waxmans

A Farewell to White Plains station staple – Waxman’s News

Any regular commuter through White Plains is likely familiar with Gary Waxman, proprietor of the station’s newsstand. And if you were a real regular, chances are Waxman even knew you by name. Last night, however, marked the end of an era – it was Waxman’s final day of work in the station.

Years before Metro-North was even established, Gary Waxman’s father purchased the retail space for the newsstand in the long-gone Warren & Wetmore-designed White Plains station. The younger Waxman spent weekends working the newsstand, and ultimately opted to work there full time instead of heading off to college. The elder Waxman bowed out of newsstand operations in 1986 due to illness, and Gary has run the business ever since. Much has changed since then, most notably the old station being torn down and a new one constructed in 1987. Waxman’s News was, of course, reestablished in the new White Plains station.

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Cass Gilbert’s Griffins

After visiting enough historical railroad stations (or by reading this blog) it doesn’t take too long to get accustomed to the decorative symbols enmeshed within the architecture. A set of symbols, like the caduceus and the winged wheel, are all associated with transportation, and can be found on stations near and far – especially those designed in the Beaux Arts style. Many of these stem from the Roman deity Mercury – the swift messenger god that became associated with transportation, always depicted wearing a winged cap and a with caduceus in hand. Also common is the winged wheel, representative of both Mercury and speed, which has represented transportation beyond railroads. The auto industry has made use of the symbol, and it can even be found in use today as the logo of the Detroit Red Wings. Other symbols, like the eagle, are representations of American patriotism. And for all those New York Central fans, the acorns and oak leaves symbolic of the Vanderbilt clan can be found within the railroad’s most notable stations.

   
  
A – Winged cap and caduceus, both symbols of Mercury, god of transportation, New York Central station, Bronxville
B – Winged wheel, transportation and speed, New York Central building
C – Caduceus and horn of plenty, symbol of Mercury, and of prosperity, Michigan Central Station, Detroit
D – Eagle, representing American patriotism, Utica Union Station
E – Acorns, adopted crest of the Vanderbilt family, New York Central station, Yonkers
F – Mercury, Roman god of transportation, Grand Central Terminal

On one Metro-North station, however, you’ll find a particular symbol that isn’t quite common in rail stations – the griffin. Griffins are the mythological hybrid of the lion and the eagle, depicted with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head. Besides being the venerable king of beasts, as the lion was generally regarded as the king of animals and the eagle as the king of birds, the griffin guarded treasure and wealth. Architect Cass Gilbert incorporated the symbol into several of his designs, including New Haven Union Station, and the West Street Building in Manhattan, which was used as an office building by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. Many men amassed fortunes in the railroading business, and these griffins became the symbolic guardians of this wealth.

The West Street Building, circa 1912
The West Street Building, now usually called 90 West Street, once towered over lower Manhattan, circa 1912

Though Cass Gilbert is usually remembered as the designer of New York City’s first skyscrapers, his elaborate portfolio consisted of museums, state capitol buildings, courts, libraries, and even train stations. Gilbert’s most notable station is New Haven’s Union station, which opened in 1920 and replaced an earlier station destroyed by fire. For a Beaux Arts design, the station’s exterior is really rather plain, but the inner waiting room and ticket windows are undoubtedly beautiful. Over-exaggerated embellishments are few, though observant viewers can spot griffins on the wall in the office section of the station.

 
  
   
  
 
   
  
 
  

Through a twist of fate, Gilbert’s most notable griffins would be those found on the West Street Building. Completed in 1907, the 23 story building was one of the tallest in lower Manhattan. Over time it became dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers, and eventually the World Trade Center. Though it was always a gorgeous historical part of New York, the West Street building gained much notoriety after the attacks in September 11th, 2001. The building took major damage – fires lasted for days, and debris rained down on it from the collapsing towers. Two people died in the building’s elevator, and portions of one of the hijacked planes were found on the building’s roof. Ultimately, solid construction won the day – although the damage was immense, the building survived.

90 West Street and the World Trade Center
90 West Street eventually became dwarfed by the World Trade Center, seen in 1970 during construction and in 1988. Photos by Camilo J. Vergara.

