Upon opening in 1913, New York introduced Grand Central Terminal, a marvel of engineering and a revolutionary approach to urban development and design. The terminal we know and love today was the third structure to occupy the site in only 42 years, replacing two iterations that had been unable to keep pace with the city’s explosive growth, increasing density, and changing demands. While the terminal’s Beaux-Arts-inspired design was the result of a combined effort of two esteemed architectural firms, it was the chief engineer, William Wilgus, who pushed New York into a new paradigm.3
Wilgus championed a design that challenged contemporary notions of engineering and dramatically improved city life. He proposed to stack multiple train lines vertically, tucking the lines below the terminal and burgeoning city – an idea made possible by the recent transition from steam and coal-powered locomotives, which required open air for exhaust, to electric. With the tracks fully enclosed underground, the city experienced less pollution, direct access to transit, and more space and opportunities for development.
The vision of a “Terminal City” had begun to take shape. Spurred by its accessibility to transit, the new terminal sparked unprecedented growth, mixed-use development that included plans for housing, offices, and hotels. It facilitated the construction of more than a few of New York’s celebrated landmarks, including Park Avenue, and the Biltmore, Commodore, and Roosevelt Hotels.
Note 3 The railroad selected two firms following a design competition: Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore. A collaboration ensued, notoriously rocky at best, that culminated in a design that continues to capture the imagination of hundreds of millions of people after more than a century.