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Posts Tagged ‘information booth’

A Recap of Events: Grand Central’s Centennial Events Transit Museum History Photos

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

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!

The Mystery of Grand Central’s Suburban Concourse History Photos

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Every evening, steady streams of people race into Grand Central to get on a train and head home. They look up at the departure board, scouring it for their train, and then make their way to that track. As any astute commuter knows, Grand Central’s gates are made up of two and three digit numbers – double digits signify upper-level tracks, and triple digits for lower-level tracks. But what if I told you this wasn’t always the case – that the lower level once had single digit numbers? You probably wouldn’t believe me…

The photo that started the “mystery.” This photo from the collection of the New York Public Library shows track gates 8 and 7 in Grand Central Terminal – on the lower level of the Terminal.

If you don’t believe me right now, I don’t blame you. At first I didn’t believe it either. Plenty of books and articles have been written about Grand Central. Not one that I’ve found mentions the train gates ever getting renumbered. How could something major like this have happened in such a famous building, and yet, nobody knows about it? But as you’ll see in this post, there is overwhelming evidence that the track numbers on the lower level have been changed. In fact, you can see it with your own eyes!

Though near impossible to take a decent photo, the marks from the previous numbering are visible if you look close enough. Next time you’re in the lower level, take a look. You will see the same “Entrance to Track 8 / Track 7″ as visible in the above photo.

The mystery began when I was collecting images for my Grand Central 100 for 100 project, and I found the top photo at the NYPL. It fueled my curiosity because it absolutely made no sense. Today there are no gates numbered 7 and 8. If they did exist, where did they go? But after looking at the photo long enough, it started to become obvious that this couldn’t be the upper level. The low ceiling and light fixtures bear an uncanny resemblance to the lower level. Not to mention the two trains listed on the departure board are for suburban trains, which always left from the lower level in this time period.

A current view of the gate
Compare the above photo with this one – a dead ringer – minus all the snack stands and junk that have appeared through the years. At some point in history tracks 7 and 8 were changed to 107 and 108.

Delving into various archives, my goal was to find other photos of the lower level with the alternate gate numbers to make a convincing case. Though the first image is nice, there is little visual information to definitively prove that it is the lower level. In fact, after showing a few people just this photo, they vehemently denied that this could even possibly be the lower level of the Terminal. Unfortunately for them, they are totally wrong. Though it wasn’t easy, I found a few more photos, a postcard, even a newspaper story showing the lower level with numbers different then the ones they have currently. Thus it is irrefutable that at some point in Grand Central’s history, a renumbering of gates occurred. Though it is possible that the numbers on lower level track diagrams have always had three digit numbers, the numbers presented to the public ridership have changed.

Much thanks to Carey Stumm, archivist at the New York Transit Museum, who found this undated photo in the museum’s collection.

Compare the above with a more current view. Tracks 11 and 12 are now 111 and 112.

Although hard to make out, the gates on the right side are 6 and 5. Also note the lower-level information booth visible on the left side.

Lower level today
Today the lower level is significantly more filled with “stuff” than it was before, but this shot resembles the one above.

After we come to the conclusion that the lower level had single digit track numbers at one point in history, the logical next question is when and why did the gate numbers change? That is something I’ve been unable to figure out – hence the mystery of the suburban concourse! I came up with a theory, which I totally admit could be quite wrong, nonetheless I think it gets the ball rolling for us to solve this puzzle…

Theory: Grand Central once had a system of perfectly numbered tracks, consecutive from 1 to 42, across the upper and lower levels. When new tracks were added for passenger use, it disrupted this “perfect” numbering scheme.

