By Philip Newman
The shoulder-to-shoulder crowds who competed with commuters for space at Grand Central Terminal last Friday came for a birthday party — the 100th for the venerated transit hub on a day of speeches, celebrities, brass bands and prices more appropriate to a century ago.
It was Feb. 2, 1913, when Grand Central Terminal first opened its doors after a decade of construction to replace Grand Central Depot, where electricity had replaced steam in locomotives following a public outcry over a collision of two steam-powered trains killing 15 people and injuring dozens.
Now 100 years later, the terminal is used by 700,000 travelers a day who ride the No. 7 trains to Queens, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains to points in New York state and Connecticut.
The West Point Brass and Percussion Band started the program with a concert that included the premier of “Grand Central Centennial Fanfare,” but it was John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” that brought waves of applause.
Caroline Kennedy, whose mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, played a leading role in the campaign to preserve Grand Central from destruction in the 1960s, said her mother had been distressed when the beautiful Pennsylvania Station on Manhattan’s West Side was leveled in 1966.
“When it came to Grand Central Terminal, it was too much,” Kennedy told the celebrants. “She understood how great public spaces create community.”
Among others who appeared were Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Cynthia Nixon, of TV’s “Sex and the City”; singer Melissa Manchester; baseball great Keith Hernandez; U.S. Poet Laureate Billie Collins; the Bronx High School Choir; and officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates Grand Central.
“As a native New Yorker, I lived through the dark and dingy days of Grand Central Terminal, when people dared not linger,” said Acting MTA Chairman Fernando Ferrer. “I lived through the scourge of subway graffiti and a broken transportation network. The restoration of this great public space is symbolic of the renaissance of New York City and its transportation system. Hats off to Grand Central Terminal and the visionaries who made it possible.”
Businesses in Grand Central got into the spirit with 1913 prices and freebies.
The restaurant Pescatore had shrimp at 19 cents, the Leather Spa offered 10-cent shoeshines, the Oyster Bar charged 19 cents per slice for cheesecake, Zaro’s rye bread went for 6 cents a loaf and Swatch sold dime nylon watch straps. Among the freebies were coffee at Starbucks and cookies at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.
The observance of Grand Central Terminal’s century mark will go on throughout the year with exhibitions and other activities.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 718-260-4536.