Help me find my family! A lost bear on the Harlem Line

Help me find my family! Do you recognize me? I was riding the Harlem Line on Monday, December 16th and I got lost! I was taking the 5:19 train from Grand Central to Wassaic, but I guess I forgot to get off at the right stop, and I found myself in Wassaic yard! Don’t worry about me, I’m doing fine, some nice people brought me home and took care of me. I got to see a pretty Christmas tree and some really cool artifacts from railroad history. I even tried on a new hat, it was from the New York Central Railroad and was over 50 years old!

  
 

On Tuesday morning they were even going to let me operate the train down to Grand Central so I could find my family, but I thought it would be better to let the crew who know what they’re doing handle that! I sat in the back of the train and looked out the window as we went back to Grand Central, but I couldn’t really remember which stop was mine. I really miss my family, though. I hope they’ll come and find me – I’m in the Lost and Found in Grand Central now. You’d be surprised if you saw the place! So many coats and umbrellas in a huge room full of shelves! Please, if you recognize me, tell my family that I’m here, okay?

 
 

In all seriousness, a link was blowing up the interwebs the other day – a young girl had lost her stuffed lion on the train. By the power of the internet, and twitter, the two had become reunited. Scant hours later, I found myself on my nightly Harlem Line train, and as we approached our final stop in Wassaic, a little bear sat alone. While he could have gotten dropped into the lost and found bin in the yard, destined to spend at least one night in the damp cold, I opted to take him home for the evening and get him on the next morning train to Grand Central’s Lost and Found.

Though Metro-North’s Lost and Found has a remarkable knack for reuniting people with their lost property, I thought that perhaps the internet may again be able to help the process along. At minimum, when the bear gets reunited with its family, a young one may find their bear’s journeys in an engineer’s seat fun!

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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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Decay and Rebirth: the Glenwood Power Station

Anyone familiar with the history of Grand Central Terminal (and hopefully all of you that regularly read this blog) likely recall a 1902 train crash that led to significant changes in how New Yorkers viewed trains. Nobody really liked steam trains operating through the city, and attempts to hide them in cuts and tunnels proved to be unsafe. That particularly serious crash in the Park Avenue Tunnel led to steam trains being banned in Manhattan. The idea of electric trains had been pondered for a while, but this proved the necessary impetus for innovation. The New York Central’s Chief Engineer William Wilgus, and inventor Frank Sprague came up with the bottom contact third rail to power trains into the city, allowing a bold new Grand Central that could never have been accomplished with the previous technology. The often overlooked question, however, is where did that electricity come from? Let’s rewind back a few years to the beginning of the Grand Central project…

At the heart of the Grand Central Project was not just a station, but an entire set of buildings – A Terminal City. Minnesota architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem won the New York Central’s commission for designing the new Grand Central Terminal, with the assistance of Reed’s brother-in-law, William Wilgus. Later added to the project by the Vanderbilt family were cousin Whitney Warren and his partner Charles Wetmore. The four collaborated on the Terminal itself, as well as the redesigned Grand Central Palace. Other buildings associated with the project were divided between the two firms – the hotels and New York Central Building went to Warren and Wetmore. Though not the most important architecturally, the two most important buildings of all were designed by Reed & Stem – the power stations that powered these new electric trains.

1905 sketches of the New York power stations
1905 sketches of the Yonkers (Glenwood) Power station (left) and Port Morris power station (right).

Two power stations were constructed by the New York Central in 1906 – one on the Harlem Division at Port Morris (the Harlem had a short branch to Port Morris at the time), and another in the Glenwood section of Yonkers on the Hudson Division. The architecture of both, as designed by Reed and Stem, was relatively simple with brick and terra cotta on the outside. Long, arched windows provided natural light during the day, and an attractive glow along the water at night. Under that simple exterior lay an extensive framework of steel (2800 tons of steel in total), with concrete flooring, brick and tile walls, and concrete roofing slabs covered with copper. Each plant consisted of two buildings – a main building that enclosed a boiler room, coal bunker, and generating room which was 167′ wide, 237′ long, and 105′ high, and a separate swich house located about 40′ away from the main building.

