12 things you didn’t know about Grand Central Terminal

We spotlight some lesser-known aspects of Grand Central Terminal, which celebrates its centennial on Feb 1.



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Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal is one of the most recognized train stations in the world: The Beaux Arts building is both an architectural icon and a pop-culture mainstay. (Remember Lex Luthor’s villainous subterranean lair in Superman, or the North by Northwest scene in which Cary Grant eludes spies and boards the 20th Century Limited luxury train?) To mark the yearlong celebration of the Grand Central Terminal Centennial, we asked architectural historian Francis Morrone, Grand Central Tours manager Daniel Brucker and Anthony W. Robins, author of Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark, to tell us about some of its less-familiar attributes.

Grand Central Terminal opened on February 2, 1913, on the site of the old Grand Central Station (1900) and Grand Central Depot (1871), both of which had above-ground railway tracks. The terminal was designed by architectural firms Reed and Stem, and Warre

When the station was built in 1871, it was actually called Grand Central Depot; it was rebuilt as Grand Central Station in 1900. Two years later, 17 people were killed in a train accident, leading to yet another reconstruction which finished in 1913. The new station was renamed Grand Central Terminal, because it’s a terminus for the Port Jervis, Hudson, New Haven and other lines.

Grand Central Station

Items turned into the lost-and-found office over the years have included an urn with cremated ashes, a basset hound, a turtle, a marriage license, a wooden leg and false teeth.

French sculptor Jules-Alexis Coutan designed the sculptures of Minerva (goddess of wisdom), Hercules (representing strength) and Mercury (god of speed) on Grand Central Terminal’s exterior, collectively titled “Transportation.” At 50 feet tall and 60 feet

Acorns and oak-leaf clusters feature prominently throughout the building’s interior and exterior, including a brass acorn-shaped compass on top of the information-booth clock in the Main Concourse (the timepiece is estimated to be worth $10 million–$20 million). The symbols are an homage to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who financed the construction of Grand Central Depot; his family motto is, “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.”


The structure’s basement, called M-42 (because it’s the main substation below 42nd Street), is 13 stories deep. It was built in 1913 to house a power station that generated the building’s electricity. The original antique equipment is still held there, along with the modern machinery that electrifies the train rails using power from Con Edison.

Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon

Almost every movie that has been filmed at the station was shot on Track 34, because it’s one of the few platforms without columns. The track first appeared in color in the 1953 film The Band Wagon, in which Fred Astaire got off a train and danced his way up the platform. (The station’s first-ever movie appearance was in 1930’s Puttin’ on the Ritz, with Harry Richman stumbling through the station.)


In the 1920s, station attendants wore different color hats, depending on their jobs. “Red Caps” helped passengers with their luggage and “Green Caps” helped deliver messages for travelers. The practice doesn’t exist anymore at Grand Central Terminal, although Amtrak still has Red Cap baggage handlers at Penn Station across town.

The chandeliers in Grand Central Terminal are nickel and gold-plated, and fitted with electric lightbulbs. These imparted a sense of grandeur when the terminal opened, as electricity was not yet in regular household use.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, the 20th Century Limited traveled between Chicago and New York. At Grand Central Terminal, the staff would roll out a red carpet on Platform 35 for wealthy passengers such Bob Hope, Bette Davis and Bing Crosby.

Vanderbilt Hall (formerly the Main Waiting Room) hosts a number of events and exhibits...

In 1939, CBS opened its first television studios above the former waiting room, now Vanderbilt Hall, and Walter Cronkite anchored his first evening news broadcast from there in 1962.

The information booth at the center of the Main Concourse features a marble-and-brass pagoda with a four-sided clock on top. The clock faces are made of opal, with an estimated value between $10 million and $20 million. The pagoda also contains a hidden s

The Main Concourse walls are made from artificial stone that had been molded and tinted to simulate French limestone, which is used in Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Statue of Liberty’s base and the Empire State Building’s lobby. The cast “stone” was a cheaper alternative to importing the real deal, and also lighter on the building’s steel frame.

The 80,000-square-foot Main Concourse at the heart of Grand Central Terminal has 60-foot windows at each end, and 125-foot vaulted ceilings. The cerulean ceiling mural was designed by French painter Paul Helleu, and portrays the October-to-March zodiac an

The constellations on the ceiling of the Main Concourse are reversed from how they actually appear in the night sky, because the artist, French painter Paul Helleu, modeled it on a medieval manuscript that showed the constellations from God’s point of view.

Whispering Gallery

Jazz great Charles Mingus proposed to his girlfriend, Sue Graham, in the Whispering Gallery in 1974. (If one person stands in one corner of the gallery, a whisper can be heard clearly in the opposite corner.) She said yes.


An unused platform, Track 61, extends underneath the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was constructed in the 1930s for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to hide the fact that he was wheelchair-bound. A limousine would take FDR from his private train to an elevator on the platform that brought the vehicle aboveground and into the hotel.

Users say


The Port Jervis line terminates in Hoboken. It is the Harlem line (one of 3) which terminates at Grand Central. Item #1 needs to be re-written.