Nearly a hundred years apart - 1907 and 2001
Nearly a hundred years apart – 1907 and 2001

September 21, 2001
FEMA photo showing the damage and debris pile below 90 West Street on September 21st. Photo by Michael Rieger.

90 West Street was eventually restored, and reopened as a residential building. It now contains 410 separate apartments, ranging from studios to three bedroom units. Countless embellishments inside and out were destroyed, though many were recreated using old photographs. Many of the gargoyles on the outside are modern creations in the style of the originals. One of the original surviving griffins, however, can be found in the lobby of the building. He’s no longer guarding the wealth of railroads, though I suppose one could say he is now guarding the wealth of the well-to-do tenants of the building – studios start at about $2250 a month.

  
 
  
 
  
 
  

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One more Warren & Wetmore station – Mount Vernon West

On the final day of 2013 – Grand Central’s centennial year – there’s one more station that I’d like to take a visit to. Several years ago, when we visited during our Tuesday Tour, we saw only part of the station, the tunnels and the platform. But beyond the current station’s doors is an edifice whose façade has remained fairly similar for over 90 years, though the inside has drastically changed. The New York Central’s station at Mount Vernon, designed by Warren and Wetmore, was at one time one of Westchester’s beautiful stations. Once it was on par with the great stations at Yonkers and White Plains – but while Yonkers survives and White Plains was razed, Mount Vernon exists in a strange limbo. As the New York Central’s financial woes became painfully obvious, the railroad began selling off the very buildings that were once symbols of their might. In 1959, Mount Vernon station was sold to local businessman who converted it to serve commercial purposes. The waiting room was dismantled and the cavernous space split into two floors, and the express room at the north end was demolished and a two-floor office building erected in its stead.

Postcard view of Mount Vernon station
Postcard view of Mount Vernon station

From the platform level one would hardly notice the history that surrounds this Metro-North station. A walk around the property at street level one discovers several exits long closed and covered in concrete. Behind masses of tall weeds is another former exit, the concrete marked with a 1916 date. The diamond in the rough, however, is the old station building, or rather its façade. A sgraffito panel bears the traditional symbols of transportation – the winged wheel and the caduceus – positioned between the text identifying the station as one of the New York Central Railroad. Besides this panel the adornments on the building are few, with the exception of a few sculpted flowers, surrounded by what could possibly be oak leaves.

  

Detail shots of the sgraffito panel on Mount Vernon West station.

Though the building is now covered in grime and graffiti, it is undeniable that at the time of completion this red brick building with limestone paneling was quite beautiful. Its sgraffito panel – an art technique which uses colored plaster applied to a moistened surface and scratched to reveal details – is unique among local train stations. While the building is not quite as embellished as the station at Yonkers, it is still a significant building reflecting the importance of Mount Vernon.

Map with locations of the old and new stations
Q&d map of Mount Vernon showing the locations of the old and new stations, and how the rail line was rerouted through town. Based on a map found in the 1914 edition of the G.W. Bromley & Co. Atlas of Westchester County, via the David Rumsey Map Collection. If you want to download the high res original, which shows individual tracks and sidings click here.

In the early 1900s Mount Vernon was experiencing significant development and was certainly an important stop on the Harlem Division, certainly warranting a new, larger station. However, there was yet another important reason why the town needed a new train station. If you’ve ever had the joy of being arrested by the MTAPD and taken to their station in Mount Vernon you are familiar with MacQuesten Parkway, the street on which the police station is located. MacQuesten Parkway was once known as Railroad Avenue, and the Harlem Division ran not far from where that police station is today. As the Harlem Division was electrified up to North White Plains, some adjustments were made in its route, one of which was in Mount Vernon. Just north of the border with the Bronx the line was raised and shifted about two blocks to the west. This allowed the elimination of a grade crossing in the city, and allowed the line to be four tracked.

Trolley line in Mount Vernon
Trolley line in Mount Vernon
An older face of Mount Vernon – the #7 trolley line connecting Yonkers and Mount Vernon ran right next to the station. The first photo, from the book Metropolitan New York’s Third Avenue Railway System shows an eastbound trolley just west of the station. The lower photo from SoYo Sunset shows two trolleys crossing under the New York Central’s tracks, and a northbound train departing Mount Vernon station (which is at left, out of the frame).

