As we celebrate Grand Central Terminal’s centennial this week, I think about what I can’t help myself from doing whenever I’m there, which is to tilt my head back in surrender to that heavenly ceiling. Then, when my head returns to its straight-ahead position, I inevitably shake it in disbelief knowing that a mere 41 years after the building’s completion, greedy minds were already scheming to tear it down.
In 1954, a plan to replace the structure with an 80-story skyscraper was successfully thwarted, as was a plan proposed in 1960 for “Grand Central Bowl,” a three-story bowling alley above the waiting room. Within the next few years, Penn Station would be torn down and the Landmarks Preservation Law would be enacted. GCT was now protected--end of story, right? Well, no because we are dealing with prime New York real estate, during a development boom.
In 1969, Penn Central presented a plan for a Marcel Breuer-designed building that would effectively block out the terminal (right). Of course the plan was turned down by the City, but the railroad was not about to take no for an answer. Penn Central sued the City of New York claiming that landmark protection violated the part of the 5th amendment which states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The State Supreme Court of New York ruled in favor of the railroad, and GCT’s landmark status was overturned.
The “Save Grand Central” button along with “Save the Bandshell” and “Save the Beacon,” are from the collection of the New York Historical Society.