Port Morris Power Station Typical substation
The Glenwood Power Station
1905 plans for the Yonkers and Port Morris power stations, as well as a typical substation.

Both power stations were cross-connected, and each had an ultimate capacity of 30,000 kw. Just as Grand Central was designed to handle more traffic than the railroad was currently operating, the power stations were designed to carry train service much greater than what was being operated at the time with steam locomotives. Powered by coal, the plants were both designed to receive coal by rail or by boat, which was then delivered by conveyors to a crusher. After the coal was crushed to the necessary size, it was delivered by another conveyor to a coal bunker with a 3500 ton capacity at the top of the building. Each plant had 24 Babcock and Wilcox water tube boilers, and was designed to accommodate 6 5000kw Curtis vertical turbo-generators. The high voltage AC electricity provided by these power plants was delivered to various substations along the Harlem and Hudson Divisions through insulated cables, where it was then converted to lower voltage DC power for the third rail to power trains.

 
 
  
   
  
   
    
  
   
  
   
 
  
The power station today, after being abandoned for decades.

Though integral to the initial operations of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Central eventually realized that it would be cheaper to purchase energy as opposed to generating its own, and the Glenwood plant was sold to Con Edison in 1936. By the late ’60s the obsolete plant was shuttered and remained abandoned for decades… until fairly recently. A bold plan to restore and repurpose the old power station has been on the table for a few years, but seems to be moving forward thanks to the assistance of New York politicians.

Rendering of the redeveloped power station
Rendering of how the redeveloped power station would look.

“The Plant” project looks to turn the crumbling power station into a hotel and a convention center, with a capacity of 1600 and 3500 people, respectively. The space is separated into four distinct parts – the Smokestack Building, the Great Turbine Hall, a courtyard, and the Switch House Building – all of which will be connected internally with a new corridor. The smokestack building would contain a reception area, and cafe on the ground floor, and a hotel on the upper floors. Not only will the smokestacks be preserved, plans call for meeting rooms to be constructed inside the 15’6″-diameter stacks.

Plan for restoration
Compare the original plans above with the plans for the future…

A large convention center and exhibition space is planned for the Great Turbine Hall, upper floors may contain retail shops, and the building may also include a spa. The last building to be converted, the Switch House Building, will be converted into a corporate retreat with a hotel, ballroom, restaurant and cafe. This building would see the most changes from the original, as two stories would be added to the building for additional hotel space. The last section of the project would be the Courtyard, currently an open space between the buildings. This open air area would be enclosed with a glass roof and would contain a restaurant or cafe, and a seasonal garden.

All of the aforementioned buildings would be connected to the Metro-North station at Glenwood via a new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.

Plan for development
Plans for development around the old Glenwood power station

While there will always be people opposed to development in their neighborhood, the plans for restoring and repurposing the old power station were generally well received. Unfortunately, the area surrounding the site contains no space for parking, and project planners had their eyes on portions of nearby Trevor Park to fit that need, which was not well received by locals. Original plans called for a partially underground parking structure under the current Trevor Park, with artificial turf ball fields to be constructed above. After comments from the public, alternate possibilities have been suggested.

Alternate development site plan
Alternate plan for development around the old Glenwood power station

Either way, the city council unanimously decided at the end of April to request the New York State Legislature to authorize construction on former park lands for the project to move forward. The one caveat being that all parkland being used by the project must be replaced and improved in equal or greater acreage in alternate spots. This alternate parkland would be closer to the waterfront, and the development plans calls for sand volleyball courts, a bocce court, and a picnic and grilling area. This area would be in addition to the previously mentioned park above the parking garage, which is planned to have three ball fields and a playground.


Video highlighting the restoration and repurposing of the Glenwood Power Station.