If you’re not familiar with the current gate numbering in the Terminal, the relatively confusing arrangement is as so: tracks 11 through 42 on the upper level, tracks 100 through 117 on the lower level, and tracks 102A and 103A randomly thrown in for good measure, also on the lower level.
Tracks 102A and 103A randomly thrown in for good measure

Why use a numbering scheme like that, though? From a customer service perspective, wouldn’t it make more sense to start with Track 1 and work your way up? After all, every minor detail of the Terminal’s design was agonized and deliberate – from the proper letter spacing on signs for ease of readability, to the perfect grade of ramp for walking (no joke, the engineers built several ramps in the old station and watched people walk over them), even to the color of the uniforms worn by all the employees (God forbid a passenger mistake a mere hotel porter for an exalted GCT employee!). Despite all those very conscious decisions to make the Terminal easy to use for masses of people, why would the New York Central adopt track numbering that would seem completely and utterly arbitrary to any rail passenger? Perhaps it was only done begrudgingly…

First, let’s go through a rundown of facts we do know about the Terminal.

    Things we know about Grand Central:

  • Trains on the upper level of Grand Central Terminal were divided into 3 categories, each split from the other, with its own location: Incoming long-distance trains (the Biltmore room and tracks west of the main concourse), Departing long-distance trains (the Main Concourse), Mail and freight trains (east of the main concourse).
  • One of the design goals of the main concourse was for passengers to have the ability to see all departing trains, and quickly find their own train from anywhere in the room.
  • Suburban trains were completely split off from the aforementioned trains upstairs – they all arrived and departed on the lower level. Thus the two local trains listed on the departure board in the first photo are consistent with facts.
  • Confirming the premise that tracks east of the main concourse were reserved for mail and freight, plans for Grand Central call for a mail chute between tracks 14 and 15, and the platform by tracks 10 and 13 was reserved for the [American] Express Company. Some tracks on the east end of the lower level were also reserved for mail.
  • Several years before the Terminal was completed, a Grand Central post office annex was built on the east side, which would eventually have access to the east mail tracks. The New York Central deeded the building to the US Government in 1932.
  • The Graybar Passage has a completely different aesthetic than the rest of Grand Central Terminal, which implies that it was not built at the same time as the Terminal. Our eyes are clearly not deceiving us, we know that the Graybar building was constructed in 1926. Tracks 17 through 11 have gates here in this passageway.

    The Graybar passageway, which contains tracks 17 through 11, is a newer addition to the Terminal.

    Based upon the things we know and the visual evidence, here are the things I am suggesting to fit with my theory about the renumbering:

  • Because upper-level tracks east of the main concourse were reserved for mail, they were not given numbered gates like the ones for passengers. I’m assuming the highest gate on the upper level was 18, which would coincide with tracks 1 – 17 on the lower level, hence a perfect numbering system.
  • For some reason, the New York Central decided that some of the tracks used for other purposes would be converted for passenger use. Many things could have influenced this decision, including a decline in the amount of mail handled (as previously mentioned, the NYC deeded the Post Office annex to the US Government), and more passengers than they thought would be using the station, especially during the war.
  • When these new gates were added, it made Grand Central’s gate numbering inconsistent (there would have been two gates numbered 17 through 11, one each on the upper and lower levels). Thus the lower level gate numbers were changed to 3 digit numbers. The gates in the first photo – numbered 7 and 8 – were now 107 and 108. Although the gates no longer had a logical order, opting for this scheme reduced the amount of people affected by the renumbering. When converting the lower level mail gates, numbers really got messy, thus the reason for the bizarre gates 102A and 103A. At minimum, the three digit gate numbers helped to differentiate what was on the upper and lower levels.
  • These added gates on the upper level made it so passengers could not see all trains departing while standing in the main concourse (one of Grand Central’s ease of use important concepts). Thus a compromise was reached – departure signs for those tracks outside the concourse were added to the archway:
    Sign Boards for extra tracks

Of course, everything above is all speculation. But it addresses the two major questions regarding the numbering – why were the numbers changed, and were there duplicate numbers on the upper and lower levels. If today’s track 111 was just 11 in the past, and there was also a track 11 on the upper level, that makes two track 11′s, and double the confusion. It seems to make more sense that the upstairs 11 was not there yet for passengers.

