Central Station is a castle to the homeless

The New York skyline seen from New Jersey. (Photo: Hayley Juhl)

A Senior Times issue about homes? How about a 48-acre piece of land, and a one-room home measuring 84 metres long, 37 metres wide and 33 metres high and a gorgeous, crazy view of the heavens?

It’s great if you don’t mind being interrupted each day by 700,000 passengers, and leaving by 2am. It is a castle to the homeless.

Grand Central Terminal celebrated its centenary last month, but underneath its great area are secrets.

Like Istanbul’s mosques, built on churches atop Roman and Greek temples, Grand Central was built on two other Grand Centrals.

Look carefully at that zodiac above the Main Concourse. It is upside-down or backwards, and it seems to have a black hole right in the middle. Did painter Paul Helleu make a mistake? Official documents of the time show that the painter was inspired by a medieval manuscript that showed the heavens as they would have been seen from outside the celestial sphere. By the eye of God!

There are 2,500 stars

and two black holes here. One was a left purposely after a 12-year cleaning time started in 1998, to show the original grime. A little hole near Pisces was where a miniature rocket was hung in 1957 to boost our fragile morale after the Soviet Sputnik.

If time is limitless on the ceiling, you’re certain to look at the famous Information Booth clock, where millions meet each day. Now look again. That clock, with an opal face, is worth up to $20 million.

Some folk don’t look up, they look down into the depths, for that was where Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman, of course), had a fantastic subterranean lair, all ready to destroy the world.
Does this lair really exist? No and yes.

For Superman, it was filmed on a sound stage in London. But Grand Central does have a secret tunnel. President F.D. Roosevelt didn’t want people to see his paralyzed legs, so a secret platform, tunnel and elevator were built to hold his Pierce Arrow armored car rising to the Waldorf Astoria. That tunnel is welded shut.

Grand Central was also responsible for a name change: Cornelius Vanderbilt owned most of Fourth Ave. and the station area, but when residents of the avenue discovered that a steam engine would be plowing under their street, they were horrified.

Commodore Vanderbilt solved that problem quick. “Fourth” Avenue became “Park” Avenue, including a little strip of green. Far more genteel in the Gilded Age.

There are dozens of restaurants in the station, but I rarely eat there, for Grand Central Market is a long arcade of chocolates, salami, cheeses, meats, truffles, caviar, cookies, pasta and more—possibly the best supermarket in the city.

Those who can afford it whisper the last secret of Grand Central: The Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

Like the Main Concourse, the ceiling is domed. If you stand at the correct corner (anybody will point it out) and whisper (frequently marriage proposals), it comes out like a shout at the other end.

Besides the secrets, markets, heavens, and tunnels, Grand Central has more than 60 gates that open to take you from Anchorage to Rio De Janeiro at the flick of a ticket. Not alas, to Montreal. For that, you’ll have to walk over the Penn Station.

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