I, for one, am very eager to see this beautiful old structure again restored to greatness. Though frequently overlooked, the old power plant played an integral role not only in local rail history, but also in the growth of New York City and its suburbs in Westchester and beyond. It will certainly be interesting watch how this project progresses!

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Is there anything to eat on this darn train? Tickets and menus from the 20th Century Limited

Right before Grand Central’s Parade of Trains I got an email from Polly Desjarlais, one of the educators at the Transit Museum. The museum was looking for a copy of a nice ticket to duplicate and hand out to kids at the Parade, and there’d even be a costumed conductor to punch those tickets. Since there would also be a coloring book page of the 20th Century Limited, they were really looking for a ticket from that specific train. Unfortunately, my collection did not include a ticket from the 20th Century. Not only that, I had never even seen a ticket for it, whether in real life or otherwise. In the end, the museum ended up duplicating one of my many commuter tickets, and thus quite a few little children at the Parade of Trains “found themselves” on a Harlem Division train bound for Hartsdale in August of 1943.

20th Century Limited
Scenes from the 20th Century Limited.

Though I may be a little late to the party, I did finally acquire a ticket from the 20th Century Limited. Too late, unfortunately, to use for the Parade of Trains, but perfect timing to share with all of you. And because nobody wants to ride the 20th Century Limited on an empty stomach, here’s a small little collection of menus from the train. Enjoy a quick look back at life aboard not only Grand Central’s most famous train, but one of the most notable trains in American history.

Ticket from the 20th Century Limited
All aboard the 20th Century Limited!

20th Century Limited Menus
One of the more boring menu covers

20th Century Limited Menus
The more “traditional” 20th Century look

20th Century Limited Menus
Simple, yet elegant. When do we eat?

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The Street Railway of the New York and Harlem Railroad

Alfred Stieglitz, The Car Horses
Arguably one of the most famous photos of a horsecar in New York City, by famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Want to irk a railfan or a history buff in only a matter of seconds? Just tell them that you’re in Grand Central Station. Grand Central is, of course, a Terminal – and as Danny Brucker would explain, “because trains terminate here.” The previous incarnation of Grand Central was, however, a station, and had tracks that did continue further south.

Grand Central Station
This is Grand Central Station, circa 1905. This, on the other hand, is not Grand Central Station.

If you’re up on your Harlem Railroad history, you’ll remember that the New York and Harlem Railroad began operating in 1832. Starting with a mile of track from Prince Street to 14th Street, the first trains were pulled by horses. As the line grew, first to Harlem, then beyond to Westchester, and ultimately to Columbia County, passengers would have to transfer to steam locomotives for the rest of their journey. Thus the New York and Harlem Railroad was a combination of two distinct parts – a street railway line (which eventually lost the horses) about ten miles long, and the railroad line, north of 42nd Street, about 137 miles long at its peak.

New York and Harlem Railroad
An early horsecar on the New York and Harlem Railroad in New York City. As a random aside, it was these railroad horses, often worked extremely hard, that were a significant reason for the founding of the ASPCA in 1866. The ASPCA actually operated the first “horse ambulance” and made sure these rail workhorses had fresh drinking water daily.

Eventually the rail line was leased to the New York Central, and the street railway line to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company (and later the New York Railways Company). When Grand Central Terminal was completed, the divorce of the two was quite obvious, but before that, where exactly did the street railway operate? For the most part, on Fourth Avenue, and extending as south as Ann Street, about a mile from the southern tip of Manhattan island. To get a better picture of the line and where it operated, we of course have a lovely map!

Street Railway Lines

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Before Arts for Transit – The Grand Central Art Galleries

As a Metro-North rider, and an appreciator of art, I must say that I have a strong affinity for the Arts for Transit program. In fact, I found the many permanent artworks to be some of the most enjoyable things discovered while on my journeys to all 123 Metro-North stations. From the bronze chairs in Pleasantville, to the stained glass in Tarrytown, there is delightful art abound. But some of the most lovely work to come from the Arts for Transit program recently are not the permanent installations in our stations, but the designs inspired by Grand Central Terminal, a part of the year long centennial celebration called On Time / Grand Central at 100.

