle, and was claimed to be the largest barbershop in the world. Measuring 10,000 square feet and part of GCT’s mens’ waiting room, it was filled with plate glass mirrors, high polished Carrara glass, cream tiling, and marble basins. Only the best-trained barbers stood at the ready in white uniforms, waiting for patrons. In addition to walk-ins, you could also reserve an appointment by phone, or by telegraph from your train. The shop operated from 6 AM to midnight, and in addition to the barbers employed 2 cashiers, 3 coat and hat attendants, 3 shoe polishers, and 2 podiatrists (or as they were then called, chiropodists). The shop also contained a Russian steam bath, offered at a cost of 50 cents, and large enough to accommodate 33 men. For the women, Carey operated the manicure parlor and hairdresser as part of the women’s waiting room, which employed 6 manicurists and 2 hairdressers.


1913 ads for Carey’s businesses in Grand Central Terminal, shortly after opening.

Not only did Carey have a keen business sense, he had quite a talent for sensing what patrons of the Terminal needed. When I posted about the Grand Central Theatre, I tried to make the point that Grand Central morphed along with changing demographic of people that used it, and constantly reinvented itself to remain current and relevant. In that respect, Carey’s inventiveness perfectly reflected that spirit of Grand Central. At first the barber shop tailored to the high profile guests of the Terminal – people that relished their privacy, and could wire the barbershop from their train to reserve a private appointment. Soon after, Carey opened yet another barbershop – a no frills affair geared to the more everyday folks using Grand Central. Not long after that Carey noted that not just passengers were interested in getting their hair cut, thus he opened smaller shop in Grand Central’s office building for employees and train workers.


Carey also operated a men’s clothing shop, or as the folks wishing to ooze class would say, a haberdashery. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

At most, Carey is said to have operated twelve different businesses in the Terminal, including a clothing shop, laundry, luggage check, and car service. While some people were at first skeptical of the commercial space in the Terminal, calling it “barnlike” and having “storerooms [that were] too scattered,” Carey realized the opportunity, and created new businesses to fill the void. One such business was a haberdashery, or men’s clothing shop, which survived for many years in the Terminal.

Believing that Grand Central represented amazing opportunity, Carey focused on acquiring as much commercial space in the Terminal as possible. In 1920 Carey managed to oust fellow longtime tenant Mendel’s check room and luggage when their lease ran out, acquiring the space for himself. Like Carey, the proprietor of Mendel’s first established his shop in the previous Grand Central, though much earlier than Carey, in the 1870′s. When their lease came up for renewal, the owner, unaware they even had any competition for the space, put in a bid matching what he had been paying previously. Unbeknownst to him, Carey entered a higher bid, and by the time Mendel’s tried to up their bid, it was too late. Knowing that the check room and luggage shop was a necessity for the station, Carey opened his own version in the newly acquired location.


Advertisement and postcard for Carey’s transportation business. Below, right: photo of a Carey bus at JFK airport.

In 1921, right outside the walls of the Terminal, Carey embarked on his most significant and profitable venture – car transportation. Using the fanciest cars available at the time, Carey’s drivers chauffeured wealthy patrons arriving and departing Grand Central Terminal – rumored to include Babe Ruth, John F. Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover. Eventually the car service was expanded to include New York’s airports, and buses were added to the fleet. Though the company has gone through many changes and transitions over the years, Carey International is the current form of the company started so many years ago outside Grand Central.


In a move that would likely be frowned upon today, Carey fashioned himself a logo modeled after the New York Central’s. Below is the logo in use by Carey International, the current form of the company that J.P. Carey started many years ago.

Carey operated all of his businesses in the Terminal until 1940, when he retired due to illness (he died not too long after, in 1942). Many of the businesses he set up in the station, like the men’s clothing store, lasted for at least 50 years. The baggage check service was ultimately rendered obsolete when the New York Central installed lockers for travelers. As mentioned above, a successor firm to the transportation service Carey started still exists under the name of Carey International.

