Grand Central Terminal celebrated its centennial on the first Friday in February with celebrities, music, dance, awards, songs, speeches, politicians, and 800,000 of its closest friends.
By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Grand Central Terminal celebrated its centennial on the first Friday in February with celebrities, music, dance, awards, songs, speeches, politicians, and 800,000 of its closest friends. While most of the special 100th birthday events took place in Vanderbilt Hall, many of the stores and restaurants dotting the 48 acres that comprise Grand Central offered commemorative items, 1913 pricing, and free souvenirs.
The daylong event began with the West Point Brass & Percussion concert and presentation of colors by their Cadet Color Guard. The pomp bloomed bigger throughout the day, but not before Master of Ceremonies, WABC-TV’s Liz Cho, requested a moment of silence for another New York City icon, Mayor Ed Koch. Afterward, in her opening remarks, she noted, “The history of the Terminal mirrors the history of the country.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the extremes Grand Central is famous for: “…shopping to flash mobs, beauty and art, commerce and industry.”
Moved by the idea that “…a building from the Gilded Age is so much a part of our daily lives,” award-winning actress Cynthia Nixon shared her family memories of special moments in Grand Central. She ended with a quote from her father: “The thing about New York is sometimes you forget how beautiful it is. Dad said, ‘It is important not to get bogged down in the rat race of New York, but to always look up to the majestic buildings.’ Grand Central Terminal is everything that New York is.”
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins reported that poetry seems to be on the rise again in America and commanded his moment in the spotlight. Even his simple description of commuting was dramatic: “I moved to Westchester as a kid. I entered New York from the north. Burrowed underground and rose to the occasion to this magnificent place called Grand Central.”
Collins recited two of his poems, “The Death of The Hat,” followed by “Grand Central,” the original poem commissioned for this event by the MTA Arts for Transit. His poem already appears on the Poetry In Motions cards on the buses and trains, and now that it has been read at the centennial ceremony, it will be on the Grand Central Centennial website.
Speakers shared fun facts about the landmarked terminal. Peter Stangl, Grand Central Centennial Committee Chair, said, “Grand Central is second only to Times Square for Tourist visits,” and “more people pass through Grand Central Terminal in a day than live in the state of Alaska.” He was grateful for the opportunity to be part of the restoration effort that made the facility “a once-again grand Grand Central Terminal.”
Fernando Ferrer, Acting MTA Chairman, said, “Grand Central Terminal is the closest thing New York City has to a town square.”
Vanderbilt family members were there to applaud Alfred Vanderbilt, the great-great nephew of railroad baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, as he presented a symbolic key to Grand Central Terminal to Peter Stangl. Because of the Commodore’s vision and his commission to build GCT, Metro-North will install a plaque honoring the Vanderbilt family.
Among the many famous names and faces that paid tribute to Grand Central were former New York Met Keith Hernandez, and a member of American “royalty,” Caroline Kennedy, Honorary Co-Chair of the Grand Central Centennial Committee. Kennedy, as well as Bloomberg and Stengl, honored Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for her role in saving Grand Central Terminal for future generations and leading a charge to establish the historic preservation movement.
State Assemblyman and former Rye Mayor Steve Otis, there to witness the ceremony said, “The saving of Grand Central Terminal did not just save this great building, but it was the landmark event that spawned a movement to preserve more historic buildings around the country. Thousands of historic buildings have been saved across the U.S. because of Jackie Kennedy.”
There were so many bright moments, but the live performances by Bronx-born, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester were among the brightest. Gracious and in grand voice, Manchester performed several New York-themed songs, accompanied in the finale by the Celia Cruz Bronx High School Choir.
The star-strewn crowd sang “Happy Birthday” when a four-foot-high cake in the shape of the famous Grand Central Terminal clock appeared. Financier Patisserie, a Grand Central tenant, created the show-stopping dessert. The crowd lingered to see Grand Central Terminal receive the Guinness Book Award naming it the world’s largest train station.
Initial planning for this landmark event began 18 months ago. A 20-plus member planning committee, comprised of individuals and organizations, worked with an advisory Centennial Committee that included prominent New Yorkers, preservation and architecture experts, and city and state officials.
A full year of fun is planned to celebrate the 100th birthday. Through corporate sponsorships, barter partnerships, private donors, and tenant-funded marketing, Metro-North and the MTA will be able to field a variety of public programming and special events — a yearlong series of exhibits, art happenings, train shows, lectures, and more — without using taxpayer dollars. With sponsorship from Target, CBRE Group Inc., Carvel, Westin, Columbia University, and American Express, and with WABC-TV and The New York Times as media partners, the planning committee will cover its $2.5 million budget for the nearly 30 events. The first, “Grand by Design,” a six-week exhibit that chronicles the terminal’s history, is open now. Check grandcentralterminal.com/centennial for upcoming events.