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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Another Great New York Station: Utica

Though begrudging partners, the architectural firms of Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore collaborated magnificently on the great Grand Central Terminal. Unfortunately, in mid-project Charles Reed died. Seeing this as an opportunity, Warren & Wetmore secretly approached the railroad’s directors the day after Reed’s funeral and convinced them to void the original contract – after all, there was no more Reed & Stem. The new contract named Warren & Wetmore the sole architects for Grand Central and the further projects associated with the Terminal (like the Biltmore Hotel). Ultimately, Stem sued Warren & Wetmore and was awarded a hefty sum in 1920, and Whitney Warren was expelled from the American Institute for Architects for unprofessional conduct[1].

Despite all this, there seemed to be no bad blood between Stem and the New York Central Railroad. Forming a new firm with junior partner Alfred Fellheimer, Stem & Fellheimer designed the railroad station in Utica for the New York Central.

Workers at Utica
Workers stand atop the the clock on the station’s façade.[2]

The construction of the new station at Utica was no easy task. The previous station, besides being inadequate for the traffic it was receiving, was plagued with problems in the spring when floods would cover the tracks with water. To combat this problem, and make additional room for platforms and a rail yard, the Mohawk River was moved about half a mile north. Construction on the station itself began in 1912, and it was opened in May of 1914.

Postcards from Utica
Postcards showing the front of Utica station.

Utica station features a 47 foot high waiting room, with 34 decorative marble pillars, and some of the marble was said to have come from the old Grand Central Station[3]. Originally intended to be a station for the New York Central, the station eventually became a Union Station in 1915 when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western and the New York, Ontario and Western moved their operations to the building.

While the interior of the station is quite lavish, the exterior is a little bit more conservative. There are no great statues of Mercury, Minerva and Hercules atop the station, like Grand Central Terminal, but the caduceus “herald’s staff” often carried by Mercury is visible on the station’s façade. Several carved eagles, as well as a clock also grace the front of the station.

Tickets and postcards from Utica
Tickets and another postcard from Utica

Like most old stations, Utica’s eventually fell into disrepair and considered for demolition. Thankfully, the station avoided the wrecking ball and restoration was begun in 1978. Now owned by Oneida county, the station is served by Amtrak, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, as well as by Greyhound and other local bus companies. Some of the old waiting room is apportioned off and used by the Oneida County Department of Motor Vehicles. Since 2003, the building’s official name has been The Boehlert Center at Union Station, named for Sherwood Boehlert, a Utica native who served twelve terms in the US House of Representatives.

Let’s enjoy a quick little tour of Utica station, part of my ongoing endeavor to write about some of the other buildings and stations linked to the four architects of Grand Central Terminal…

  
  
 
  
 
   
 
  
   
   
   

  1. An article discussing Reed & Stem and the Biltmore Hotel they were supposed to collaborate on, before the contract was changed, with Warren & Wetmore can be found here. []
  2. Photo from the Oneida County Historical Society []
  3. According to popular lore, 8 of the columns were brought from Grand Central Station. Though often stated, according to the Oneida County Historical Society there is no evidence to prove that this actually happened. []

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Toledo – the busy, half-abandoned station

Just about twelve years ago I hopped on a plane bound for Brazil to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. I lived in smaller city named Toledo – in the south-west of the country, not too far from the borders of Argentina and Paraguay, and the famed Iguaçu Falls. It was a nice place – think quaint Appalachian mining town with a little of White Plains mixed in – but hardly a city that would get significant numbers of tourists. While I lived there I had a host brother that was some years older than me, and he recounted his first visit to the United States. As is customary in many South American cultures, the 15th birthday is a big deal, and a lot of upper middle class folks reward their children with a big trip. Most tend to choose interesting places like Disney World, or New York. My host brother had a different idea – he wanted to go to another city called Toledo.

