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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A summer of derailments, and a revisit to Yonkers station

This summer has hardly been the best for railroads all around the world. Several high-profile, and unfortunately deadly, derailments and accidents have occurred in an array of cities. In June a commuter train hit another stopped train in Argentina, claiming three lives and injuring over three hundred. July brought an exceptionally destructive derailment, where a runaway freight train carrying crude oil exploded in the small town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. More than thirty of the town’s buildings were destroyed, and forty-two were killed, with five others missing and presumed dead. Not long after that, six people lost their lives when a train in France derailed and crashed into a station platform. Most recently, a serious derailment in Spain – which appears to be due to the engineer speeding – took the lives of at least seventy-eight.


The serious train derailment in Spain, where at least 78 people died.

At the start of it all in May was Metro-North’s most serious accident in many years, when an M8 derailed and collided with another M8 on the opposite track in May. Proving the mettle of the newest of Metro-North’s rolling stock, no lives were lost in the derailment. Though not an oft mentioned thought related to the crash, had the train been comprised of the New Haven’s ancient M2s, it is fairly likely that there would have been casualties.

Most recently, a CSX derailment fouled up the Hudson Line south of Spuyten Duyvil. There were no serious injuries, and since it was a freight had no passengers aboard, but it did cause damage to the tracks and block the regular commute for Hudson Line riders two Fridays ago. Metro-North raced to get at least one track working for the Monday commute, and succeeded, but opted for alternate service this weekend in order to complete the work. Train service between Yonkers and Grand Central was suspended, and passengers were required to transfer to the subway to get into the city. A fleet of buses shuttled southbound passengers from Yonkers to the Woodlawn subway station, and northbound passengers from the subway to Yonkers station. I checked out the busing at Yonkers yesterday and snapped a few photos of the operation. Though I doubt none of the passengers were thrilled to have to transfer to buses and then the subway, Metro-North has really done a good job of bounding back quickly from incidents like these.

  
  
   
  
 
  
 
  

While we’re at Yonkers, it is worth checking out the station itself, and the lovely detailing found within. When we did our station tours, we visited Yonkers, but really didn’t get into some of the littler things you’d find at the station. Designed in the Beaux Arts style by two of Grand Central’s architects, Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the station has the classic hidden symbol found throughout. Just as you can play the “acorn game” in Grand Central, you can do so at Yonkers. The acorn and oak leaf, the adopted family crest of the Vanderbilts, can be found in many of the buildings designed for the family, including some of their railroad stations. Besides the acorns hidden in the outside and inside detailing, you’ll notice the stylized “NYC” for their railroad, the New York Central.

 
  
   
  
   
  

Yonkers, of course, fits into my recent goal of looking at some other buildings designed by Grand Central’s architects. A few weeks ago we looked at Hartsdale station, as well as the former White Plains station, which Warren and Wetmore also designed. Between them and Reed and Stem, there’s a nice list of local places I’d like to talk about in the near future, including Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Poughkeepsie, the Glenwood power station, and the Helmsley building. I’m also planning a nice feature on one of their more distant stations – Michigan Central Station in Detroit – which is arguably an often forgotten fraternal twin sister of Grand Central Terminal.

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Best of 2012, a year-end review

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:

15

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.

14

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.

13

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.

12

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.

11

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.

10

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.

9

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.

8

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.

7

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.

6

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!

5

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.

4

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!

3

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!

2

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.

1

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!

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Glenwood

I have a secret confession to make… the Hudson Line sure is attractive, but in my opinion, one of the most beautiful spots is probably not on most people’s list. I absolutely adore Glenwood. I do have a bizarre infatuation with abandoned buildings, though – and the old Glenwood power station is quite gorgeous to me. While we’re technically checking out Glenwood’s train station today, the abandoned power station is impossible to miss. It also has a shared history with the railroad, at least in the distant past, which does make it a relevant part of today’s tour.


Inside the power station. Despite my professed love for the abandoned Glenwood power station, I’m too much of a law-abiding chicken to try and enter the place. Thankfully, many other people have, and it is pretty easy to find photos online. Photo by Chris M. Howard.

As you may remember, in 1902 there was a serious train crash in the Park Avenue Tunnel, which was one of the catalysts for third-rail electrification heading into New York City. The railroad, of course, needed somewhere to get the electricity from – and built two power generating stations – here in Glenwood, and another one in Port Morris.

Completed in 1906, the Glenwood power station provided high voltage electricity to various substations located along the Harlem and Hudson divisions. These substations converted the electricity to what was needed to power the third rail for the trains. The New York Central used the power station for 30 years, before selling it to Con Edison in 1936. It was ultimately shut down in the 1960’s, and for many years sat vacant.


Glenwood Power Station – reimagined.

Over the many years that the the power station has sat idle, there have been various proposals to convert it to other uses. Some of those proposals are downright strange – like the one above. Designed by architect Will Alsop, he reimagined the power station as a new home to a contemporary art museum, with residential apartments located above. As you will see from my photos below, work is currently being done on the old building, thankfully not using the design above. According to The New York Times, $200 million has been set aside for the restoration and redevelopment, “to be used for conventions, exhibitions and public events, among other things.”



