Friday, February 8, 2013

Grand Central - Grand Centennial (A Recap)

On Friday, February 1st the MTA celebrated Grand Central Terminal's centennial. It was a day filled with loads of festivities and fanfare, and I was glad to have been there to take part in the fun!

Panoramic shot of the madness, including the "100" windows. Click to enlarge :)
Now there is a bit of debate as to the true centennial date, because the terminal didn't open to the general public until February 2, 1913.  February 1 was limited to the rich and famous. I guess that works for the centennial too, the ceremony included many rich and famous people. That, and it was probably easier for them to have the festivities on a Friday rather than a Saturday. (I'm sure a bunch of commuters would disagree, and you'll understand why later.)

Hi there Mr. President!
Every time I set foot in the terminal, the sheer size and the beauty of the main concourse never cease to amaze me. I'm still as dumbstruck (although for less time) as the first time I ever set foot in the place. Friday was no exception, although most of the awe for me this time was the centennial celebration. After disembarking from my early-ish Harlem line train, I was thrust into what was left of the rush hour (it was 8:30ish or so) with the added obstacle of nearly half of the main concourse being cordoned off. A stage was set up at the foot of the East Balcony (the one with the Apple Store if you're directionally challenged - or Metrazur if you haven't been to Grand Central in a while) along with a bunch of chairs to form a seating area for all the press and important guests. On either side there was space to walk towards the tracks, ticket windows, and passageways - but it was still a tight squeeze. As I mentioned earlier, this whole setup pretty much took up half of the main concourse. A row of TV cameras were directly abutting the information booth. In fact, I nearly walked into Howard Permut's interview with NY1, which was taking place directly behind the whole setup. Couple that with trying to stay the hell out of the way of the average Joe and Jane commuters (who I actually pitied, having all this extra nonsense to deal with in addition to the standard tourists stopping dead in the way of the flow of traffic to take a picture or twelve) trying to get where they needed to be with the added chaos and confusion. Things were kind of hectic! I have to laugh though, as people dashed around, you could hear snippets of conversations they were having on their phones and more than a few people said things to the effect of "There's something going on in the terminal today, but I dunno what!" Umm...Look up!? The east windows had 100 splayed across them, and there were only banners everywhere. Plus, the stage backdrop and the podium on the stage had the centennial logo on them. I can't fathom being that oblivious to my surroundings. I really can't.

Caroline Kennedy
The re-dedication ceremony was a long, but entertaining 2ish hours. The events opened with a mini-concert by the West Point brass and percussion band. (There's a video of them doing the national anthem at the bottom of the post.) The whole thing was emceed by Liz Cho, who works for New York's ABC affiliate, WABC. Speakers included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who spoke at length about former mayor Ed Koch (who passed away that morning) and his involvement with preserving Grand Central Terminal, Cynthia Nixon  of  Sex and the City fame, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who was commisioned by MTA Arts for Transit to write a poem for the centennial, Caroline Kennedy, (who, aside from Cynthia Nixon was the only celebrity with whom I was familiar) who spoke about her mother Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy's role in saving Grand Central from the wrecking ball that took the original Penn Station. Howard Permut, who is Metro North's president spoke - and was presented with a ceremonial set of keys from a couple of Vanderbilt descendents (a crash course on the Vanderbilts can be found here) because apparently, the original set from 1913 has been lost. (Yes, really.)

Sarah Charness and her badass pink electric violin.
There were also some musical performances. Sarah Charness, who is an electric violinist who has played with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was probably my favorite. I can't find any video of her actual performance, so look her up on youtube. She was fantastic. Melissa Manchester, (who I have never heard of, but is apparently a Grammy winner) sung some solo stuff and performed with a choir of high school kids from the Bronx. If I were in their position, I'd have been shitting bricks. (I was in chorus back in the day, but if we had to do anything like this, I would have died.) They nailed it though!

There was also a cake wheeled out that looks like the clock on the information booth. Unfortunately, they didn't share it with everyone there for the ceremony, I hear it was for a fancy dinner being held that evening.

In Vanderbilt Hall, the New York Transit museum has a display called "Grand by Design", it will be there until March 15th and is open between 8am and 10pm every day. I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the chance. There are some really interesting artifacts, as well as information about what was to be if the New York Central and later, Penn Central had succeeded in demolishing the terminal  like the Pennsylvania Railroad managed to do with the original Penn Station. My favorite part of the display had to be the talking screens they had scattered throughout where you press a button and various people (i.e. Dan Brucker) tell you about the terminal. In the case of Mr. Brucker's thing, it did a huge disservice to his bold personality. It sounded like someone slipped him a few tranquilizers :(

Later in the evening, there were various musical performances, and a cool improv show where performers were up in the catwalks of the west windows shining lights. I have pictures, but that doesn't do it justice. Watch the video :)

Overall, it was a great day, and I'm glad to say that I was a part of all the madness! Happy Birthday 100th (and a week) birthday Grand Central! Here's to at least 100 more!

PS: Here's the West Point video I was babbling about above!

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