Toledo, Ohio is likewise a city I can’t imagine gets immense amounts of tourists (though apparently there are some modern rail hobos), but it certainly is a nice enough place. I’m not too sure what my host brother actually did here when he was fifteen – perhaps took a trip to the zoo – but it really doesn’t have the allure of say, Disney. Once upon a time, however, Toledo did get quite a few visitors, and many of them by train. The state of Toledo’s rail station today is really a visual reminder of not just the fall of passenger rail travel, but of the steady 40+ year decline of Toledo’s population.

Toledo's former station
In embracing modernity, the above 1800s Toledo station was replaced with the current brick and glass box. People hated this building so much that they cheered when it caught fire and burnt down. I think they’re crazy.

Toledo
The replacement – Central Union Terminal postcard, and tickets from Toledo from 1950.

Central Union Terminal, opened in 1950, is claimed by Wikipedia editors to be the last “great” railroad station built by the New York Central. A modern structure made of brick and glass, it certainly doesn’t have the same charm as many of the Central’s older stations. When opened, the station had about 55 daily departures – compare that with today’s paltry 4 departures. The island platforms that connected to the main station, once filled with people, are relatively dormant today. The passageways leading from these platforms to the station proper have long been shuttered, and are fastened shut with rusted chain for good measure. Some lonely platform canopies protect ripped out platforms, and others just stand over rusted rails. Toledo may be Ohio’s busiest railroad station, but from some angles it looks quite abandoned.

Event space in the old terminal
The old passageway to the platforms can now hold quite a few chairs… note the doors on either side that led to the island train platforms below. More photos of the event space in the station can be found here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, as it is called now, is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, and Capitol Limited. With trains arriving at the station during hours many are asleep (11:39 PM, 2:50 AM, 5:22 AM and 6:15 AM), the station functions on opposite schedule – the waiting room is open most night hours, and closed during the day. Though the waiting rooms for the trains were once in a more attractive spot on the third floor, during renovations the waiting area was relegated to the bottom floor. The former waiting area on the third floor is now an event space able to hold 650 people… so in reality, this station is pretty cool – if you’re looking to host a wedding reception.

 
  
  
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
 
   
 

If half-abandoned rail platforms aren’t your thing, there’s at least a bunch of freight traffic through Toledo that you can check out. I even caught my first Norfolk Southern heritage unit… awww. In case you’re curious, the folks watching the train in the first photo were the aforementioned “hobos.”

 
 
  
 

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James P. Carey, Grand Central’s Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Poughkeepsie


1890 photo of the previous Poughkeepsie station. Note that this station was on the west side of the tracks, while today’s station was constructed on the east side of the tracks.


1960 photo of Poughkeepsie station, not obstructed by Route 9 which now runs above the station’s front parking area.

Today we’ve arrived at the end of the line – both literally and figuratively. Today’s station tour is of Poughkeepsie, the northern terminus of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, and the final station on our Hudson Line tour. In fact, it is the final Metro-North station to be featured here. Over the past three years I’ve taken you to all one hundred and twenty three Metro-North stations, on both sides of the Hudson River. I saved Poughkeepsie for the end, as it is truly a gem, and a worthy send off for our Panorama Project.

tts
A wide variety of timetables from Pougkeepsie, including two of Amtrak’s trains that stop here.


Tickets and things from Poughkeepsie. My favorite is the Metro-North ticket listing the station as “Pokipse.”

Located on the east bank of the Hudson River, Pougkeepsie is roughly equidistant between New York City and Albany, and the station is about 75 miles from Grand Central. Both the access to the river, and later the railroad, played a significant part in Poughkeepsie’s growth. Over the years Poughkeepsie has been home to a various array of industries, including a glass factory, dye factory, brewery, carpet mill, shoe factory, and a chair manufacturer, among many others.

 

At Poughkeepsie station, 1971. Photos by Steve Baldwin.

Reflecting Poughkeepsie’s important status along the New York Central’s famed Water Level Route, a grand station was constructed in 1918. The four story concrete and brick building was designed by the notorious Beaux Arts architects Warren and Wetmore. No strangers to the New York Central, Whitney Warren was a cousin of the Vanderbilts, and designed Grand Central with duo Reed and Stem. Poughkeepsie station is not nearly as extravagant as Grand Central, but along with the station in Yonkers, it is certainly one of the Hudson Line’s real gems.