CSX at Glenwood in 2009 – the former power station visible in both. Photos by Michael Foley.

As for the Metro-North station itself, Glenwood is about 16 miles north of Grand Central, situated in the city of Yonkers. The station consists of two side platforms, connected by an overpass. Above the platforms and on the same level as the overpass there is an old brick station building which is fairly attractive – minus the chain and padlock on the doors.

All of the platform station signs mention the Hudson River Museum, which is within walking distance of the station, and worth checking out. Perhaps not too far in the future, with the redevelopment at the old power station, there will be more attractions at Glenwood. If residential apartments were a part of that plan, it would be the perfect home for a commuter – within walking distance of Glenwood station, all with lovely views of the Hudson River.

 
  
  
   
  
  
  
 
   
  
 
  
 
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Ludlow


Monthly pass from Ludlow, and a Domino Sugar postcard. Yonkers, just north of Ludlow station, has been the home to a sugar refinery for over 100 years.

Today’s tour of the Hudson Line takes us to another of Yonkers’ railroad stations. Our visit to Ludlow will be relatively short, as there isn’t too much to mention here. The station is located just less than 14 miles from Grand Central, and is the southernmost Hudson Line station in Westchester county. Riverdale station is just south of here, and the main Yonkers station is north. Like many places along the line, the station consists of two outside platforms with four tracks running through the center. While most stations also have a platform overpass, here the elevated Ludlow Street serves as a method to access the other platform. Ticket machines are also located on this road.


CSX at the sugar refinery, just north of Ludlow station, in 2003. They are no longer a customer of CSX. Photo by Michael Foley.

As we’ve seen at other stations on the Hudson Line, the combination of the river and the railroad provided an optimal location for industry to thrive. Over the years many of these industries and factories have slowly disappeared. For over 100 years Yonkers – just north of Ludlow station – has been the home to a sugar refinery, still in operation today. The Yonkers location also serves as the headquarters of American Sugar Refining, Inc. This is one of the few sugar refineries still operating in the northeast, and Brian O’Malley, president of Domino Sugar, considers the railroad an important factor in the longevity of the Yonkers refinery.

That pretty much sums it up for Ludlow, which is one of the few Hudson Line stations not graced by an attractive view of the Hudson River. Next week we’ll be heading further north on the Hudson Line to a station that just might have a nicer view.

 
   
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
 

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Greystone


Photograph of Harriman station from the 1903 book Yonkers Illustrated. The station was renamed Greystone circa 1910.


Greystone station in 1915. [image source]

If you’ve been following me around on my tour of all of Metro-North’s stations, you most likely remember me visiting Harriman station, which is on the Port Jervis Line. However, there is another station, on the Hudson Line, that was also called Harriman in the past. The station now goes by the name of Greystone, and it is today’s stop on our tour of the Hudson Line.

Greystone station is located in Yonkers, and approximately 17 miles north of Grand Central. I don’t normally make it a point to name the street that stations are on, but in this instance it feels appropriate – Harriman Avenue. Originally the station was named Harriman, after Charles Harriman, who was the main developer of that part of Yonkers. The man was born around 1826 in England but emigrated to New York with his parents and six siblings at age four. At the young age of eleven he began working, and developed a keen business sense. Throughout his illustrious career as a businessman he sold parts for ships, ran a sugar refinery, and founded a real estate firm with John Hawley – known as Harriman & Hawley.

Prior to the area’s development by Harriman, the land on which the station was built was owned by a pickle factory. Harriman purchased the land, approximately 18 acres, and developed it into a desireable place to live, with many attractive homes. The original stone station was built at a cost of $8000 (though another source lists the cost at $6500), completely paid for by Harriman. He later donated the station to the New York Central, and believe it or not, requested they rename the station Greystone.



Both photographs above are by user BrooklynParrots on Flickr and were taken in 2000.

Today Greystone station isn’t the most noteworthy of places, but like many Hudson Line stations it provides a nice view of the river. Some benches were installed along the water, and a spot was designated for fishing, but eating whatever you happen to catch is probably not the best of ideas. Both Amtrak and Metro-North trains frequently pass by Greystone, and about 30 trains in each direction make stops there over the course of a day. Travel time to Grand Central is between 30 to 40 minutes. Located behind the station are some apartments, which would be the perfect residence for any commuter.

Next week we will, of course, be visiting another Hudson Line station, perhaps a little bit more interesting than Greystone. Not to say that Greystone is a bad place – it certainly is not – it just might be a tad regular.