One final vestige of the Carey name still exists in the Terminal – a spot called Carey’s Hole (visible in this Metro-North floor plan). Until recently, Carey’s Hole was a locker facility used by Metro-North’s conductors and engineers (these locker facilities have now been relocated to the third floor). Located below the spot where Carey’s barbershop once was, this basement area was likely used for storage many years ago. For a man who spent much of his life on endeavors in Grand Central Terminal, it seems appropriate that at least one spot in the Terminal bears his name – even if it is just a basement.

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Celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial: The 100 for 100 Project

Provided you haven’t been living under a rock recently, you may have heard that Grand Central Terminal’s Centennial is fast approaching. While Metro-North will be kicking off celebrations in February, I thought it would be more fun to get the party started now. That’s why I Ride the Harlem Line will be counting down the next 100 days to Grand Central’s Centennial with a historical photo of the Terminal. That’s right – 100 historical photos, posted one per day, for the next 100 days. I like to call it the Grand Central 100 for 100 Project. While there will, of course, be a few iconic photos in the mix that you’ve certainly seen before, I’m hoping that the majority of them you haven’t seen. It is a great way to visually explore the history of the Terminal, and to see Grand Central in a new light.

Grand Central is truly a monument of New York City. Not only is it functionally important – a great example of what a train station should be – it is architecturally significant, and paramount, an important precedent for historical preservation in the United States. Besides all that, Grand Central means a lot to me – and this is one of the few ways a lowly commuter interested in history such as myself can celebrate it. Grand Central, and its Centennial Committee, plan to hold their festivities on the first of February – which seems entirely appropriate – for the committee contains the rich, and the famous. Grand Central unofficially opened on the First of February in 1913 – not to the public, but to the rich and the famous. It was not until the gorgeous Information Booth clock’s hands moved to midnight, commencing the new day of February 2nd, that the Terminal opened to the public. Thus, February 2nd is the day that our project will be counting down to, one photo at a time.


A poster advertising Grand Central Terminal’s opening on February 2nd, 1913.

Our photographic countdown will be comprised of nine different topics, with the photos in each moving in a roughly chronological order. Posting a new photo on the blog every day doesn’t seem to be the best format in which to present these images – thus I’ve decided that the better place to post them all will be on social media. Facebook and Twitter are conducive to sharing – and I want you to share these photos. I want everyone to celebrate Grand Central and its 100th birthday – for it is our monument, not just a pretty building for the privileged.

Part 1: Construction of Grand Central Terminal
Thursday, October 25th

Part 2: Outside views, and the Changing Urban Landscape
Sunday, November 4th

Part 3: Waiting for the Train
Saturday, November 10th

Part 4: Trains in the Terminal
Sunday, November 18th

Part 5: Famous Faces
Friday, November 30th

Part 6: Around Grand Central
Sunday, December 9th

Part 7: The Main Concourse
Saturday, December 29th

Part 8: Noteworthy Events in the Terminal
Wednesday, January 9th

Part 9: Grand Central Terminal, Restored
Thursday, January 24th

So today, we begin. The first photo, and all subsequent photos, will be posted daily at 11 AM. Make sure to like or subscribe over on Facebook, or follow @mtaHarlemLine or the hashtag #100for100GCT on Twitter to see all the photos. There is also an unofficial countdown clock on the top of this site, which will link to the project photos, and count down to the centennial. We’ll also be celebrating with other Grand Central-themed posts over the span of the next hundred days, and will have something special on Grand Central’s birthday, February 2nd. Let the festivities begin!

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Counting down the 12 most popular posts of 2011, Part 2

Here is the final part of our top posts of 2011. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and visits. These are the posts that you all voted for, with your eyes and your clicks.

