The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel has historically epitomized New York City glamour with much ease, but beneath the surface of this Art-Deco luxury hotel lies…an abandoned train track?! This fun fact is fairly well-known in urban exploration circles and was included in our Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central, but we thought it was worth its own shout out.
Though not exactly a train station of its own, the Waldorf-Astoria was built atop one of Grand Central Terminal’s many early platform lots through a lease of air rights. The now barren subterranean space once served as a means to transport the hotel’s more famous guests discreetly, like General Pershing who first allegedly used the platform in 1938.
The most famous story about the Waldorf-Astoria platform features Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The story has become more dramatic over time, if you follow the writing and hearsay, and the latest version goes like this: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, paralyzed from the waist down from polio, would frequently be transported in his bullet proof, armor-plated Pierce-Arrow limousine onto his own train car, which would pull into Grand Central on Track 61. The limousine would then drive directly out onto the platform (a “siding” next to Track 61), then onto an elevator that rose directly into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. That train car has supposedly been sitting on Track 61 since 1945, until recently.
In other accounts, FDR used this platform to transfer himself into an employed custom-made train cart. The vehicle would commute him straight to a hotel and was armored for the traveler’s protection. In another version, his armored train on Metro-North would disconnect and drive onto the platform and into the freight elevator. In yet another, there was an automobile on the train, which then went onto the elevator. In 2015, Daniel Brucker, manager of tours for Grand Central Terminal, told us on a tour of the equally secret M42 basement that Roosevelt’s train car was still on this platform.
But after a long investigation, in which we went to investigate the famous car after it was moved out of Grand Central, we revealed that although FDR did indeed use the track (at least one time was documented by Secret Service), the long standing myth that the above train car was used by him to transport his Presidential limousine is definitively false.
One use that we hope is true is that the platform also served as an underground party space for Andy Warhol in 1965, according to William D. Middleton in Grand Central: The World’s Greates Railway Terminal.
The platform wasn’t ever intended for travel however. According to Joseph Brennan:
The “abandoned platform” that concerns us is the former loading platform for the powerhouse. The platform was of course never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service, and it was not even built for the hotel; it just happens to be in the right place.
Brennan also traces the construction of the freight elevator that runs from platform level to 49th Street to the construction of the Waldorf-Astoria itself, not prior. In fact, a 1929 article from the New York Times announces the private rail stop:
The new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel…will have a private railway siding underneath the building…Guests with private rail cars may have them routed directly to the hotel instead of to the Pennsylvania Station or the Grand Central Terminal, and may leave their cars at a special elevator which will take them directly to their suites or to the lobby.
Somehow the plans changed, and the elevator never went directly to the hotel itself, just the street.
Today, the platform serves little purpose and is restricted to any passenger service and blocked from visitation. However, you can catch a glimpse of the site and its noted security train cart when onboard the Metro-North, looking to the right, leaving Grand Central. Like the secret subway station below City Hall, the Waldorf-Astoria’s underground platform is one of the many examples of New York City’s earlier subway systems whose designs are now deemed obsolete, but have entered the lore of the city’s secrets.