 
  
 
  
 
 
  
 
   
 
 
  
 
   

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Tuesday Tour of the Hudson Line: Yonkers

Although Grand Central Terminal may be the obvious gem of the Metro-North system, interspersed along all three of the main lines are many other beautiful stations. On the New Haven Line, I can’t help but think of New Haven Union Station, and of course Mamaroneck. On the Harlem, I’ve always loved both Brewster and Chappaqua. By now I’ve explored much of the Hudson Line, and it seems that the standout stations there are definitely Poughkeepsie and Yonkers. Both are well-restored examples of brick stations built by the New York Central in the early 1900’s. Though smaller than Poughkeepsie, Yonkers makes up for that with beautiful detailing on the outside, and a gorgeous entranceway and waiting room on the inside. On today’s tour we may have discovered the most beautiful station on the Hudson Line.


Postcard and ticket from Yonkers. The card lists various facts about Yonkers – like Yonkers having nineteen railroad stations.

The city of Yonkers is the fourth most populous in New York state, and the most populous city in Westchester county. Reflecting that population, Yonkers was historically well-connected to the city and beyond via multiple methods of transportation. Right near the station were steamboats and ferries, various streetcars, and the Getty Square branch of Putnam Division was not far away. At one time, Yonkers had nineteen railroad stations. Today there are far fewer than nineteen stations, the streetcars are long gone, and the Putnam Division is just a memory. However, Yonkers still has quite a few connections to the city via Metro-North – Ludlow, Glenwood, and Greystone are all in Yonkers. And the primary Yonkers station, which we are visiting today, is serviced by both Metro-North and Amtrak.


Some of the now defunct methods of transportation in Yonkers – including trolleys and a few Putnam Division stations. Postcards from the collection of the awesome postcard master, Steve Swirsky.

Other than being beautiful stations, Grand Central Terminal, Poughkeepsie, and Yonkers do have one thing in common – all were worked on by architects Warren and Wetmore. Built in their signature Beaux Arts style, the station was completed in 1911. The Gustavino tiling on the ceiling of Yonkers significantly resembles the portion of Grand Central adjacent to the Oyster Bar. One of my favorite portions of the station is the sculpted detail work containing NYC – for the New York Central. The station still has the original ticket windows, which are quite attractive, but they are no longer in use. All ticketing at Yonkers is through Ticket Vending Machines.


Postcards of Yonkers station, from the collection of Steve Swirsky

Expectedly, Yonkers station fell into disrepair over many years. It was ultimately restored by Metro-North in 2001. $45 million was alloted for the work at Yonkers, $4.5 million of which was for restoring the building itself. The sculpted terra cotta on the façade of the building was restored, or in some instances, replaced by a company from California. The rest of the money was used for track work, reconstruction of steel bridges, and refurbishment of the viaduct. Platforms were also redone, the lighting improved, and accommodations made for the disabled. In 2006 an Arts for Transit piece was added at Yonkers, but I happened to miss it on my visit.

Occurring simultaneously were other initiatives to renew the waterfront area surrounding the train station in Yonkers. One such effort was the Hudson Park luxury apartments, which you can spot in the background of several of my photographs of the station. Its proximity to the train station no doubt makes it an attractive place to live, and you’ll notice many developments similar to this up and down the line.

Compared to the beautiful station, the platform area of Yonkers station is relatively underwhelming. But it is, of course, from the platform that one accesses the frequent trains heading south to the city, or north to Poughkeepsie and beyond. Yonkers is just over 14 miles from Grand Central, a ride that takes on average 30 minutes. 26 daily Amtrak trains make stops at Yonkers, and there are Metro-North trains every half hour, if not more frequently.

That is about all I have for Yonkers today. Next week we will visit another Hudson Line station, but I can’t promise it will be quite as beautiful as this one. ;)

 
  
 
   
 
  
 
  
    
  
 
  
  
  

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Hartsdale

When it comes to beautiful stations located on the Harlem Line, Hartsdale is definitely high on my list. Scarsdale’s station was built in 1902, and designed by Reed and Stem, in a neo-Tudor style. When Hartsdale’s station was built in 1912, architecture firm Warren & Wetmore modeled the style previously used in Scarsdale. Both station buildings still exist, and in the case of Hartsdale no longer has a ticket window. Instead, Hartsdale’s station building houses a Starbucks. Warren & Wetmore are most noted for their work on Grand Central, though they designed several other stations and buildings for the New York Central, including Yonkers, Mount Vernon West, and the New York Central building (now called the Helmsley Building). The small station formerly had a waiting and ticket room, a baggage room, and restrooms. Above the main door is a balcony with intricately carved wood, though it is fake- there is no way to access this balcony.

Just as Hartsdale and Scarsdale are a pair in architectural style, the Arts for Transit pieces that are at both stations are also a pair. Philadelphia-born artist Tom Nussbaum designed the figures at both stations, made of Cor-Ten steel and installed in 1991. Although the photo of the plaque I snapped at the station lists the name as Untitled, the Arts for Transit website refers to the piece Workers. There are twenty-one life size figures in between the station’s two tracks.













A few of the old station buildings on the Harlem have been converted to Starbucks, and I must admit I felt like a dork taking pictures of people attempting to drink their coffee. I did happen to dig up some nice pictures of the building in the eighties- pre-Starbucks, and when the ticket booth still existed.

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