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Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City
Kurt C Schlichting
Johns Hopkins U Press
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Date Listed:
2010-05-24 15:52:48
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Grand Central Terminal

Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City

By Kurt C. Schlichting.

Cloth with dust jacket, 264 pages, 82 halftones, 6 line drawings.

"Winner of the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Award in Architecture from the Association of American Publishers.

"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.

"Grand Central Terminal is celebrated for its Beaux—Arts style, but Kurt C. Schlichting looks behind the facade to see the hidden engineering marvels... [His] book will deepen anyone's appreciation for New York's most magnificent interior space." -- Eric P. Nash, New York Times Book Review

"Schlichting writes with deep understanding of Grand Central's engineering feats and artistic qualities." -- Tom Lewis, Wilson Quarterly

"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 in a very readable text... [An] in—depth treatment of design and architecture." -- Library Journal

"A lot has been written about Grand Central Terminal, but this is the first book to take the reader deeply inside the intricacies and agonies that went into creating this remarkable monument. With fascinating insights, Kurt Schlichting explores Grand Central as both an innovative engineering project and a force in shaping the life of the city. His book will give New Yorkers -- and everyone else -- a new appreciation of just how visionary a project Grand Central was and what a difficult, complex, and sometimes hair—raising job it was to build." -- Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., author of Royal Blue Line and Impossible Challenge II: The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Maryland

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