Constellations
You may have seen this poster around… Pop Chart Lab brings the sky ceiling to life!

Arts for Transit, however, is not the first group to bring art into the Terminal. Long before the program was ever conceived, the Grand Central Art Galleries were established on the sixth floor of Grand Central. I was inspired to learn a little bit more about the galleries after purchasing an old New York Central dining car menu. The menu featured an example of the artwork one could find in the gallery, and the back contained a rather dated ad suggesting that businessmen take their wives on the trains and only pay half (which, if you are interested, I posted on the I Ride the Harlem Line facebook page).

Ad for the Grand Central Art Galleries on a menu
On a dining car menu, 1953 – Grand Central Art Galleries. ((Menu from the author’s collection.))

Floor plan of the Grand Central Art Galleries
Floor plan of the Grand Central Galleries. ((Floor plan from the Frick Art Reference Library, via the New York Art Resources Consortium.))

The Grand Central Art Galleries were established in 1923, and remained in the Terminal until 1958, when they moved to the nearby Biltmore Hotel. Long established in our collective consciousness is the concept that a dead artist is worth more than a living one, but this gallery’s intent was to sell the artworks of the living. Both artists and non-artists paid a membership fee, providing artworks (1 a year, for 3 years) and cash ($600 when the galleries opened), respectively.

Grand Central Art Galleries

A wide variety of artists were associated with the Grand Central Art Galleries over its many years, including some well-known faces in the art world like John Singer Sargent. Featured on the menu above was a painting by Frederick Judd Waugh, whose art frequently depicted ocean scenes. He was also known for designing ship camouflage with the US Navy during World War I.

Today Grand Central’s upper floors are off-limits to the general public… but if you’d like to see how the 6th floor looked back in the late 1920s, here are a few photos!

Grand Central Art Galleries
Grand Central Art Galleries
Grand Central Art Galleries
Photos of the Grand Central Galleries. ((All photos from the Frick Art Reference Library, via the New York Art Resources Consortium.))

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Construction on East Side Access Project Halted Indefinitely

While celebrating Grand Central Terminal’s 100th anniversary, we discussed a wide array of topics regarding GCT’s history, and its place in our lives today. The one thing that we failed to mention was one of Grand Central’s futures – a major one being the East Side Access project. Designed to connect the Long Island Rail Road to a new station underneath Grand Central, the new facility was estimated to open by 2019. Unfortunately, that timeline has been called into question after the discovery of fossilized remains in one of the underground tunnels where construction is currently going on.

The first fossil found in the deep underground tunnel was discovered by a machine operator after partially running over it with his vehicle. Because of the damage to that specimen, all work on the East Side Access project has been halted indefinitely, and experts have been called in to examine what has been found. Paul Olsen, a paleontologist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will be one of the scientists brought in to examine the fossils, which appear to be reptilian in origin. Olson has previously identified reptile fossils in nearby Exeter, Pennsylvania, and is excited to investigate these fossils “right in our own backyard.” To date, a total of four sets of fossilized remains have been found in the tunnels. In addition to those remains, several metallic items which appear to be tools of some sort have also been found, as well as several colored ribbons. It is unknown whether these items are related to the fossils in any way.

Speaking unofficially, one of the construction workers on the project said the fossilized remains bear a striking resemblance to a turtle – although a very large one. Fossils of a turtle that large have not been found in this area previously, which means that this could be a completely new species, or perhaps a mutant of some sort. Such discoveries are rare, but not completely unheard of – in 2005 a North Carolina State University student discovered the remains of an extinct species, Carbonemys cofrinii, a large turtle with a shell that measures just over five and a half feet long.