An array of businesses have found homes in the old station over the years, from a silversmith to a pharmacy, a photography shop, and even a karate studio in the building’s upper floor. The north wing that was demolished and rebuilt has been various banks over the years – in the ’80s the Bank of New York, today Chase. Original details on the inside are very few, but some design work can be found on the walls of an upper hallway.

The current train station, which consists of the tunnels under the tracks, is hardly noteworthy except for the old “M Central” signage and the Arts for Transit piece by Martha Jackson-Jarvis. Upstairs on the platform level one can see the back of the once great train station, now covered in graffiti. It is mildly amusing to note that the words sgraffito – the art found on the station, and graffiti – the spray marks tagged on the historical building both share the same origins. I generally appreciate the graffiti along rail lines, but it is a shame to see it mar a nearly hundred year old station… it seems to be the final, sad outcome of a once proud station, reflecting the downfall of a once great railroad, now long gone.

 
  
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
   
   
  
   
 
  
  

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: West Haven

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’re most likely aware that Metro-North has a new rail station. West Haven, on the New Haven Line, is Metro-North’s 124th active station, and one of just a handful that have opened in the past few years (Fairfield Metro and Yankees-E 153rd Street being the other two). The new station puts a break in the long stretch in between New Haven and Milford stations, and relieves parking issues at both.


Rendering of what the station site would look like at completion.

A station in between Milford and New Haven had long been debated, and extensive studies looked at sites in both West Haven and Orange. Though an apparent decision in favor of West Haven came in 2002, the debate was dragged on for many more years. Connecticut’s Final State Environmental Impact Evaluation, published in June of 2007, cites the pros and cons of the two sites and is an immense four hundred and fifty pages.

Despite the Orange station plan being supported by Bayer Pharmaceutical Corporation (the proposed Orange site would be within walking distance of their headquarters), the state upheld the original 9 to 6 vote in favor of West Haven. After many years of often-heated debate, a ceremonial groundbreaking was finally held in November of 2010, and attended by then-Governor Jodi Rell (the station project has languished over the tenure of three different governors – the original decision was made during John Rowland’s term, and Dannel Malloy was present at the ribbon cutting).


Aerial view progression of the work site: by 2010 a few buildings have been knocked down in preparation for the new station, and by 2012 construction is in full force.

Though the station was originally estimated to cost around $80 million, and would include a parking garage, the final cost was closer to $110 million and lacked the garage. Although the 658 parking spaces at the new station do alleviate some of the parking problems at New Haven and Milford, it does not have the impact that was originally hoped for with a 2000+ space garage. Nonetheless, the new station does allow access to the nearby Yale West Campus, and West Haven’s Veterans Hospital is investigating the possibility of operating a shuttle to and from the new station.

Many West Haven citizens hoped for an older style station, reflecting the historical aesthetic of the old Savin Rock Amusement Park. Alas the station built was a more modern brick and glass building that may resemble a school more than it does a train station. The only truly aesthetic touch are the stylized seagulls on some of the window panes, which do seem to appropriately reflect the nearby Savin Rock area of West Haven, but are relatively underwhelming. Though it is certainly a nice addition to the New Haven Line, and to the citizens of West Haven, the station is hardly unique, and un-noteworthy compared to many of the historical stations you’ll find on the line.

 
Left: Ceremonial groundbreaking at West Haven station.[1] Right: Ribbon cutting ceremony at West Haven.[2]

As a final note, Michael Mercuriano, chairman of the West Haven Train Station Committee is hoping that a plaque will be placed at the station recognizing the efforts of the committee. I didn’t see a plaque to that effect, but if you were to ask me I think a plaque recognizing Robert Luden would be most appropriate. Luden was the 27-year veteran track foreman killed in May near the construction site.

  
  
Construction views of West Haven station. Top: The prefabricated pedestrian bridge is placed.[3] Bottom left: Aerial view of the construction site.[4] Bottom center: Glass installers getting ready to place the windows into the station.[5] Bottom right: Platform view of the construction work[6].

