Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grand Central Terminal - An "Aha! Moment" of Colossal Proportions

Grand Central Terminal 1904
"Excavation and Construction"   

I stood before the picture, attracted to it more than all the other photos, artifacts, maps, videos, memorabilia spread throughout the terminal's Vanderbilt Hall.  Grand Central's "Grand By Design" exhibit tells the building's story, celebrates its 100-year-old opening, traces its history.  But it's this one picture that, for me, is the grandest of all. The beginning.

When nothing was there to signal what would follow.  A clean slate. A gigantic, blank piece of paper. A pile of dirt.

I wondered. . .

Who thought of a terminal. . . the original terminal, completed in 1871?  Was it Cornelius Vanderbilt, himself, puffing on a cigar and sipping brandy one evening after dinner?

And whose idea sparked the demolition of that terminal and the construction of the 1913 Beaux-Arts beauty?  Was it J. P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, or one of Vanderbilt's grandsons, Cornelius II or William K., at a Directors meeting of The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad?
Did one of them suddenly stand up and announce, "It's time to tear down that antiquated excuse for a railroad terminal.  Let's move on with the times.  By God, we need bigger, grander!  It'll only cost a few million."

Or did the creative force behind the terminal begin more quietly, but no less dramatically?

"It came to me in a flash of light.  It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me," said William J. Wilgus, New York Central's chief engineer in 1902.  He presented his bold idea in a three-page letter to the railroad's president. Within six months, the Board of Directors (men who could smell progress and money from miles away) authorized the project.

A flash of light.  Of course.
Isn't that where all ideas start?
Out of the blue.
Unknown one minute, inevitable the next.


Grand Central Terminal - 100 years old.  Much to celebrate, including the precious seed of a creative thought.

(The Grand Design exhibit continues until March 15 in Vanderbilt Hall.
Celebratory events extend throughout this 100th year at the Terminal.)




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