No tour of any of Metro-North’s lines could be complete without a visit to the most wonderful station of all – Grand Central. Our Harlem Line Tuesday Tour finished with photos of GCT, and was extremely well-liked, coming in at number seven in the countdown. I think I was rather proud of the photo set, as it covered quite a few locations that were not part of the main concourse. Although the concourse is the highlight, it is by all means not the only thing interesting found in the Terminal.

These are the reasons why there are probably people that work for the MTA that dislike me… although I love the history of the rails, as well as photography, there are some times that I just can’t help joking around. In this spoof, The MTA wants to make sure you are prepared, I poked a little bit of fun at the brochure that they released regarding hurricanes. My intent wasn’t to knock their preparations (as that hurricane brochure came in handy later on during the year!!), it was more to make an amusing statement about the snowstorms slamming us that just wouldn’t stop. We were somewhat prepared – but absolutely fed up with the snow that kept piling up. But being able to add in some zombies and Norse mythology just made it all the more fun.

Many times I’ve passed through the streets in Danbury and sighted a particular wall covered with some absolutely gorgeous graffiti. Every time I did, I always thought that I should go and take a photo of it… but I never got a chance to do it until March. In the post Gorgeous rail-side graffiti in Danbury I posted photos of the mural (which was a lot larger than I had originally suspected). The painted wall is located just off of Main Street in Danbury, not far from the Metro-North station, and located along some railroad tracks.

Just about any day this year was a good time to be anyone other than Hermon Kaur Raju. Raju is the commuter we love to hate, yapping on her cell phone the whole ride and using a whole slew of four letter words. When a train conductor told her to shut her trap, Raju went on the offensive – demanding that everyone acknowledge how educated she was. Most unfortunately for her, someone had been recording the entire exchange, and posted it to YouTube. Despite being removed a short time later by the original poster, the damage had been done. The clip made it to the Huffington Post, Gawker, and Raju was even one of Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Persons In The World.”

Although I did not post her name at the time, resisting the urge to poke fun at Raju was impossible. The post Be nice to your conductor, or you’ll wind up on the internet was one of our top posts for the year. Metro-North never really made a public response regarding the incident, however Raju would likely be pleased to know that the conductor involved was reprimanded for the incident – for not wearing her hat.

Discovering the old stations of the Harlem Division has been an interest of mine ever since I first read about them. Many no longer exist, but a few have been converted to businesses and are still around. Only one (to my knowledge) has been converted into use as a home, and the thought of living in an old train station is probably pretty awesome to anyone that calls themself a railfan. In an Adventure to Sharon Station, I got a great chance to tour the house, which is currently for sale. Even though the the outside looks much as it did way back when, the inside contains all the modern comforts one would expect in a home. I’m very appreciative to Elyse Harney Real Estate for allowing me to see the house, even though they knew I didn’t have the means to purchase it – though if I ever win big in the lottery, they may be one of the first people I call.

Although often forgotten by commuters, Metro-North does have tracks on the west side of the Hudson. I suppose they lines over there are easily overlooked, as they don’t go into Grand Central, and are operated by New Jersey Transit. However, one of the most beautiful locations along Metro-North’s tracks is found on the west side. The Picturesque Moodna Viaduct, located in the rural countryside of Orange County. The viaduct is the longest and tallest trestle east of the Mississippi River, and I was very happy to note that the Hurricane Irene damage on the Port Jervis line did not greatly harm this wonderful gem. It seems that many others also find the viaduct a lovely place, as it was our second most popular post on the blog in 2011.

In an absolutely unprecedented move, the entirety of MTA buses and trains shut down ahead of the oncoming storm, Hurricane Irene. Although some people criticized the decision as a bit over the top, it turned out to be the right one. Of all the agencies, Metro-North likely suffered the worst damages, from both high winds and rain-induced floods. In an absolutely brilliant move, the MTA kept customers apprised of the ongoing situation through their Flickr account, visually documenting the storm on their infrastructure. Some of the photos even wound up in the trending topics of twitter – a monumental achievement for the MTA’s social media endeavors.