Unfortunately, this discovery may set the East Side Access project back by at least a year or more. Besides investigating and removing the fossils that have been found, further excavation will likely take place to determine whether there are any other fossils in the tunnels. This work will likely be slow going, as to not damage anything else that may be in the tunnel. Few photos of the discoveries underground have been released to the public, as the MTA is attempting to keep this setback quiet. To date, this is the only photo that has been released of the findings.

East Side Access

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A look at the Grand Central centennial postmark

Sending a message to the postmaster
Sending a message to the postmaster

Remember how I mentioned the little debacle that was the stamp event at the Grand Central Centennial? Apparently someone was smarter than I was… Joe just wrote a message to the postmaster asking for the Grand Central postmark on a postcard from the Transit Museum. It might not be a Grand Central stamp (which at $19.95 is a steep price for just a stamp) but it is pretty darn cool. The only thing I want to know is why didn’t I think of this!

Stamped postcard

Be sure to check out Joe’s blog for more funky postmarks and a bunch of railroad photos!

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A Recap of Events: Grand Central’s Centennial

Last Friday the MTA held a celebration for Grand Central’s Centennial, which expectedly turned out to be a widely attended day-long event. One of the main events was a rededication ceremony for the Terminal, held that morning. There were a wide array of speakers at the ceremony, including Mayor Bloomberg, Cynthia Nixon and Caroline Kennedy. Peter Stangl, the first president of Metro-North also spoke, as did Howard Permut, current president of Metro-North.

  
  

The West Point Brass and Percussion Band also performed, which seemed quite appropriate. According to historical accounts of Grand Central’s opening, the first song to ever be played in the Terminal was the Star Spangled Banner, which was not yet our national anthem at that time, on the east balcony. The band’s placement right below the east balcony as they played the song seemed rather appropriate, and probably the closest we’d get to reenacting what happened on February 2nd, 1913, at 12:01 AM. Also a fitting mirror was a presentation of a key to Mr. Permut by members of the Vanderbilt family – similar to the presentation of keys to Terminal Manager Miles Bronson one hundred years ago.

The only unfortunate thing to note is that much of the celebration was focused on the VIPs, as opposed to the lowly commuters that actually use Grand Central. (And for the record, no, running this blog did not qualify me as a VIP – I asked and was rejected. An “actual” member of the “press” granted me a pass in their stead. Thanks Steve!) VIP guests to the event got a special program and booklet, which are visible here:

Rededication ceremony program
Program for the Grand Central rededication.

Long poem in one booklet, short poem on this "Poetry in Motion" poster.
Two poems were written about Grand Central by poet Billy Collins. The long poem was illustrated in one booklet, and the short poem appears on this "Poetry in Motion" poster. The posters were not handed out at the event, but have been sighted on trains.

Booklet spread 1
Booklet spread 2
Booklet spread 3
Booklet spread 4
Booklet spread 5
Booklet spread 6
Booklet spread 7
Booklet spread 8
Booklet spread 9

The text on the inside of the booklet was the longer poem that was read by Billy Collins during the ceremony. The shorter poem, which he also read, appears in the program, and on trains thanks to Poetry in Motion and Arts for Transit.


Billy Collins speaks at the Rededication Ceremony

If you’re not familiar with Collins, he is a New York native that was both New York State Poet Laureate, and Poet Laureate of the United States… which in the poetry world is kind of a big deal. While I’m sure plenty of poems have been written about Grand Central, Collins’ poems may be the most high profile written about our lovely Terminal.


Well, Cornelius Vanderbilt is supposed to be here…

As of right now, I have little to say about the Transit Museum’s show “Grand by Design.” Unfortunately, a hundred years wasn’t quite enough to finish up the exhibition, and it seemed that things were missing. The fact that Cornelius Vanderbilt was not mentioned or pictured seemed like a mistake of monumental proportion. Apparently it turned out that Mr. Vanderbilt was supposed to be on that nice blank spot we’re all pointing to in the photo above. I was also disappointed that there was no mention of William Kissam Vanderbilt either – he was really the only Vanderbilt that had a direct influence on the construction of Grand Central. (If the Vanderbilts are still confusing you, it means you haven’t yet read this.) But in all honesty, I may have just been depressed that Anderson Cooper did not attend the event – he is a Vanderbilt, after all.

