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Grand Central to Mark its 100th Birthday with a Renovation

By Mary Johnson | March 20, 2012 7:23pm
To commemorate the centennial, officials commissioned a logo that features a likeness of the iconic clock that stands atop the information desk at the center of Grand Central Terminal.
To commemorate the centennial, officials commissioned a logo that features a likeness of the iconic clock that stands atop the information desk at the center of Grand Central Terminal.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN — Grand Central Terminal will celebrate its 100th birthday next year in sweeping style — with a facelift, a new café and a series of exhibits, officials announced Tuesday.

The centennial celebration will officially kick off Feb. 1, 2013 — 100 years to the day after the first train chugged out of the legendary station.

"Happy birthday Grand Central is what this is all about," Peter Stangl, former president of Metro-North and chairman of the centennial celebration, said Tuesday as he unveiled details of the plans.

Caroline Kennedy, whose mother helped save Grand Central from demolition back in the 1970s, will serve as honorary chairwoman of the yearlong celebration, which will be funded by private sponsors and donations.

Construction on the terminal will include a renovation of the East 42nd Street entrance, but officials said the impact for commuters and visitors will be minimal.

That area, which opens onto Vanderbilt Hall, was never renovated when the rest of Grand Central was rehabbed back in the late 1990s, Stangl said.

"It’s going to be very impressive," Stangl said.

Gabrielle Shubert, director of the New York Transit Museum, said Grand Central was originally designed to serve as a striking entrance into New York City via train. The soaring ceilings and massive windows were meant to astound as people exited their trains.

"But the entrances on the street level are not nearly as grand," Shubert explained. "So this project will make our entrance on 42nd street something to really welcome people."

In addition to the renovation of the entryway, Vanderbilt Hall will be transformed to house a new, permanent café. Officials will begin looking for a restaurateur to fill the space later in 2012.

The restaurant will occupy about 15 to 20 percent of the space in Vanderbilt Hall, which Stangl lovingly referred to as "New York City’s living room." The rest of the hall will be reconfigured to allow more art and cultural exhibitions since the space is free about a third of each year, officials said.

Stangl said the construction work will serve as the centennial celebration’s legacy project, ensuring that the terminal is spared the fate of its cross-town counterpart, Penn Station, which was torn down amid controversy in 1963 and rebuilt without the same Old World elegance.

"You don’t want another Penn Station," Stangl said. "That is not a station that New York deserves."

A series of centennial exhibitions also will open, beginning this summer.

On July 28, Vanderbilt Hall will host an exhibit of about 25 historic Kodak photographs that hung across the eastern balcony inside Grand Central from the 1930s to the 1990s.

The annual holiday train show in Vanderbilt Hall will be followed by a major exhibition that will open Feb. 1, 2013 and showcase the storied history of the terminal, which was once home to a tennis court, a television studio and a USO Lounge.

Following that exhibit, the Transit Museum will collaborate with the MTA’s Arts for Transit program to bring a series of new artistic pieces, inspired by Grand Central Terminal, to Vanderbilt Hall.

In May 2013, a parade of historic trains from around the country will go on display. And in October, photographer Hiroyuki Suzuki, who has been chronicling the East Side Access project, will exhibit a series of black-and-white photographs focused on the infrastructure under construction beneath the existing terminal.

"He will show an interesting glimpse of what it means to build that way," Shubert said.

The events will all occur under the umbrella of the centennial, which will be represented by a new logo commissioned specifically for the occasion.

The logo depicts a clock reminiscent of the iconic timepiece at the center of the terminal.

In the image, the time on the clock is set to 7:13 p.m. —  19:13 in military time used by the railroad. 1913 is also the year Grand Central was born.

"You could make [the logo] be about the architecture. You could make it about the trains," said Michael Bierut, of the design firm Pentagram, who unveiled the logo and estimated he has passed through Grand Central roughly 12,000 times in his life.

"We chose to make it about people and a place where people meet each other most commonly, which is the main information desk right there in the center of the concourse topped by this beautiful, beautiful clock."