Cover image for Grand Central Terminal : railroads, engineering, and architecture in New York City
Grand Central Terminal : railroads, engineering, and architecture in New York City
Schlichting, Kurt C.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Baltimore, Md. : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xiii, 243 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TF302.N7 S35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Grand Central Terminal, one of New York City's preeminent buildings, stands as a magnificent Beaux-Arts monument to America's Railway Age, and it remains a vital part of city life today. Completed in 1913 after ten years of construction, the terminal became the city's most important transportation hub, linking long-distance and commuter trains to New York's network of subways, elevated trains, and streetcars. Its soaring Grand Concourse still offers passengers a majestic gateway to the wonders beyond 42nd Street.

In Grand Central Terminal, Kurt C. Schlichting traces the history of this spectacular building, detailing the colorful personalities, bitter conflicts, and Herculean feats of engineering that lie behind its construction. Schlichting begins with Cornelius Vanderbilt--"The Commodore"--whose railroad empire demanded an appropriately palatial passenger terminal in the heart of New York City. Completed in 1871, the first Grand Central was the largest rail facility in the world and yet--cramped and overburdened--soon proved thoroughly inadequate for the needs of this rapidly expanding city. William Wilgus, chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, conceived of a new Grand Central Terminal, one that would fully meet the needs of the New York Central line. Grand Central became a monument to the creativity and daring of a remarkable age.

The terminal's construction proved to be a massive undertaking. Before construction could begin, more than 3 million cubic yards of rock and earth had to be removed and some 200 buildings demolished. Manhattan's exorbitant real estate prices necessitated a vast, two-story underground train yard, which in turn required a new, smoke-free electrified rail system. The project consumed nearly 30,000 tons of steel, three times more than that in the Eiffel Tower, and two power plants were built. The terminal building alone cost $43 million in 1913, the equivalent of nearly $750 million today.

Some of these costs were offset by an ambitious redevelopment project on property above the New York Central's underground tracks. Schlichting writes about the economic and cultural impact of the terminal on midtown Manhattan, from building of the Biltmore and Waldorf-Astoria Hotels to the transformation of Park Avenue. Schlichting concludes with an account of the New York Central's decline; the public outcry that prevented Grand Central's new owner, Penn Central, from following through with its 1969 plan to demolish or drastically alter the terminal; the rise of Metro-North Railroad; and the meticulous 1990s restoration project that returned Grand Central Terminal to its original splendor. More than a history of a train station, this book is the story of a city and an age as reflected in a building aptly described as a secular cathedral.

Author Notes

Kurt C. Schlichting is a professor of sociology at Fairfield University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Drawing heavily from the papers of William J. Wilgus (chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad and the genius behind plans for the smoke-free electrified rail system) and other primary-source material, the author combines railroading, structural engineering, architecture, and business history into a very readable text. Schlichting (sociology, Fairfield Univ.) covers a period that begins with Cornelius Vanderbilt's railroad empire and the first Grand Central Terminal in 1871 and concludes with the 1998 renovation of the existing magnificent Beaux Arts structure of 1913. More technical and less visual than John Belle and Maxinne R. Leighton's Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives (LJ 12/99), it provides a more in-depth treatment of design and architecture. Libraries can choose which treatment will best suit their potential readers. Jay Schafer, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Following on the heels of John Belle and Maxinne Leighton's Grand Central: Gateway to a Million Lives (CH, Jul'00), Schlichting's book is a useful, complementary study broader in scope and more scholarly in its framework. Schlichting (sociology, Fairfield Univ.) addresses a wide range of topics, placing the subject in a rich historical context. He investigated the development of the Grand Central Railroad and its astounding transformation into one of the nation's most extensive transportation networks, the formidable challenges in constructing a new facility in the same location as the existing one when demands on the system were soaring, the complexities of converting that system from steam to electric-powered locomotives, the subsequent creation of an enormous new district above the rails, and the impact of this massive expansion project on suburban growth. Schlichting is best at narrative, less compelling with analysis. To his credit, he has sought to make the account engaging to the interested layperson as well as the specialist. Though sometimes marred by repetition and cliche, the text is generally well crafted. The book is the most detailed account yet of one of the most important events in the history of 20th-century architecture, railroad development, and city building. It will have widespread appeal. All levels. R. Longstreth George Washington University

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Commodore's Grand Central
Chapter 2 The Engineer's Grand Central
Chapter 3 The Architect's Grand Central
Chapter 4 New York's Grand Central