USPS Grand Central stamp

Another event that happened on Friday regarded the new United States Postal Service stamp, picturing Grand Central, illustrated by Dan Cosgrove. If you were one of the hundreds of people that failed to get the Grand Central centennial cover and stamp on Friday, you can purchase them directly online. Word was that within fifteen minutes they ran out of envelopes for the stamps. The whole purpose of the event was to get the stamp on the special envelope and get it postmarked… so I feel bad for all the people that waited in that line to get just the stamp, which could be purchased at any post office. If you’re looking to grab the covers with the February 1 date stamp online, the USPS site offers two versions for purchase, one with a color postmark for $21.10, or a regular first day stamp for $20.39.

Back on topic, the entire event was a big birthday bash for Grand Central. And no birthday celebration would be complete without a little music…
 
Sarah Charness played the electric violin, and later Melissa Manchester sang. Manchester also shouted “I love you, gorgeous!” at the sky ceiling, which might be cute, had I not been thinking about this.

…and a little bit of cake…

I hope you all like this photo, I dropped my piece of cake on the floor while taking it. And yes, only the VIPs got delicious cake.

The gorgeous cake was made by Eric Bedoucha of Financier Patisserie – a delicious confection modeled after the Information Booth’s clock. It was supposedly saved for the VIP dinner to be hosted at the Oyster Bar that night… which in itself is another mirror to actual events, as the first VIP dinner happened February 1st 1913 at 8 PM.

That about sums it up for the Centennial. With the ceremony past, I figured I’d leave off with a quick recap of all fifteen articles I wrote about Grand Central over the past hundred days.

Happy Birthday, Grand Central!

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A Hundred Years of the Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal Restaurant

As a Beaux Arts styled building, it is apparent that Grand Central Terminal was heavily influenced by the French. The style itself was taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and many of the most famous American architects in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s studied there – including Whitney Warren, who worked on Grand Central. But beyond the building itself, Warren selected three French artists to create works for the Terminal. Probably the most known, Jules Coutan designed the sculptural group on the front facade of Grand Central. Painter Paul Helleu was selected by Warren to design the starry zodiac that fills the ceiling of the main concourse. The often forgotten, and likely least known of the three, was sculptor Sylvain Salieres. Salieres created many of the decorations inside the Terminal, including all those acorns – the Vanderbilt family crest.


Acorns appear on the logo and menus of the Grand Central Terminal restaurant.

The acorns, however, were not restricted only to decorations within Grand Central – they also became part of the identity of one of the more famous tenants in the Terminal. We may know it today as the Oyster Bar, but when it first opened in 1913 it had just the bland name “Grand Central Terminal Restaurant.” The restaurant did, of course, have an Oyster Bar, and was definitely known for its oyster stew – but it served a wide variety of non-seafood delicacies (many did refer to the restaurant as simply the “Oyster Bar,” though). The French influence on the Terminal continued through some of the food – things like Bass Meunière and Capon Venitienne were on the restaurant’s first dinner menu.

matchbooks
Sugar packet and matchbooks from the original Grand Central Terminal Restaurant and Oyster Bar.

Grand Central’s centennial celebration will be held this Friday, a little bit early – probably since it would be easier for the MTA to celebrate it on a weekday. I suppose the MTA isn’t too far off, though. While Grand Central only opened to the public on the 2nd of February, a special gathering was held on the evening of February 1st. Architect Whitney Warren, and around a hundred of his friends, got a special tour of the new Terminal, including the very first dinner service at the Grand Central Terminal Restaurant at 8 PM. And what did they dine upon? Bass, mutton and squab were all main dishes on the menu that night.