No Tuesday Tour would be complete without a cache of photos, which you’ll find below. Unfortunately the station building was closed, and the sky was cloudy with no sun, so they aren’t the most optimal photos. Rest assured that one of these days I’ll be getting back over to West Haven, however…

 
  
   
  
   
  
 
   
   
  
  
 
  
   
  
   
  
   
  
   
 

  1. Ceremonial groundbreaking photo from Discover West Haven. []
  2. Ribbon cutting photo from the city of West Haven. []
  3. Pedestrian bridge photos by Tim Kemperle []
  4. Aerial view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven. []
  5. Glass installers photo by Peter Casolino, New Haven Register. []
  6. Platform view of the construction site photo from Discover West Haven. []

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Anybody want to live in an old train station? Revisiting Lagrange…

Lagrange station in 1932

Have you ever dreamt about living in an old train station? Every now and again old, restored train stations converted into residences appear on the market. The Harlem Division’s former Sharon station is one such example that we’ve posted on the site before. Today’s station was previously featured once before, but in the years since we last visited there have been more renovations, and the place looks gorgeous. In fact, it is practically ready for you to move right in!

The former station today
Lagrange station… the spot where I’m standing is where the tracks once were.

Really though, the place is full of history. What train buff doesn’t love that? The station here was first established in 1869 as part of the Dutchess and Columbia Railroad, which later became the Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad. Although Lagrange (also called Lagrangeville at times) was certainly not the most important station on the line, it warranted the construction of a small station building which had a ticket window and waiting area for passengers.

Timetable which shows Lagrange station from 1873
Timetable which shows Lagrange station from 1873

Timetable which shows Lagrange station
Timetables which shows Lagrange station, circa 1900 at left, and an excursion train from 1869.

Postcards and ticket from the station

Looking at the station from the track side, photo undated
A collection of historical items from the station’s long history.

After selling his business in Pennsylvania, Pete Roberts bought the old station in 2007, with the goal of restoring it to “keep busy.” Over the subsequent years he restored the station to beauty, and converted it into a residence. The old ticket window still exists, though the ticket office has been turned into a kitchen. The former waiting area is now a perfect living room/sitting area. A hidden foldaway staircase provides access to a loft above the old ticket office. The loft has space for a bed, but could be used for other various purposes.

  
   

Some of the later restoration work on the station. Unfortunately there were no photographs taken of the station before the restoration began.

Since our last visit, the most changes have happened with the loft. Formerly accessed by a big and clunky ladder, the loft now has a railing and a hidden folding staircase. Along with the furnishings, which also were absent the last time we visited, the place really looks like a home. For anybody interested in learning about the place, or giving in to their secret desire to live in an old train station, you can find info here and here. Alternately, you can email Pete directly at pete@theharlemline.com.

 
  
  
 
  
 
  
 
 

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Musings on Station Names

You would think that the naming of a train station would be a rather simple and straightforward process… alas this seems to be far from true. If history has shown us anything, station namings (and even renamings) can turn out to be a political or even touchy subject – just ask all the Connecticut commuters that voted for their new Metro-North station to be called Black Rock instead of Fairfield Metro, and were denied (and less than thrilled). But the more interesting thing, to me at least, is how history plays a significant part in many of these names – especially in the most clunky.


Months before even being scheduled to open, Fairfield Metro was already covered in graffiti, perhaps by citizens unhappy about the name ;) [image credit]

It isn’t too hard to find a few awkward names along Metro-North’s tracks – just note the Port Jervis Line, which has the honor of having stations with the two longest names in the system. Looking back at the history of the line, the main portion of rail which went through the busy centers of the local towns was abandoned in favor of a roundabout ride through the sticks previously used only for freight. Middletown, which previously had a station, was left without one. As to not forget the passengers it once served, a station was established on the new rail line and was called Middletown, despite it actually being in the town of Walkill. Thus the station was dubbed Middletown – Town of Wallkill. Salisbury Mills – Cornwall follows a similar convention, being located in Cornwall, but a (far older) station had once been historically located in Salisbury Mills.

Wingdale / State Hospital
State Hospital and Wingdale stations were combined to create Harlem Valley – Wingdale.