  

Poughkeepsie in the 1970’s. Top left photo in 1975, right and below, 1979. Top right photo by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian.

  

Top left photo in 1979 by Panoramio user Scotch Canadian. Top right photo in 1981 by Bob Coolidge. Amtrak photo by Ed Linde.

Fitting with the typical design of a Beaux Arts building, Poughkeepsie station offers a main, and large, focal point – in this case, the waiting room. Featuring five massive windows that stretch from almost floor to ceiling, during the day the station is well lit just from sunlight alone. To supplement that light, three chandeliers also hang from the ceiling, and similar to Grand Central’s chandeliers, boast their modern use of electricity with naked light bulbs. Interspersed throughout the waiting room are fourteen wooden chestnut benches, also similar to the benches that were once in Grand Central’s main waiting room. Historically, the north wing of the station was reserved for a railway express agency, and the south end with a kitchen and dining room. Today, the waiting room contains a Metro-North ticket window, some Quik-Trak machines from Amtrak customers, restrooms, a snack shop on the south side, and an MTAPD station on the north end.

 
Photos of the former Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge, now the Walkway Over the Hudson. Photo on the right by Flickr user miningcamper.

Arriving at Poughkeepsie by train, likely the first thing you’d notice is the large bridge running overhead, and not the station building itself, which is less visible on the track side. Constructed in 1888, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge stretches from Poughkeepsie on the east side of the Hudson River, to Highland on the west. Today this bridge makes Poughkeepsie an even more attractive destination. After serving railroad traffic for more than 75 years, the bridge was heavily damaged by fire and was for the most part abandoned until the early 2000’s when it was converted to pedestrian use as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.

 
CSX at Poughkeepsie. Photos by Mike Foley.


Poughkeepsie station in 2011, while undergoing renovations. Photo by Mike Groll.

Today Poughkeepsie station is quite attractive, with Metro-North having spent more than $22 million dollars to restore and improve it. This included an ample parking garage on the west side of the tracks, and a walkway and pavilion for people heading to the waterfront. Renovations to the area continue, including an elevator to make accessing the Walkway over the Hudson from the station easier.

Though a bit bigger than most Metro-North stations, the setup is relatively similar. Pretty much every station has ticket machines, wire benches, and blue trash bins, as does Poughkeepsie. Unlike most other stations, Poughkeepsie has one island platform, and two side platforms, although the one side platform is lower level and not used by passengers. All of the tracks are accessible to the main station by an overpass, which also connects to the parking garage. The overpass, covered in attractive wood paneling, is far nicer than the relatively utilitarian overpasses you see at most Metro-North stations.

In all, Poughkeepsie is a lovely station, and definitely worth visiting, if only for the lovely historic station, with the New York Central sign on the front. But a wide variety of restaurants and attractions in the area, most especially the Walkway Over the Hudson, make Poughkeepsie one of the nicest places we’ve seen on our now complete Metro-North tour.

 
   
 
 
  
 
 
  
   
  
  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  
   
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Cortlandt


Crugers and Montrose stations. Both stations were closed in 1996 and replaced with the new Cortlandt station.

Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us to one of Metro-North’s newer stations – the second newest on the line after Yankees-E 153rd Street, Cortlandt. Located a little over 38 miles from Grand Central, Cortlandt is in the upper, unelectrified portion of Metro-North’s Hudson Line, and situated between Croton-Harmon and Peekskill. Historically, there were two stations in this area – Crugers and Montrose – both of which were closed in favor of the new Cortlandt station. Space is always a critical issue at many Metro-North stations, especially when it comes to parking. Many stations have almost endless waiting lists for a parking permit. Cortlandt was one of the few places on the upper Hudson Line where there was room for expansion, and more room for parking. Especially built to replace Montrose and Crugers, the new station was opened in June of 1996.


Local timetables to Montrose and Crugers, and Hudson Line timetables from 1996. Note that Montrose and Crugers were there at the beginning of the year, but by midyear were replaced with Cortlandt. Thanks to Doug Dray, Otto Vondrak, and Bob Mortell for these timetables.

