Tag Archives: Grand Central

The Apartment That Wasn’t

John Williams Campbell was born in Brooklyn in 1880 into a well-to-do family. His father was treasurer of the Credit Clearing House, a credit bureau for merchandise wholesalers. At the age of 18, Campbell joined his father at the firm and moved up the ranks, becoming a senior executive seven years later. By the 1920s Campbell was making millions as president of the Credit Clearing House and served on the board of the New York Central Railroad. In 1923 he focused his attention on building a private office, one that would showcase his position and wealth. To that end, he hired architect Augustus N. Allen to design the space. Campbell’s choice of location – a 60-foot long, 30-foot wide single room on the ground floor of Grand Central Terminal – was a departure from the typical skyscraper suite.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24894

The office boasted a butler, a pipe organ, and a piano, as well as Campbell’s private art collection.  A mahogany musician’s gallery with carved quatrefoils was installed. After hours, Campbell’s office doubled as a private recital hall, where guests could relax on 19th century Italian seating furniture (masquerading as 13th century) and listen to famous musicians play.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.21631

Hand-painted wooden beams adorned the 25-foot ceiling. The large stone fireplace behind Campbell’s desk housed a steel safe. Perhaps the most notable feature of all was the hand-woven Persian rug that covered almost the entire floor. It was rumored to have cost $300,000, nearly $4 million in today’s dollars.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24893

Perhaps because of all its amenities, the office was dubbed “Campbell’s Apartment,” but there is no evidence that he or anybody else lived there. After Campbell’s death in 1957, the space became a signalman’s office. It was later used by the Metro-North Railroad police, as gun storage and then as a jail. During these years, it seemed to follow the fate of its mother building Grand Central in neglect and decline: the leaded glass windows were covered with plywood board, the timbered ceiling was concealed unceremoniously with a dropped ceiling, and the beautiful furnishings gradually disappeared (current whereabouts are unknown). Luckily, the restoration of Grand Central that began in 1993 saved Campbell’s office from a fluorescent-lighted fate. Two costly renovations in 1999 and again in 2007 ($1.5 million and $350,000, respectively) restored the office to its former glory and transformed it into a luxury cocktail bar and lounge with the purposely adopted misnomer, Campbell Apartment.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) 15 Vanderbilt Avenue. Credit Clearing House. Office of John W. Campbell. ca. 1923. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.2.24895

A Century of Grand Central Terminal

There’s no place like Grand Central. The sheer scale and elegance of the main concourse transforms the daily commute into a complex choreography as commuters and tourists negotiate through the hallways, overheard conversations turn into mysterious plots of other people’s dramas, and what can be mundane becomes a unique experience. Grand Central has seen a steady tide of humanity for the past 100 years,  becoming  a beloved  New York landmark.

The first Grand Station Station on 42nd Street was Grand Central Depot, a beautiful but almost immediately obsolete building that was shared by the Harlem,  New Haven, and Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroads. Its glass topped train yard, seen below, was based on St. Pancras in London and was the largest train station in the States at the time. Yet each railroad had its individual waiting rooms and tracks making it “ill-arranged, dark and repelling”. (For more of this fantastically in-depth complaint of the old station in the New York Times, click here   and here.)

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2776.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2776.

What was even worse than the interior was the jumble of tracks and belching of steam engines that rumbled down Fourth Avenue from Harlem. The streets from 42nd to 59th were intersected by train tracks which meant that merely crossing the street was so dangerous that for a while, Fourth Avenue was called “Death Avenue. (Read the fabulous 1913 article about the opening of the station.)  This was more or less fine when the surrounding areas were still relatively rural, but as the population of New York increased and respectable classes moved farther uptown, it made the area less than desirable.  Thankfully, a shift in technology came at just the right time. In 1900 trains were switching to electric power, which eliminated the unsightly steam, the omnipresent cinders, and noise.  By 1903  steam engines were banned in the city, and with new tunnels effectively hiding all hints of the railroads, Fourth (or Death) Avenue completed its transformation into Park Avenue.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2820.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2820.

In 1903,  as the plans for Penn Station were nearing completion, it was clear that a new Grand Central needed to be built if New York Central Railroad wanted to remain relevant.  So the heads of New York Central had a contest for the new station that reads almost like a Who’s Who of Gilded Age architecture – even McKim, Mead and White submitted a proposal: Stanford White’s fanciful  concept of a 60-story building topped by a tower of steam 300 feet tall and illuminated red at night.

McKim, Mead & White. Grand Central Terminal proposal. ca. 1903. museum of the City of New York. 90.44.1.486

McKim, Mead & White. Grand Central Terminal proposal. ca. 1903. museum of the City of New York. 90.44.1.486.

But it was St. Louis architectural firm Reed & Stern that eventually got the commission.  The New York firm of  Warren & Wetmore became consulting architects mostly due to Whitney Warren being the cousin of William Vanderbilt. However tumultuous the relationship between the architects may have been, the resulting building was a perfect marriage of their ideals. Reed & Stern were responsible for the effortless blending of engineering and design, but  it was Warren who elevated the building into art with Beaux-Arts details.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2818.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2818.