Mashup station names aren’t exclusive to the west side of the Hudson – one is located right on the Harlem Line. Harlem Valley – Wingdale is a combination of two former station names, both long closed. The Harlem Division once had two different stations in Wingdale – one for the Harlem Valley State Hospital, which went by State Hospital for short, and one just called Wingdale. In 1977 the two stations were consolidated, and given the name Harlem Valley – Wingdale to represent the two. If any station is deserving a name update, it would certainly be this one. With our increasing dependence on technology for train information, and Metro-North’s lack of naming consistency, finding information about this station can be a pain. While sales/ticketing seems to prefer Harlem Valley W’dale, Customer Service’s preferred abbreviation is Hm Valley Wingdale – causing digital havoc. For almost two entire years riders could not access mobile train information for the station unless they knew the magic “hm” abbreviation, which of course, nobody ever mentioned (after moving to the area I complained about it several times… the bug has since been quietly fixed at some point within the past few months). Despite the history attached to the name, isn’t it about time we end the difficulty and just call the station Wingdale again?

While politics likely played a role in the aforementioned naming of Fairfield Metro over the public chosen Blackrock, it was certainly the case in the renaming of a station in New York. In the early 2000s the town of Southeast petitioned Metro-North to change the name of Brewster North station. Southeast had been founded in the late 1700s, but most people knew nothing of it – only of Brewster, one of its villages, because of the train station. That station was established in 1849, when James and Walter Brewster invited the New York and Harlem Railroad to build a station on some land they had recently acquired. From then on the area became known as Brewster’s, and later just Brewster. In the late 1970′s a new station on the Harlem Line was established to provide ample commuter parking, and named Brewster North – much to the chagrin of the town. The railroad had dictated the geography of their town once, and they weren’t about to let it happen again – hence the request for Metro-North to change the name to Southeast.

Southeast, Brewster North
Brewster North was changed to Southeast at the request of the town.

The official statement will always be that the change from Brewster North to Southeast was to eliminate confusion between that station and Brewster village, but considering that ticket machines still list it (ten years after the fact) as Southeast (Brewster North) just seems to make it more confusing (and quite a mouthful). If the names are really so confusing, why don’t we also change other potentially confusing names? Maybe White Plains and North White Plains (NWP would have an obvious other name – Holland Avenue, which was formerly used as a platform for changing trains when there was no electric further north)? Or East Norwalk and South Norwalk? Maybe Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West (which historically were never problematic, as they were on two different railroads)? Explaining the true motivation rather succinctly, a town of Southeast employee stated: “I wear a name tag that indicates I am town clerk of the Town of Southeast. Nobody ever recognizes it. Perhaps, now they will.”

Sometimes station renamings are subtle. I first became interested in station, and local area names several years ago when I moved to Goldens Bridge. Or is it Golden’s Bridge? At the time I had no idea investigating a mere apostrophe would open Pandora’s box. Unlike other station names like Hartsdale, Brewster, Wingdale, and Millerton – which can all be directly attributed to the name of a specific person – nobody really knows the true origin of Goldens Bridge. Old railroad maps, and even transcripts from the New York state senate have used the alternate Golding’s Bridge. Despite the sketchy details, we know it was named for a man, and a bridge he likely owned. Wherever the namesake bridge once was, the spot is likely flooded by the reservoir today. The man for which it was named remains even more of a mystery. According to Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl, his name may not have even been Golden, “the bridge may have belonged to a gentleman called Golding, Goulding, or Colden. I have heard all of these names.” Either way, the preferred name today is Goldens Bridge – without the apostrophe. Metro-North quietly omitted that little piece of punctuation from signage in 2003. I’m still waiting for them to come and retire the apostrophe in Purdy’s.

So why all this talk of names? I happened to catch an article this weekend regarding some folks in the Bronx already disgruntled with the name of their new Metro-North station – a station that is only in the earliest planning stages (and not even guaranteed to be built). Fortunately for us, the citizens say that they are open to compromise, “we’re okay with sharing the name, we just want to make sure it’s in there.” That can mean only one thing – get ready for a nice, long, hyphenated name. Perhaps it will even be able to compete with Middletown – Town of Wallkill!

