Photo via Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Co.
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. Last week, we showed you what Grand Central could have been if other architects had built it. Now, we will explore the City that was created alongside Grand Central Terminal
For the past century, New York City has been graced by Warren & Wetmore’s Beaux Arts masterpiece. However, most people are unaware that Grand Central Terminal does not stand on its own. The original plans by Reed & Stem, along with William John Wilgus, called for an entire city to accompany their train station.
Terminal City was to include a new home for the Metropolitan Opera and the National Academy of Design, as well as a 20 story post office building, office space, and hotels. While this vision was not realized, Terminal City did become a reality after many revisions. One of the most important aspects of the complex was its grand hotels, which complemented Grand Central both in design and purpose. We explore those hotels designed by Warren & Wetmore below.
1. Biltmore Hotel
Bowman Room in the Biltmore Hotel. Photo via Library of Congress, Gottscho-Schleisner Collection
The Biltmore was the brainchild of Gustav Baumann and was the fourth grand New York City hotel to be designed by Warren & Wetmore. It was described as being sumptuous and magnificent and its design ensured that at twenty-six stories it still maintained a harmonious relationship with the rest of Terminal City. A palm court, grand ballroom, Italian garden, and private arrival station at Grand Central ensured that the Biltmore would be in a class of its own. Its name lured the likes of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald to honeymoon there and F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger to incorporate it hotel into their stories.
The hotel had its own arrival station within the terminal, nicknamed “The Kissing Room,” with elevator access to the lobby, a private elevator served only the presidential suite, and a palm court, which echoed the design of the main concourse at the Terminal. The grand ballroom occupied the hotel’s 22nd floor. Called the Cascades, it was the home of the conductor Bert Lown in its early years. An Italian garden was situated between the north and south towers. In the winter months, it was transformed into an ice skating rink.
The hotel was also historically important. Henry Ford tried to broker an end to the First World War there in 1915. On August 4, 1916, the Treaty of the Danish West Indies was signed there by Danish Minister Constantin Brun and Secretary of State Robert Lansing, giving the Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands) to the United States for $25,000,000 in gold. Also, from May 6 to May 11, 1942, 600 delegates and Zionist leaders from 18 countries attended the Biltmore Conference, which resolved that British Mandate Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth.
In August 1981, the Biltmore was gutted and from its steel frame was transformed into Bank of America Plaza, or 335 Madison Avenue. A small reminder of the building’s past is still present at 335 Madison Avenue. The clock that once hung at the entrance to the Biltmore’s palm court, where people famously would meet and its piano can still be found in the lobby of 335 Madison Avenue.