The menu for the first dinner at the Grand Central Terminal restaurant. Note that this is a recreation – a text only menu was published, and I placed it into the design of an actual 1917 restaurant menu.

The Railroad Reporter and Traveler’s News published an interesting look at what happened on that evening in the Terminal. Not only did it include the first menu served at the restaurant, it described other little tidbits – like the fact that a band was on the east balcony at opening, and the first song they played was the Star Spangled Banner. An opening ceremony of sorts was held right next to the information booth clock, where the keys to the Terminal were presented to the new manager, Miles Bronson. The second dinner at the restaurant, although quite late, was held shortly after for the employees of the John Peirce Company, who did construction work on Grand Central.


The February 22, 1941 edition of The New Yorker featured the GCT restaurant on the cover.

I’ve collected a bunch of artifacts from the Grand Central Terminal Restaurant, and the Oyster Bar’s 100 year history, all of which provide an interesting look into the Terminal’s longest operating and most established tenant. I must give tremendous thanks to the New York Public Library’s “What’s on the Menu?” project, as many of the menus featured here are from their collection.


Front covers of restaurant menus: 1955, 1917, and 1959.


Carte du jour menu, or daily specials. From 1917 and 1959.


A La Carte menu from 1917.

  
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner menus from 1917.


Postcard from the Grand Central Terminal Restaurant and Oyster Bar


Every winter in the 1950’s seemed to bring out this fluff piece about Oyster Stew in various newspapers. After the closing of the Oyster Bar in 1974, head cook Nick Petter allowed the NYTimes to publish the recipe for Oyster Pan Roast.

The Oyster Bar, as we are familiar with it, came into being in 1974. The original restaurant had been owned and operated by the Union News Company, and they were looking into closing several of their restaurants around the country. Some said that the restaurant had not been profitable for quite a while, but it stayed open for nostalgia. On July 31st, 1974 at 4pm, the Grand Central Terminal Restaurant, including their oyster bar, was officially closed, with little notice.

photos photo2
Historical photos from the Oyster Bar. The lower image appeared in the New York Times, and shows chef Tom Sato in 1974, shortly before the restaurant closed.

The MTA had already been looking around for another person to take the helm at the restaurant, and restauranteur Jerome Brody accepted the challenge. Several former employees returned to the new restaurant when it reopened several months later. (According to the Oyster Bar’s history, the restaurant had been shuttered for two years. This contradicts the NYTimes account that says the original restaurant closed in July, and reopened in November). The new restaurant was officially called the “Oyster Bar,” and served a seafood-focused menu.

posters
frenzy
Some of the Oyster Bar’s quirky advertising. The ads are certainly interesting and unique, and I love the stylized illustrations of Grand Central that appear in several.

The restaurant was shuttered briefly one other time in its long history, in June 1997 due to fire. A blaze started after a refrigerator short-circuited around 2:30 in the morning. The inferno destroyed kitchen equipment and furnishings, and many of the Gustavino tiles on the ceiling. Although the Terminal was evacuated, most people had already left Grand Central by that time. By mid-July the Oyster Bar had reopened, or at least one part of it. The full restaurant reopened several weeks later. Eagle-eyed patrons may notice subtle color differences in the Gustavino tiles, the tiles replaced after the fire have a slightly different color.

currentmenu
The above ads fit well with the also quirky multicolored Oyster logo. Menus at the restaurant today look similar to this.

Besides running into those two short-term snags, the restaurant / Oyster Bar has been in operation all one hundred years the Terminal has been around. Many tenants have come and gone, like the theater and the barbershops and haberdashery. Countless new shops have populated the Terminal since its restoration, including the Apple Store. But none are really a New York institution like the Oyster Bar, the home of “New York’s Greatest Dish.” You may no longer be paying 35 cents for a dozen oysters, but you can still grab a good meal before catching a train or subway. So happy 100th not only to Grand Central, but to the Oyster Bar as well!

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