As it is right now, I don’t think there is anything more I can really do to figure out this mystery. Thus I am opening it up, and presenting everything I’ve found to you all. Someone out there may have a photo, or a timetable, or another bit of info that sheds some light on this situation. Collectively, I think we can figure this out – when and why were the track numbers on the lower level changed? Have any thoughts, clues, or evidence? Post in the comments below!

Best of 2012, a year-end review Train

Friday, December 28th, 2012

2012 has been an interesting year here at I Ride the Harlem Line… we finished up touring the stations on the New Haven, Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines, as well as visited some places far outside Metro-North’s territory. As if that wasn’t enough, we also began our Grand Central 100 for 100 Project, posting one image every day for 100 days, all to celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

As is customary around the end of the year, let’s take a look back at what was most popular on the site this year, based on the number of reads… presenting the top 15 posts of 2012:


Starting off our countdown at number 15 is a photographic look at the old Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis. Completed in 1899, the old station was renovated and turned into a hotel. An old train shed now offers an ice skating rink. This is one of a few posts on the blog about Minneapolis this year, from my visit there in April. Some of the other stuff from Minneapolis included the Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge converted to pedestrian use, riding around on the Hiawatha Line, the old and new Minnehaha Station, and the classical music playing Lake Street – Midtown station.


14th most viewed for the year is our Hudson Line tour to Yonkers. The nicely restored brick station at Yonkers, built by the New York Central, is definitely one of the gems of the Hudson Line.


There are plenty of hoaxes and tall tales related to Grand Central Terminal, but only one of them made our top fifteen list this year. Coming in at number 13 is the 1929 hoax in the Information Booth. As the story goes, a tricky scammer convinced a fruit seller that the railroad was planning on selling space in the information booth, and that prime space could be turned into a fruit stand. Of course, it was a complete lie, and the scammer skipped town with a nice wad of cash. Amusingly, you can buy apple in the Terminal today – either in Grand Central Market, or in the figurative sense, the Apple store in the main concourse.


Another Grand Central themed post comes in at number 12 on our countdown – featuring the sky ceiling that nobody really knows about. This painting can be found inside Grande Harvest Wines – it is the last surviving remnant of the 242-seat newsreel theater that was once in Grand Central Terminal.


Our tour of New Haven Line station Mamaroneck makes the list at number 11. Mamaroneck has a lovely old station that was undergoing a transformation into a restaurant called the Club Car – we managed to get a sneak preview of the place, and shared it along with the station tour.


The Hudson Line tour of Tarrytown station also makes the list, likely for our coverage of the new and most wonderful Arts for Transit piece by Holly Sears. The 1898 Richardsonian Romanesque-style station at Tarrytown was built by architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, who are most known for their stations on the Boston and Albany railroad.


Ninth most popular for the year was my first foray into 3D modeling, and 3D printing. I decided I would try to model the Harlem Line’s Brewster station from historical photos – basically how it looked when it was first built. The interesting journey  was featured in various places around the internet, including the TinkerCad Blog, Shapeways Blog, Adafruit and Wired.


One of the more memorable things I got to do this year was to have a brief chat with Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut. Having been with Metro-North since its inception, the man has a pretty interesting viewpoint regarding the history of the Harlem Line. We talked about Metro-North’s formation from ConRail, Millerton, and other admirable rail systems, among other things.


Before touring the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley lines, I wrote a brief introduction to the West of Hudson lines, which was the seventh most viewed post on the site this year. The intro included a few maps, time tables, and a look back on the damage Hurricane Irene wrought on the Port Jervis line.


Sixth on our top 15 countdown is a trip to Metro-North’s Operations Control Center. This is the workplace for the railroad’s Rail Traffic Controllers – one of the most stressful and possibly thankless jobs at Metro-North. The current OCC is certainly high tech, but we also got a glimpse of the old OCC, and an ad for one of the New York Central’s historical towers in Grand Central – which looked quite archaic in comparison!