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Warren & Wetmore: Grand Central’s Architects on the Harlem Line

Postcards of White Plains

Before Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore became known for their work on Grand Central Terminal, they were already known by many of the New York Central’s commuters. A handful of the lovely stations still found on Metro-North’s lines are creations of Warren and Wetmore. Yonkers, on the Hudson Line, as well as Hartsdale and White Plains on the Harlem, were all designed by the duo. Poughkeepsie and Mount Vernon (West) were also designed by them, but after the completion of Grand Central (Scarsdale and Chappaqua were designed by the other Grand Central architecture firm – Reed and Stem).

Postcards of Hartsdale

The American Architect was a lovely periodical that featured details, photographs, and plans of various buildings designed and constructed in the United States, published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Flipping through archives of it are pretty interesting, as they feature some amazingly gorgeous buildings. Train stations were occasionally featured, and in 1915 there was an article about two of Warren and Wetmore’s stations on the Harlem Division – White Plains, and Hartsdale.

White Plains plan
White Plains 1
White Plains 2
White Plains station illustrations from The American Architect.

Of primary interest is the portion about White Plains – the Warren and Wetmore station that was torn down in the early ’80s. From the plans and photos, the station looked very much like the still standing station in Poughkeepsie. Several historical buildings in White Plains, including the station, met the wrecking ball as the city strove to update its image, and encourage urban renewal.

The current station, opened in 1987, is a rather ugly substitute for the gorgeous station that was once here. Besides the 38 by 80 foot waiting room, the old station contained various shops, and a shoe shiner. Waxman’s News, which was founded in the old station, and was reestablished in the new, has been one of the few ties between the two buildings – but even that isn’t to last. In the interest of more rent, Metro-North has decided to not renew the leases of either of the two vendors currently in the station. The 30-plus year run of Waxman’s News will come to a close at some point this summer.

 
Construction work on the new White Plains station, completed in 1987. Photos by Lou Grogan.

Hartsdale, on the other hand, is a bit more cheerful of a story. Not only is the station still around, it has been attractively restored. Although a Starbucks probably wouldn’t be my first choice tenant for an old railroad station, it does seem to work. And as long as it allows the building to be preserved, it makes me happy!

Hartsdale Photo

Hartsdale Plan 2

Hartsdale Plan 1

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Cold Spring


Postcards and tickets from Cold Spring


Views of the tracks and the Hudson Highlands near Cold Spring.

While beautiful views can be found along the entire Hudson Line, there’s something about the upper, un-electrified portion of the line that I find especially attractive. Nestled amongst the Hudson Highlands, many of the stations we’ve featured, like Breakneck Ridge and Manitou, offer hikes with wonderful views of both the mountains and the river. Today’s Tuesday Tour takes us to Cold Spring, just less than 53 miles from Grand Central. Unlike the aforementioned stations, Cold Spring is unique in that it offers both a charming downtown area with shops and restaurants, as well as hikes with beautiful views. The trail to hike up Mount Taurus (visible in one of the postcards above) is less than a mile walk from the train station. And if you’re not into the whole hiking thing, you could probably spend the day at the various Main Street shops, or the local Putnam History Museum. In other words, if you’re looking for a cool place accessible by Metro-North, Cold Spring would certainly be a nice pick.


Civil war era station at Cold Spring, and the brick station it was replaced with in 1884.

As one would expect from such a charming downtown area, the original Cold Spring station still stands, though it is not in use for any railroad purposes. Instead the station is home to the aptly named Cold Spring Depot restaurant. Built in 1884, the historic brick station replaced an earlier wooden one built at that site. The station used by Metro-North is south of the historic station and village area, though the two are connected via pathways.


Some interesting shots near Cold Spring… When we featured Garrison, I failed to mention that both that station and the tracks around Cold Spring were used in the filming of the movie Hello Dolly.

   

A little non-Metro-North action near Cold Spring. First three photos by Mike Foley, fourth by Chris Southwell.

If you happen to make the journey all the way up to Cold Spring, the Metro-North station probably is the least interesting thing you’ll see along the way. Typical of many Hudson Line stations, Cold Spring is composed of two side platforms, connected by an overpass. As previously mentioned, each platform is connected via a pathway to the old station and village area. Besides the usual ticket vending machines, blue trash bins, and wire benches found at most Metro-North stations, there isn’t much else noteworthy here at Cold Spring. It is, however, the gateway to a pretty interesting place, certainly worth visiting, and under an hour and a half from Manhattan.