Although the parking situation was much improved at Cortlandt, Metro-North looked to expand even more, and in 2009 began a massive improvement project to the station. A new 720 car parking lot was built on the west side of the tracks, almost doubling parking capacity. Other improvements included a heated waiting room including a concession area, new canopies, and a new elevator. The New York State Department of Transportation improved the intersection between the station and Route 9A, which was also considered part of the project. The new road had lighted sidewalks built especially for those using the train to get to the nearby Veterans Hospital.


Pre-construction rendering of the improvements at Cortlandt

 
Cortlandt before and during construction. Before photo by Tom Panettiere, construction photo by George Kimmerling.

 
Aerial views of Cortlandt station, before and after the expansion. Note the new, larger station building, and the massive new parking lot on the west side of the tracks.

The MTA had a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony after the renovations to Cortlandt station were complete back in February, attended by both Metro-North president Howard Permut and MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. In his statements at the ceremony, Permut said “[Cortlandt] will address current and future needs of the railroad and the communities it serves,” which is actually quite true – especially the future part. Though most don’t attribute foresight as a quality generously abound in the MTA, whoever came up with the upgrades for Cortlandt was certainly thinking about future expansion. A blocked off stairwell to nowhere, gated off with a sign that says “Authorized Personnel Only” looks like a perfect spot for a third platform to be constructed – at some point in the future if ever needed (if electrification further north ever happens?).


Ribbon cutting ceremony at Cortlandt station.

Included in the original construction of the station was an Arts for Transit piece titled Three Statues (A Short History of the Lower Hudson Valley), by Robert Taplin. Three seven-foot tall statues stand beside the station, each representative of a historical group of people that were common in this area. On the left, a wealthy Dutch landowner. In the middle, a laborer from the early nineteenth century. And on the right, a Native American figure. The figures look out over the long shape of the Hudson River, rendered in stone.

That’s about it for today’s tour – next week we’ll head back south on the Hudson Line to another station in the Bronx. There are only four more stations left to be featured on the Hudson Line, after which my camera may go hibernate for the winter (except for the part where I go ride Alaska Railroad’s winter train)!

 
  
 
  
   
  
   
  
 
 
  
   
   
  
   
 

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Grand Central Theatre, and the other sky ceiling


The famous sky ceiling…

Grand Central Terminal’s sky ceiling is world-famous. Even if you’ve never been to the Terminal, you may have at least seen pictures of the gorgeous main concourse. Far fewer people, however, are familiar with the other (albeit much smaller) cerulean and gold sky ceiling also found in Grand Central. Once part of the lobby of the Grand Central Theatre, this other sky painting can be found above the registers in the Grande Harvest Wines shop, next to track 17.

 

The lesser-known sky ceiling

The theatre itself is also not often mentioned, though it was a part of the Terminal from 1937, and lasted about three decades. The 242-seat theatre had an early version of what would now be called stadium-style seating, produced by the Irwin Seating Company (which is still making stadium seating to this day!), and standing room in the back.

Different from the movie theatres we are accustomed to today, the Grand Central Theatre was a newsreel theatre – it played various short bits of news, documentaries, and even cartoons. A theatre of this type was perfect for the Terminal in its day – people waiting for their long distance trains could spend the extra moments until their train in the theatre. All the shorts were played continuously, so you could duck in and out whenever your train schedule required. Above the screen an illuminated clock displayed the time for those people on a schedule.

Advertised as the “most intimate theatre in America” the theatre regularly played every day til midnight. Also included with the theatre was a lounge designed by Tony Sarg. Whether you know his name or not, most New Yorkers – or for that matter Americans – know Sarg for his creations. He designed the first balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, including Felix the Cat, which was introduced in 1927.

 

Grand Central Theatre postcards, from the collection of Steve Swirsky.

