Education

Grand Central Station, New York City, c. 1900


Historical Context
New York City's Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan is one of the best-known train stations in the world.  The original structure, Grand Central Depot, was built by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Designed by John Snook, Grand Central Depot was the largest rail facility in the world at the time of its completion in 1871.  In 1898, three stories were added to the terminal building, giving it the appearance in this photograph.



Just twelve years later, the old Grand Central Depot was demolished in 1910 and replaced with the current Grand Central Terminal, which opened to the public in 1913.  The new Grand Central is the largest train station in the world based on the number of platforms and tracks it services. These platforms and tracks are on two underground levels, with forty-one tracks on the upper level and twenty-six on the lower.



Grand Central Station has a few unique characteristics. One is the unusual ceiling, which shows an array of constellations. Another is the beautiful four-sided clock, which sits on top of the information booth in the center of the main concourse.  This clock has become the meeting place for many travelers.



Over the years, Grand Central Station has declined and deteriorated. In the 1930s, the ceiling was covered over because some of the plaster was falling off; it was easier and cheaper to cover the ceiling then to repair it.  However, in 1998, a twelve-year restoration revealed the true beauty of the original building, including the ceiling. When restoration of the ceiling began, many people thought the original ceiling was covered with coal or diesel smoke, but tests showed that the entire ceiling was concealed with tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke. A single dark patch remains; it was left untouched by renovators to remind visitors of the grime that once covered the ceiling.  If you ever visit, look for this little patch on the ceiling.



 
Essential Question
How is architecture influenced by technology and economy?
Check for Understanding
Describe the structure in the photograph and explain how technology and economy influenced the design.
[click to enlarge]
N.Y. City. Grand Central Station, Exterior, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_D47_NG72
Document Description
Grand Central Station in New York City, circa 1900.
Questions
  1. What is Grand Central Station used for?
  2. How does its name represent the purpose of the building?
  3. Why would Vanderbilt construct such a grand building for his train station?
  4. Find the clock in this photograph. Why would it be important for people coming into this building to know the time?
  5. Where is the famous clock in the new Grand Central Terminal?
  6. Do you think it is better to have a clock outside or inside the train station? Explain.
  7. If someone needed to meet you inside this very large building, where might you agree to meet?
  8. Compare the building in this photograph to the current Grand Central Terminal. Which do you prefer — the old or new Grand Central Station? Why?
Historical Challenge
Compare the building in this photograph to the Grand Central Depot in a picture on the New York Public Library's website (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org). The buildings look different; however, they are both the original Grand Central Depot. Which photograph came first? What changes were made to the Depot in the time between the two photographs? How can you tell that the buildings in both photographs are the same building?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: Research the constellations that are depicted on the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal. Are the images accurate or distorted? How?

 
Social Studies & English Language Arts: Design a travel plan for AAA, demonstrating how to cross the country by train, ending at Grand Central Station.
Resources
  1. Stanley, Ed. Grand Central Terminal: Gateway to New York City. New York: Mondo Pub., 2003. ISBN: 159034491X, 1590344928

     
  2. http://www.grandcentralterminal.com