I reposted many of the MTA’s photos under the title of Metro-North and the Aftermath of Irene, Damage Photos, and it was the number one post of the year on I Ride the Harlem Line.

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Reasons why I’m crazy for CooCoo…

I’ve mentioned it a few times on here, but I absolutely hate Metro-North’s phone information line. Back in the day you would call up and hit the first few letters of the station you were going to on your keypad. It was rather simple. Unfortunately, the system was “upgraded” to a voice recognition system that worked like crap. You would say your station name, and provided there was no background noise, only then would the system understand you. Anotherwords, if you were anywhere in the entire fricken city of New York, the schedule system didn’t work. But it would sure as hell patronize you… Can you repeat that? For folks without fancy phones with internet capabilities, this was pretty much the only option for getting train times on the go, besides having a timetable in your pocket.

Last week Metro-North announced a new way to access your train schedules: CooCoo. I had heard of it, as it had already been put to use for the Long Island Railroad, but had never used it. However, from the various articles written about it, I never quite realized how absolutely awesome CooCoo is. All you have to do is send a text message to 266266 (the number for CooCoo) with your stations like this: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central. Then CooCoo texts you back with the next five trains. Simple. Easy. Want to know the trains for tomorrow? You can do that too: Goldens Bridge to Grand Central 7am. Each train that CooCoo comes back with has a letter assigned to it… respond to the text message with just that letter, and it will text you more information about that train, like the duration and fare price, regular and onboard. CooCoo will also tell you if any of the trains are delayed or cancelled, which can also be a big help.

Now that I’ve started using CooCoo, I’ve come up with a few reasons why I absolutely love it:

CooCoo is easy to remember
I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what the phone number for the Metro-North info line is anymore. They got rid of their 800 number, and even THAT was confusing. Oh, and before they got rid of the 800, if you screwed up and dialed MTA-INFO instead of METRO-INFO, you found that you had called a sex line.

CooCoo, on the other hand, is pretty easy to remember. 266266. CooCoo on the number pad. Easy.

CooCoo is harder to confuse
Whoever tested Metro North’s phone system was probably in a white room with padded walls and there was no sound whatsoever. If you were anywhere outside a sterile setting, the system couldn’t understand the station you just said… which I previously mentioned is incredibly difficult in a city as loud as New York. It got frustrating really fast.

I purposely tried to confuse CooCoo. And you know what CooCoo said to me? “Emily, I am not that stupid.” Whether you typed Purdy’s or Purdys, Grand Central or GCT, CooCoo knew what the heck you were talking about. Want to really try to confuse it? Enter something like White Plains to New Haven. Instead of crapping out, CooCoo has the answer for you- with info on where to change trains, and what time your connection comes. CooCoo isn’t messing around.


Yes, as a matter of fact my phone does have the Prince of all Cosmos on it.

CooCoo is quiet and quick
In a restaurant and want to know when the next train is? Text CooCoo. Quiet, and quick. If I was sitting at a table next to someone shouting into their phone “GRAND CEN-TRAL TO GOL-DENS BRIDGE” I would probably want to slap them. Oh, and for stupid dyslexics like me, you can always look at that text message again if you forget or happen to transpose a few numbers in your mind (“Damn, was that train at 7:15 or 7:51?”).

CooCoo is so much more than train schedules
Want to know your horoscope? Sports scores? Weather? Flights? Movies? Even the schedule of the tides? CooCoo knows it all. Find out all the nifty things you can do with CooCoo.

While some news outlets have introduced CooCoo as a replacement to train departure boards, I don’t think that is the service’s niche. For instance, it doesn’t tell you what track your train is going to be on in Grand Central. Departure boards aren’t going obsolete anytime soon. CooCoo is instead a great service for anyone on the go, and to check if your train is on time – and I’m glad it has come to Metro-North.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Grand Central

Last week I finished up the Tour of the Harlem Line with the final station, Botanical Garden. But there was one more station that I wanted to feature – a station that we all know, and a wonderful landmark of the city of New York. That station is of course, Grand Central Terminal. It is a bit of coincidence that I’ve chosen this day to present Grand Central – for it was on this day, February 1, 1913, that the final preparations for the opening of the station were made… with the official opening to the public at midnight.