The construction of Grand Central was one of the biggest projects at that point in the history of Manhattan.  10 years passed; $65 million was spent; and  3.2 million cubic yards of earth and rock were removed. “The daily detritus, coupled with debris from the demolition of the old station, amounted to 1,000 cubic yards and filled nearly 300 railway dump cars…At peak periods, 10,000 workers were assigned to the site and work progressed around the clock.” (New York Times)  The scope of the project is astounding: Grand Central was built on 70 acres with 31.8 miles of tracks and 30 platforms totally eclipsing its nearest competitor, Penn Station, which was built on 23 acres and boasted 16 miles of tracks and 11 platforms.  Grand Central opened to the public on February 2, 1913 and New York has never been the same.

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal construction. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2804

Unknown. Grand Central Terminal construction. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2804.

Dr. Percy Fridenberg. Construction of Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1911. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.5467.

Dr. Percy Fridenberg. Construction of Grand Central Terminal. ca. 1911. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.5467.

The New York Times reported that in its first day 150,000 people visited Grand Central and were immediately in awe. Some of the more incredible features that have since fallen the wayside, such as women-only shoe polishing rooms safe from men catching a glimpse of ankle, and of course a separate hair parlor just in case the commute made her curls limp. What is really amazing is that for a mere 25 cents a woman could hire a private dressing room complete with a maid to make sure she would be ready for any social function. Men were not left out of these kinds of perks. They had private barber shops which offered shaves by a team of barbers who could speak up to 30 languages. A man could also rent a valet to make sure he was flawlessly fashionable.  And if tragedy were to strike either sex, the station doctor would be there within moments to treat them. It was the epitome of luxury.

Unknown. Grand Central Station. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2827.

Unknown. Grand Central Station. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2827.

Unknown. Interior, Grand Central. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2798.

Unknown. Interior, Grand Central. ca. 1918. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.2798.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Grand Central Depot, 42nd St. 1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.28.297.

Irving Underhill (d. 1960). Grand Central Depot, 42nd St. 1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.28.297.

For the next 50 years Grand Central was the epicenter of New York. Everyone passed through the terminal.  However, the decline of train travel affected Grand Central as much as it did the less fortunate Penn Station. During World War II the once grand skylights were painted over. By the 1950s, decades of nicotine tar coated the once blue constellation-adorned ceiling, and the east balcony had been covered with a giant Kodak advertisement. During the 1970s and 1980s it became the center of  one of largest homeless populations in New York.

John Harry Lufbery. Kodachrome Ad, Grand Central Station, #2. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 2004.18.5

John Harry Lufbery. Kodachrome Ad, Grand Central Station, #2. 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 2004.18.5.

Save Grand Central. ca. 1968. Museum of the City of New York. 97.102.29

Save Grand Central. ca. 1968. Museum of the City of New York. 97.102.29.

In 1963, Pennsylvania Station was demolished (read our previous blog about its destruction here)  and by 1975  it looked like Grand Central would be next on the chopping block. But thanks to the recently created Landmark Preservation Board and supporters like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, it was spared from becoming an office building.

Starting in 1993, Grand Central underwent a badly needed restoration and has now returned to its previous glory. Sunlight is again streaming in, the constellations twinkle on the ceiling, and the mere act of traveling is once again elegant.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1695.

Wurts Bros. (New York, N.Y.) Interior of Grand Central. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.16795.

 

Click here for more images of Grand Central from the Museum’s collection.

Riding the Subway with Stanley Kubrick

As most New Yorkers know, the subway system is the lifeline of New York City.   In 1946 Stanley Kubrick set out as a staff photographer for LOOK Magazine to capture the story of New York City’s subway commuters.

Kubrick was not the first photographer to depict the New York City subway.  In 1938 Walker Evans shot many amazing portraits of unknowing riders with a camera hidden in his coat. This may have influenced Kubrick’s work. This Kubrick  image is a very “shot from the hip,” Walker Evans-style portrait.

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.26C

As you can see below, with the exception of iPods and smart phones, activities on the train haven’t changed much in the last 66 years, including shoving one’s newspaper in everyone else’s faces.

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers reading in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.30D

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.55E

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.52B

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Woman knitting on a subway. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.11107.16

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. People on escalators in a subway station. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.61C

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Woman waiting on a subway platform. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.81B

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Women in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.11E

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Men sleeping in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.73C

Although it is now claimed that chivalry is dead, it was definitely waning in 1946.

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Passengers in a subway car. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.56E

BUT romance still thrived on some trains.

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Couple playing footsies on a subway. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.90E

Stanley Kubrick. Life and Love on the New York City Subway. Man carrying flowers on a crowded subway. 1946. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.10292.37C

Here is an explanation from Kubrick about how he took these photographs:

“I wanted to retain the mood of the subway, so I used natural light,” he said. People who ride the subway late at night are less inhibited than those who ride by day. Couples make love openly, drunks sleep on the floor and other unusual activities take place late at night. To make pictures in the off-guard manner he wanted to, Kubrick rode the subway for two weeks. Half of his riding was done between midnight and six a.m. Regardless of what he saw he couldn’t shoot until the car stopped in a station because of the motion and vibration of the moving train. Often, just as he was ready to shoot, someone walked in front of the camera, or his subject left the train.

Kubrick finally did get his pictures, and no one but a subway guard seemed to mind. The guard demanded to know what was going on. Kubrick told him.

“Have you got permission?” the guard asked.

“I’m from LOOK,” Kubrick answered.

“Yeah, sonny,” was the guard’s reply, “and I’m the society editor of the Daily Worker.”

For this series Kubrick used a Contax and took the pictures at 1/8 second. The lack of light tripled the time necessary for development.

— “Camera Quiz Kid: Stan Kubrick,” The Camera, October 1948