 
   
  
 
   
 
  
 
   
  

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Grand Central’s Biltmore Room – the “Kissing Gallery”

Just a few months ago, Metro-North released plans for changes in Grand Central Terminal’s Biltmore Room – a room that has an amusing nickname – the Kissing Gallery. Of course the media couldn’t resist reporting on what they called the “kissing room,” and thus it found its way into most people’s awareness for the first time. As times have changed significantly over the past one hundred years, the room’s original purpose, and even the social niceties warranting the room in the first place, are rather different. Nonetheless, I think the story of the Kissing Gallery is an interesting bit of Grand Central history, and highlights one of the original concepts that made the Terminal great.

In March of 1912, just less than a year the before the opening of Grand Central Terminal, the New York Central’s chief engineer George W. Kittredge announced that the Terminal would have a designated “Kissing Gallery.” There was likely much jest in the dialogue, as Kittredge also called the entrance to the room the “perfunctory peck spot” – though he was said to prefer the term “greeting gallery.” Other folks named it the “Romeo and Juliet room” – no matter what it was called, the room (rumored to be built with soundproof walls and roof) had an important purpose in the Terminal.


The Biltmore Room in the 1950′s. Photo by Boris Klapwald.

Nowadays, heading through Grand Central Terminal is a bit chaotic. People run through the main concourse en route to the subways, the passageways, or any of the various exits. Grand Central was not always like this, however. One of the wonderful things about the Terminal when it was first built was that everything was highly organized. It was acknowledged that a variety of people would be using the station – commuters, long-distance riders, arriving passengers, and even those who were not going to take a train. The goal was to keep each audience separate – if they never mixed, there would never be a “traffic jam.”

Commuters dwelled in Grand Central’s lower concourse, and as they made their way out to either the subway or the street, they traveled up the ramps, never having to enter the main concourse. Long distance departures left from the gates in the main concourse, where a passenger could see all of the tracks in one glance, and quickly find their train. Incoming long-distance trains arrived in the Biltmore Room – and it was here where the Kissing Gallery was found.

The Biltmore Room was named for the Biltmore Hotel, located above and accessible via this room. The idea was that arriving passengers could ascend directly to their hotel without ever having to step outside, and as an added amenity bags would be taken directly from your train right up to your room. As the designated greeting room, kissing was permitted here – as long as it abided by several rules…

Rules on Kissing – Grand Central Terminal

Rules regarding kissing will be enforced by GCT staff

No kiss shall last longer than 5 seconds

Keep your tongue in your own mouth

The attendants will have orders to stop all osculation and send the particpants to the Romeo and Juliet room. No soul kisses… only straight ‘goodby’ and ‘how-are-you’ greetings of less than five seconds duration.

No kissing in any part of the Terminal other than the Kissing Gallery

Those who meet by chance in other parts of the station than the “kissing gallery” will be under the watchful eye of attendants who at the first sign of an affectionate embrace will politely request that the kiss parlors are the proper place for that sort of thing.

Please abide by the above rules

The purpose of the [room] is to do away with this promiscuous kissing around the station, and centralize it.

In all seriousness, the one main reason that these rules were in place was to deal with the aforementioned “traffic jams” that Grand Central was designed to avoid. In the main concourse passengers were supposed to have the ability to see every gate from anywhere in the room and know from exactly which spot their train would leave. Groups of stationary couples showing public displays of affection would not only hinder movement, but block the line of sight. Not to mention that this was 1913, and people were certainly more reserved. I suppose in a place where every single detail was well thought out, having a designated kissing area doesn’t sound too abnormal.


Left: Me about 10 years ago with my friend’s uncle in front of a DC Metro Kiss and Ride sign. Right: A Kiss and Fly sign at San Francisco International Airport. Photo from JPG Magazine.

I think the interesting thing to note is that there are still train stations in the United States and beyond that have similar concepts. I was rather amused by the “Kiss and Rides” found at many DC Metro stations when I first rode the rails there. Some airports also have “Kiss and Fly” versions. Since Grand Central’s Kissing Gallery was located in the arrivals hall, there was more of a focus on people greeting someone special arriving by train. These Kiss and Ride, or Kiss and Fly areas seem more focused on passengers departing – giving them a kiss and letting them go on their way.