Grand Central has been mentioned this blog quite a few times before, from the 1902 train wreck that led to electric service and paved the way for the station, to the 1910′s advertisements highlighting its opening. I’ve also discussed the gorgeous sculpture on the front façade, the role Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis played in saving Grand Central, and a little bit about the Vanderbilts, and how the station may be like an architectural embodiment of that family. Despite all of that, there is always so much more I could write about Grand Central, but that is something for another day. Today I want to take you on a photographic tour of the wonders of this place…

If there is one constant about Grand Central, it is certainly my awe every time I enter the main concourse. I have certainly been there a million times, but I am still always amazed. There is a little part of me that is envious of all the Metro-North employees that are employed in this beautiful building, and see it every day. I’ve taken photos here a million times as well, and I don’t think I am ever pleased with any of them, for they never seem to do the place any justice. Beauty can be found throughout – not just in the concourse or on the front façade. The little details always captivate me, from the stylized GCT monogram, to the little sculptural acorns that can be found all over – a symbol of the Vanderbilt family.

I hope you all enjoy this final stop on my tour of the Harlem Line. I had a great time not just photographing, but exploring. I tried to do that at Grand Central as well – not just photographing the main concourse, but to explore and see the areas that aren’t as often captured, like the lower level’s dining concourse. The tables that you will find down there are a wonderful little addition, covered in old rail ephemera. There are plenty of other little details like this throughout, which I love. Most of the photos were taken in public areas, except for a few of the main concourse which were taken on the second and sixth floors.

For now we shall bid the Tuesday Tour posts adieu, but don’t be too sad, when the spring arrives I will be heading out to more stations on another line. By this time next year I might not be known solely as the Cat Girl, but as the crazy nutjob that has been to, and photographed, every Metro-North station!

 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
 
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 

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Temporary Closure of the Transit Museum Annex in GCT, Alternate locations for TransitChek

Starting on January 19th, and continuing into March, the Transit Museum’s Annex in Grand Central Terminal will be closed for renovations. New fixtures and lights will be added in that time, a redesigned store, as well as a new exhibit. The reopening date in March has not been announced yet. When I hear anything about the reopening of the Annex, I will let you all know.

If you need to purchase any transportation items or gifts from the museum, you can either visit the museum’s main location in Brooklyn, or purchase items online at transitmuseumstore.com.

Anyone who normally uses the museum to redeem a TransitChek, or a Commuter Check for a MetroCard, there are several alternate locations you can use during this time period:

TransitChek

Turtle Bay Chemists 901 Second Avenue at 48th St. 212-752-5151
E.G.I. Check Cashing 117 E. 41st Street (Lex & Park) 212-661-9595
Royal Convenience Inc. 589 Third Avenue at 39th St. 212 687-2299

Commuter Check

New York Check Express 117 East 41st Street (Lex Ave) 212-661-9595
Hil-Nil Corporation 520 Madison Avenue at 53rd St. 212-832-2481
New York Check Express 660 Lexington Avenue at 55th St. 212-750-1070

In regards to TransitCheks for Metro-North, some people have written in saying that the additional ticket window closures will make it difficult to cash their TransitCheks. Now I have never done this, but a few friends of mine have, and claim this is acceptable. Use your monthly ticket from the previous month on the morning of the first day of the new month. Tell the Conductor that when you arrive at your destination (Grand Central) you will be purchasing a new monthly ticket, since you need to purchase the ticket from an actual person. My friends insist that you are able to use your old monthly on the first day of the new month, only for the morning ride. Has anyone else done this before? Is doing that considered acceptable?

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