In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal, we will be exploring all aspects of the terminal, from its most famous attributes to its hidden treasures. This article is the second installment in a 3 part series on the secrets of Grand Central. Yesterday we showed you Part 1. Check back tomorrow for Part 3.
The statue “Transportation”, alternatively “The Glory of Commerce” adorns the front of Grand Central facing south. On the left sits Hercules, representing physical strength; on the right, Minerva, goddess of wisdom and protectress of cities; featured at the center is Mercury, god of travel and commerce. This sculptural grouping was considered the largest of its kind when it was built in 1914. Made of the same Bedford limestone façade as the Terminal, it is 48 feet high and weighs 1500 tons. Underneath Mercury is the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass, at 14 feet in diameter.
Though it was designed by the French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan, then a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the artist himself never set foot in the United States. Asked if he would visit to oversee the construction of his piece he replied in the negative, explaining, ”I fear some of your [American] architecture would distress me.” The piece was instead constructed/assembled by William Bradley and Son of Long Island City, Queens. It took 7 years, whereas the building of Grand Central itself took 10.
The iron eagles perched at the corners of the edifice are vestiges from Grand Central Station, the L shaped predecessor of Grand Central Terminal designed by John B. Snook in 1869. They are imposing and massive, with wingspans 13 feet wide. Each faces a different direction, and their fearsome expressions – tongues alive in their beaks as if in full cry – help to keep pigeons away.
There were at least ten such eagles adorning the transportation hub before it was demolished to make way for the new one in 1902, and almost all of them disappeared after its destruction. Nine have been located across the state of New York, many having been auctioned off to private estates and institutions. Some were found in backyards or as lawn ornaments, others at train stations on what was once a NY Central line. Another was found on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River.
3. The Campbell Apartment
Like the rest of Grand Central, the Campbell Apartment serves as a testament to the grandiosity of another era. But this testament is one that can be imbibed. If appropriately attired, enter a room resplendent from paraphernalia of the past and sip on cocktails from the fin de siècle in this virtual museum to the opulence of New York’s high society of the past.
Though it did have a kitchen and butler, this was once the office, not apartment, of tycoon John C. Campbell. President of the Credit Clearing House, Campbell rented the space to be closer to the hub of the New York Central Railroad (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s train empire), of which he was a major stockholder. Rumor has it that he used to sit behind the massive desk (that to this day takes up much of one side of the gorgeous 25 by 60 foot room) half nude, as he detested wrinkles in his trousers. The Campbell Apartment deteriorated drastically after its namesake vacated it in the ‘50s, and like everything else in the terminal, it fell on hard times. Metro North claimed the space as first a signalmen’s headquarters and later a police station, temporarily detaining criminals in what was once Campell’s wine cellar and storing their firearms in his curio cabinet. It was restored to its original glory in the late ‘90s, and is an excellent place to get a real taste of the decadence of Grand Central’s past. The Campbell Apartment is also one of our favorite hidden bars in New York City.
4. The Annex
Accessible by the same elevators that will take you to the Campbell Apartment, there is a little known space in Grand Central called the Annex that has housed a variety of activities and institutions. Today it is occupied by a tennis court that is accessible to the public (as long as you can get a reservation – it books about a week out). Originally installed by a Hungarian immigrant Geza A. Gazdag in the 1960s, it was taken over by Donald Trump, who brought the likes of John McEnroe and the Williams sisters onto its clay courts.
Before it was turned into tennis courts in 1965, the Annex was home to CBS studios. The first episodes of “What’s My Line?” and Edward Murrow’s “See It Now” were broadcast from here. When television technology advanced enough to detect the vibrations of the trains at Grand Central, CBS was forced to move after over twenty years in the space. Gazdag took it over, founding the Vanderbilt Athletic Club. In addition to tennis courts, he also installed a 65-foot-long indoor ski slope above Vanderbilt Hall.
Check back tomorrow for the Secrets of Grand Central, Part 3.