For me, the Grand Central Theatre epitomizes the changes that Grand Central has gone through over its 100 years. While the Terminal’s outside has remained for the most part the same, the inside has always morphed to keep pace with society, and what was needed at the time. When prim and proper ladies and gentlemen used Grand Central, there were private waiting rooms staffed by maids where one could change into their best before stepping out to high-society parties. As World Wars I and II were being fought, and soldiers were moving through the station every day, the Terminal hosted a Red Cross kiosk, and one of the balconies was converted into a Service Men’s lounge. And when fancy long-distance trains like the 20th Century Limited were all the rage, you could wait the time until your train departed by watching the newsreels in Grand Central Theatre.

Today, with its mass of commuters, Grand Central boasts the conveniences associated with that demographic. You can buy a book to read, some flowers for someone special, a cheesecake to go, or even a beer for the train ride home. I don’t think that Grand Central Theatre would really work today – and I don’t think that Grand Central Market would have worked in the past. While some of our monuments have fallen into disuse and are merely tourist attractions, Grand Central is not just a historical monument – it has remained a relevant part of our lives, partially because of these minor changes. But Grand Central Terminal’s fundamental purpose has not changed – it is still a wonderful example of a train terminal – and definitive proof that a historical building can still be functional and pertinent one hundred years later.

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Croton-Harmon

As I mentioned last week, today’s stop on our Tuesday Tour is one of the least attractive stations on the Hudson Line, Croton-Harmon. You have to have mixed feelings about this place, because despite not looking all that spectacular, there’s a lot of action going on here. Not only does Croton-Harmon serve Metro-North, Amtrak has several trains which stop here. The station is also the northern terminus of electric service on the Hudson Line, and although Metro-North offers many through trains, some passengers still have to transfer here, so it is definitely a busy station (in the past fewer through trains were available, thus transferring here was a must). Metro-North’s Croton-Harmon shops, which recently won a Brunel Award, are also here, which certainly adds to the action.


Croton-Harmon timetables and ticket.

Croton-Harmon station is located about 33 miles from Grand Central, and a ride to the Terminal takes, on average, around an hour. However, there are a few express trains that will get you there in around 42 minutes. In terms of ridership, Croton-Harmon is the busiest station on the Hudson Line, and the sixth busiest system-wide (strictly Metro-North traffic and not counting GCT. Only White Plains, Stamford, Scarsdale, New Haven, and New Rochelle get more weekday passengers). Amtrak service adds another 42,000 passengers a year traveling through the station.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1963. The Hudson Division was part of the New York Central at this time.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1974. The Croton-Harmon shops in the Penn Central years. Penn Central Memories on Flickr has a lovely collection of photographs at Croton-Harmon in this era.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1984. Metro-North is still a fledgling railroad, after taking over from Conrail in 1983.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 1992.


Croton-Harmon through the decades: 2012. The current award-winning shops at Croton Harmon. [image source]

Denoting its busy status, Croton-Harmon has three island platforms, allowing multiple trains to stop at the station simultaneously. Above the platforms is an enclosed waiting room for passengers. Croton-Harmon is one of the few system stations to still have a manned ticket window, which serves Metro-North customers only. Amtrak does have two ticket machines not far from the ticket window. The waiting area also has a few vending machines, and restrooms available. Closer to the parking lot, the station also has a cleaners – this building was the temporary station in 1988 as the current station was under construction.

There isn’t much else noteworthy to mention of today’s Croton-Harmon – it is a busy, functional Metro-North station, that when compared with other Hudson Line stations like Poughkeepsie and Yonkers, is hardly attractive. With the traffic moving in and out, the station is at least nice place to watch trains… thus I’ll let the photos below speak for themselves!

 
 
  
 
  
 
   
 
 
   
 
   
 
  
 
  

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Stamford

Welcome to Stamford, the next and final stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. We’ve seen the best (and worst) that the line and its branches have to offer – from the attractive New Canaan, Mamaroneck, and New Haven stations, to the barely-there stations of Merritt 7 and Ansonia. Stamford is much more utilitarian than it is beautiful, consisting of five tracks that accommodate both Metro-North and Amtrak trains, as well as a waiting area complete with a Dunkin Donuts and a MTA police station <insert stereotypical joke here>.