Today there are no long distance trains that leave Grand Central – service is strictly commuters – but in its heyday Grand Central carried many different groups of people. The train was really the only way anyone traveled long distance in the early 1900′s, and the railroad was integral for moving troops during the world wars. Thus I wonder how many “thank god you’re still alive after the war” kisses happened in the Biltmore Room. Another thought to ponder about the Terminal we all know and love.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Ardsley-on-Hudson


Two early Metro-North Hudson Line timetables, and a local New York Central timetable listing the station as Ardsley – just to confuse you.

Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us just about 22 miles north of Grand Central to Ardsley-on-Hudson station, a place of a bit of confusion. Ardsley-on-Hudson, located in Irvington, should not be confused with actual village of Ardsley, which is located a few miles east and had its own station on the long-gone Putnam Division. As you can see above, many Ardsley-on-Hudson timetables were printed with just “Ardsley” which doesn’t really help much with the confusion. Thankfully, Metro-North has been fairly consistent with printing the full “Ardsley-on-Hudson” on station signs and in timetables for the past few years.


Above: 1896 drawing of the Ardsley Casino clubhouse. Below: 1899 photo of the clubhouse grounds, and a postcard showing the yacht landing, train station, and clubhouse. The aesthetic of the train station matches the buildings for the Casino. Postcard from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

In regards to the train station, the name Ardsley derives from the Ardsley Casino, which opened at this location in 1896. The “on-Hudson” portion was tacked on because of its geographic location on the river, and to differentiate it from the village of Ardsley. To confuse you more, the Casino wasn’t a casino, but more of a club for the rich to play golf. While the Casino built a dock for their rich members to sail up to in their yachts, not all of the membership was quite as fortunate to own one – thus a train station was constructed. The train station building mirrored the Tudor revival architecture style of the Casino’s nearby clubhouse. The two buildings stood in close proximity until 1936 when the clubhouse was torn down. As the only surviving remnant of the club that once stood here, the station building does look a little bit out of place aesthetically, and has a unique look compared to other Hudson Line stations.

Though the Ardsley Casino no longer exists, the more informal Ardsley Country Club, can be named as its sucessor. The Casino merged with the nearby Racquet and Swimming Club in 1935, shortly before the old clubhouse was torn down and took that name.


Pedestrian bridge that connected the Hudson House apartments to the train station, which was destroyed in 2010. Photo by John Reidy.
 
Aerial views of Ardsley-on-Hudson. The one on the left is from 2004, the one on the right from 2010, shortly after the pedestrian bridge was destroyed. Note the differences in the station itself – the station was upgraded in the time between both photos.

After the Casino was torn down, it was replaced with the Hudson House Apartments. At one time there was a pedestrian bridge that connected the apartments directly to the train station. Unfortunately, the bridge was destroyed in 2010 when a sanitation driver crashed his dump truck into it. The historical bridge was never rebuilt.

 
Construction at Ardsley-on-Hudson station in 2005 and 2006. Photos by Henry C.

CSX at Ardsley-on-Hudson. Photo by Michael Foley.

Though the original station building still exists, it is not used for any railroad functions. It is now the home of the Ardsley-on-Hudson post office, and contains rows of post office boxes. The original fireplaces built in the station are still there, but not used. You may not be able to buy your ticket here, but there still is a small area that one could probably use to wait for a train, and some bathrooms.

Like many of Metro-North’s Hudson Line stations, Ardsley-on-Hudson underwent considerable improvements in the past few years. Ardsley-on-Hudson had its turn in 2005 and 2006, when a new overpass was built, as well as new platforms. Canopies were added to much of the platform to protect riders from the elements, which are visible in the aerial shot above. Ticket Vending Machines were installed in the new overpass.

All in all, Ardsley-on-Hudson is a pretty nice station. It has a bit of history, and being right on the Hudson River always looks nice. From the station you can see the Tappan Zee Bridge to the north, and just barely make out the George Washington Bridge in the far south on a clear day. If you ever find yourself on the Hudson Line, Ardsley-on-Hudson would always be an interesting station to check out!

 
   
 
   
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
  
 
  
 

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