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Grand Central Station turns 100

In his new book, writer Anthony W. Robins discusses the legendary station's architecture, how New York almost lost this masterpiece, and what the future holds for Grand Central.

By Randy Dotinga / April 8, 2013

Writer Anthony W. Robins released 'Grand Central Terminal' in conjunction with the New York Transit Museum to mark the 100th birthday of the epic station.

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You may have never been there. But your mind's eye almost certainly has a vision of Grand Central Terminal's gigantic main concourse, bustling with a fantastic stream of commuters, tourists, and employees.

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But there's more to New York City's epic train station than a very big room. A century after its construction in its current form, much of the wonder of Grand Central remains far underground, an epic maze of tracks and loops, pumps and pipes, fans and lights, workers and computers.

Historian and preservationist Anthony W. Robins has spent decades exploring the glory of Grand Central. In conjunction with the New York Transit Museum, he celebrates the train station in an exquisite new coffee-table book titled Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark.

In an interview, Robins talks about the grandeur of Grand Central, its place in the architecture of 1913, and its brush with disaster.
 
Q: Commuters often have just one thing on their minds: Getting somewhere. But it's almost impossible to hurry through Grand Central without appreciating where you are. Why is that?
 
A: When you walk into the Grand Central and the ceiling is 150 feet over your head, 15 stories, you can't not notice it. You walk into the space, and it's overwhelming.

Call it spiritual or psychological, it opens up something inside you to be in a space like that. Even if you're not interested in architectural detail, the sense of grandeur that just comes from the space is hard to miss.
 
Q: What sort of statement does Grand Central make?
 
It says that this is a very important train station in a very important part of New York City.

Many architects of that time had a particular mindset. They'd made the Grand Tour in Europe, visiting Italy and France. They wanted to understand the architecture of the empires of the past so they could bring back that knowledge and create the monuments of the new American empire.

So we have the US Custom House, the New York City Public Library, and Grand Central Terminal – enormous and overwhelming buildings dripping in classical detail.

This all says New York is a capital just like Rome and Paris.  That's the kind of monumentality that they were looking for.
 
Q: While it's monumental, Grand Central isn't a skyscraper. Why doesn't it try to push into the clouds?
 
The original plan included a skyscraper, and one plan called for an enormous tower that would have been the tallest building in the world. What we got was a very grand, low-scale building.

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