   
 

Photos of Stamford station in the 1970’s and 1980’s

Throughout the many years the railroad has run through Stamford, there have been several different station buildings to occupy the space. One of the buildings with the longest life-span was built in 1896, surviving for nearly 90 years, before being demolished to make room for the current station. There were, in fact, two full stations on each side of the tracks – complete with ticket windows, bathrooms, baggage and waiting rooms. Although many New Haven Line stations had a building on both sides of the tracks, one of the two was usually smaller and did not have full amenities. Stamford’s two full-service stations was a rarity, and reflected the station’s importance. By October of 1907, the line from New York up to Stamford was electrified, which lead to even further population growth in the city.

Stamford station did not see any major changes until 1972, when high-level platforms were constructed to accommodate the new “Cosmopolitan” railcars (M2’s), and again in the early 1980’s when the historical station buildings were razed to make room for the current station.

 
   
  
   

Historic American Buildings Survey photographs of Stamford, taken in 1983 before the two stations were demolished

The current station at Stamford, known as the Stamford Transportation Center, was completed in 1987. The construction took around five years and cost a very over-budget $40 million dollars. The new station opened to less than stellar reviews, using an array of embarrassing adjectives such as dismal, uncomfortable, and gruesome. Though there have been renovations in the time since, the station still feels like a massive, unfriendly box of concrete. The high concentration of police also made me absolutely frightened to take pictures, though there were many places that I could have. Any station with that many tracks usually equals more opportunities to capture the movement of trains. Although I got a few shots of the new M8 railcars, the rest of the station is remarkably drab and relatively non-noteworthy… especially compared to some of the wonderful things we’ve seen on the New Haven Line.

 
  
   
 
  
 
 
   
 
  
  
   

So… that is it. We’ve officially toured the entire Harlem Line, and the entire New Haven Line. Up next will be the Port Jervis Line, which I photographed last year, followed by the Hudson Line, which I will start photographing soon.

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Tuesday Tour of the New Haven Line: Fairfield


Postcard view of Fairfield station

Welcome to Fairfield, the next stop on our tour of the New Haven Line. Although it isn’t as hip as the new Fairfield Metro station, it does have a bit of history – including an 1882 station listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located just over 50 miles from Grand Central, a train trip to the city from Fairfield takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.

 
 

Many of today’s historical images of Fairfield station have come from a site called Tyler City Station, which is filled with information about Connecticut stations, and is quite wonderful. It is definitely worth checking out.

One of the nice things about New Haven main line stations are the configuration of the tracks. Instead of having an island platform, like a lot of Harlem Line stations, there are two platforms – one on each side of the four tracks. Because of this arrangement, there were usually two station buildings, one on the New Haven (or eastbound) side, and one on the New York (or westbound) side. While many stops along the line have only retained one of their stations, Fairfield has managed to preserve both.

 
Diagram of the tracks and station buildings at Fairfield

Fairfield’s eastbound station is the oldest of the two, a brick building constructed in 1882. The building measures 26 feet by 82 feet, and is one and a half stories in height. The inside has high ceilings and hardwood flooring. The old waiting room is used by a taxi company, and the building also contains a restaurant and cleaners.

The westbound station is constructed of wood and measures 30 feet by 90 feet. It also has hardwood flooring, and is partially occupied by a coffee shop. There is a small waiting area that once served as a ticket office, but Metro-North closed that window in 2010. The design is similar to several other stations we’ve featured, as reusing the architectural plan for multiple stations was a method of cost savings for the railroad.


Because we’re all fascinated (or at least I am) with train crash images, here is one in Fairfield.

  
Photos of Fairfield in 1988, from the application for listing the station on the National Register of Historic Places.

That is about all I have on Fairfield, and for our tour today. At the time of my visit there was some construction going on, and some tracks were out of service. You will note in several of the photos that trains were boarding from temporary wooden platforms, instead of the normal concrete side platforms, because of this construction.

 
  
 
   
  
 
  
   
 
  

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