One of the most memorable shots of Hurricane Sandy was this capture of a boat resting on the Hudson Line’s tracks in Ossining, which I couldn’t help but turn into an image macro. In other news, whoever happens to own that boat is probably a big asshole, as it seems to be named after a Nazi warship. I guess the owner never realized his boat would end up on the front page of several newspapers – or top 5 in our countdown.


Fourth most popular for the year was our April Fool’s prank about Harlem Line service getting restored up to Millerton, complete with two fake timetables and a fake ticket. Rumor has it, some folks in Metro-North’s customer service department hate me even more than they did before after this trick!


Coming in at third most popular is the Grand Central 100 for 100 project, featuring 100 historical photos of the Terminal in the hundred days leading up to its centennial. By now we’re more than halfway through, so if you aren’t following the project on Facebook, you totally should be!


It appears that everybody loves Dobbs Ferry station, as our tour was the number two most read post on the site for 2012. Featuring another Richardsonian Romanesque station by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, Dobbs Ferry also has a nice location right on the Hudson River’s waterfront.


Everybody seems to say that the cat is the internet’s unofficial mascot, and it certainly seems that is true! By far, the number one most read post on the site was about Sadie the Subway Cat, of the New York Transit Museum. In addition to our March photo session with the popular feline, we updated you on Sadie’s subsequent retirement, and a humorous update on her new life outside the museum.

That just about wraps up 2012 – I’m definitely looking forward to bringing you new things in 2013… everybody have a Happy New Year!

Grand Central: The hoax in the Information Booth Train

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

As the saying goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Hoaxters are everywhere, looking to sell anyone gulliable enough the Brooklyn Bridge. But if you’re truly lucky, you might get an offer to buy Grand Central’s Information Booth! Too good to be true? Most definitely!

Over its nearly 100 year existence, Grand Central Terminal has quite a lore – including several hoaxes and complete fabrications – from ghost horses, to FDR’s secret platform, and even an expensive whopper regarding the sale of the famous Information Booth. As the story goes, two wealthy Italian entrepreneurs – Tony and Nick Fortunato – were swindled into thinking that they would be the new proud owners of some prime commercial space – the Information Booth at the center of Grand Central’s main concourse. All they needed to provide was a year’s rent up front, and the space was theirs – ready for them to move in with their profitable fruit stand.

Getting rid of the information booth sounds pretty crazy, but the two men were told that the railroad was closing the booth, and instead all questions would be directed towards the ticket sellers. The brothers came up with the money and presented it to a “representative” of the “New York Central Holding Company” – a check for $100,000 in total. On the day they were to move in – April 1, 1929 – the Fortunatos, and the laborers that accompanied them to work on the stand, had to be forcibly ejected from the Terminal. As expected, the scammers had skipped town, and were never caught.

Grand Central brochure that includes the story of the Info Booth hoax

While there isn’t too much information regarding this hoax, besides some random hoax sites on the internet, and a newspaper article from the 80′s, I’m inclined to believe the story – notably because the New York Central Railroad itself mentioned it. Appearing in a brochure about Grand Central published by the railroad in the late 1960′s, the story is described as follows:

Back in 1929 Tony and Nick Fortunato were victimized by swindlers to whom they gave a certified check for $100,000 as a year’s rent, in advance, for the information booth beneath the Golden Clock, their purpose being to turn it into a profitable fruit stand. But when they brought carpenters and lumber into the Concourse to remodel the booth, the hoax was revealed. A long and intensive search by detectives failed to locate the “con artists.” The Fortunato brothers never did get back their money.

Whether the story is true or not, it is another intriguing bit about the Terminal we all know and love.

Today you can buy fruit in the Terminal – just not in the Information Booth!