Apple Centre in Grand Central


Apple Store Grand Central Terminal. Photo © Apple Inc.

As a proponent of both rail transport and Apple computers I could not resist picking up on the story about the new Apple Store at Grand Central Terminal. The store – Apple’s 5th in Manhattan – overlooks the 1913 main concourse from the station’s East and North East balconies. The store has 315 full and part-time employees who look after 45 display tables, covered with loads of lovely Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPods.

The original station on this site, Grand Central Depot, was built for railway and shipping magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt, at a cost of $6.4 million and opened in October 1871.  It served three railway companies – the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, New York and Harlem Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad – each of which maintained its own waiting room, baggage facilities and ticketing operations.

Between 1898 and 1900 the ‘Depot’ was expanded and its interior remodelled. Re-branded as ‘Grand Central Station’, its most prominent feature was an enormous train shed.  Built of glass and steel, the 100-foot wide by 650-foot long structure rivalled London’s Crystal Palace as one of the most dramatic man-made interior spaces.  The updated station also featured a classical façade, and a 16,000 square foot waiting room.

But even before the ‘Station’ opened, the first links in a chain events had occurred which were to lead to its rapid demise. Responding to road congestion and road safety fears (real or imaginary) the Fourth Avenue Improvement Scheme had already buried the railway tracks below ground level from Grand Central Depot to 56th Street. But it was the new tunnel itself that was to prove a killer.

In 1902, a driver of an express train striving to make up for lost time in the smoke-filled tunnel missed a signal set at danger and ploughed into the back of a stationary commuter train. As a result of the collision and ensuing panic, 15 people were killed outright and 38 injured of whom 2 were to die later of their injuries. A campaign was mounted to do away with steam haulage and introduce electric traction.

The conversion of the line from steam to electric was costly, but electric trains do not need extensive locomotive servicing facilities, nor do they need a well-ventilated train shed. By doing away with the great wrought iron train shed of Cornelius Vanderbilt and building a brand new station with two levels of underground tracks, and putting the rest of the line underground, valuable real estate could be released to be rented or sold to pay the electrification bill.

The project was led by William Wilgus, the New York Central’s chief engineer. Twenty-five miles of water and sewer lines had to be removed or relocated, and more than three million cubic yards of rock and dirt excavated and hauled away. Two hundred buildings were demolished, and 60 million tons of concrete laid. Throughout the construction work trains had to be kept running. It was the most complex construction project in New York City’s history.

On February 15, 1907, electrified rail service began to the Westchester suburb of White Plains. The following evening, as a train left Grand Central, it sped around a curve and flew off the rails, killing 20 people and injuring 150, with wreckage stretching for over a mile. It was William Wilgus, the pioneer responsible for leading the New York Central Railroad into the electric age, who was to bear most of the blame. In July 1907, he resigned from the New York Central.

Excavations for the new underground Grand Central Terminus, while part of Grand Central Station continues in operation c. 1908. Photo Library of Congress.

(Click image to enlarge. Click here to see LoC record for the photograph.)

After more than 10 years of planning and construction a brand new ‘Grand Central Terminal’ officially opened at 12:01 am on Sunday, February 2, 1913, and more than 150,000 people visited the new terminal on its opening day. Though some construction work was to continue, New York had acquired a major landmark which was to act as a spur to further development in mid-town Manhattan.

19th century warehouses were demolished to give way to: the 56-story Chanin Building, the 54-story Lincoln Building and the 77-story Chrysler Building.  On Lexington Avenue, the Hotel Commodore opened in 1919, and the Graybar Building was completed in 1927, each with a passageway connection to Grand Central’s Main Concourse.

By the mid-1950s railways in the USA began a swift decline and the Railroad was no exception. In 1954 the first proposal was made to demolish Grand Central. In its place was to rise an 80-story, 4,800,000-square-foot (450,000 m2) cylindrical glass tower, 500 feet (150 m) taller than the Empire State Building. Though this plan was abandoned. In 1955, a proposal was made for a tower north of the Terminal replacing the Terminal’s six-story office building. A revised plan was approved in 1958 and the Pan Am Building was completed in 1963.

Although the Pan Am Building bought time for the New York Central, the decline of the Railroad continued. In 1968, facing bankruptcy, it merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form the Penn Central Railroad. The Pennsylvania Railroad had its own financial troubles and in 1964 had demolished the ornate Pennsylvania Station (despite pleas to preserve it) to make way for an office building and the new Madison Square Garden.

In 1968, Penn Central unveiled plans for a tower even bigger than the Pan Am Building to be built over Grand Central. The plans drew huge opposition, most prominently from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Six months prior to the unveiling of the plans, however, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Grand Central a ‘landmark’ – equivalent to the UK’s Grade 1 listed building status. Penn Central was unable to secure permission to build their tower and filed a suit against the city.

The resulting case, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978), was the first time that the Supreme Court ruled on a matter of historic preservation. The Court saved the terminal, holding that New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a ‘taking’ of Penn Central’s property under the Fifth Amendment and was a reasonable use of government land-use regulatory power.

Penn Central went into bankruptcy in 1970 in what was then the biggest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Title to Grand Central passed to Penn Central’s corporate successor, American Premier Underwriters which in turn was absorbed by American Financial Group. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority signed a 280-year lease in 1994 and began a massive restoration. Midtown TDR Ventures, LLC, an investment group controlled by Argent Ventures, purchased the station from American Financial in December, 2006.

The MTA’s restoration was a triumph. The huge billboard advertisements on both side of the main concourse were removed. Its ceiling, showing the starsand constellations was painstakingly restored. The original baggage room, later converted into retail space was removed, and replaced with a mirror image of the West Stairs. Although the baggage room had been designed by the original architects, the restoration architects found evidence that a set of stairs mirroring those to the West was originally intended for that space.

The original quarry in Tennessee was located and reopened to provide matching stone to replace damaged stone and for the new East Staircase. Other modifications included a complete overhaul of the Terminal’s superstructure and the replacement of the electromechanical train arrival / departure display with a purely electronic display that was designed to complement the architectural aesthetics of the Terminal.

Now Apple have moved into the space formerly occupied by Metrazur Restaurant having reportedly bought out the eight years remaining on its Grand Central Terminal lease for $5 million. The Steve Jobs mandated minimalist décor blends perfectly with the restored building.

Apple’s latest store – Apple Store Grand Central – opened on Friday, December 9 2011 and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


P.S. Now how about an Apple Store on the balcony of the refurbished Warszawa Centralna? Come to think of it if the Grand Central Railroad managed to keep hundreds of trains running a day and construct a new underground station could not PKP do the same at Lodz Fabryczna?


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