Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City (2)

Another view of the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Like the photos in the previous post, this view shows the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal. It is located directly underneath the Main Concourse, and when the station opened in 1913, this level was used for suburban commuter trains. The row of windows on the right side in the first photo were the ticket offices of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which provided commuter service to the north of the city, along the present-day Hudson and Harlem Lines on the Metro-North Railroad. The ramp in the center of the photo is the same one that appears in the first photo, and it leads up to the Main Concourse. Beyond it are more ticket windows, for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which provided service along the current Metro-North New Haven Line.

Today, this concourse is still used by commuters to access the trains on the lower tracks, but it also doubles as the station’s food court. Several prominent New York City restaurants have locations here, including Junior’s in the foreground and Shake Shack beyond it. Most of the original features are still here, including the marble walls, decorative ceiling, information kiosk to the left, and the ticket windows to the right, which now display menus.

Grand Central Terminal Suburban Concourse, New York City

The lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, showing the ramp to the upper level, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Grand Central Terminal is best known for its spacious Main Concourse, but when the station first opened in 1913 the upper level was only used for inter-city trains. Commuters to the outer suburbs departed from this significantly less breathtaking concourse located on the lower level, directly underneath the Main Concourse. The first photo was probably taken around the time that the station opened, but over the years its function has changed. As explained in the previous post, the station is no longer split between long-distance and suburban trains; instead, Amtrak uses nearby Penn Station along with the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter lines, while Grand Central is exclusively a commuter rail station, used by the Metro-North Railroad.

Today, the lower concourse is significantly more crowded today than it was in the first photo. The lower tracks are still in use, but the concourse has taken on a second role as the station’s food court, with Shake Shack and other restaurants occupying the space on the left side where the ticket office windows were located in the first photo. Despite this, though, the underlying architecture has not changed much, and the station would still be recognizable to a commuter from the early 20th century.

Grand Central Terminal Ramp, New York City

The ramp to the lower concourse at Grand Central Terminal, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same location in 2016:

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New York’s Grand Central Terminal is the world’s largest train station in terms of number of platforms, and in order to save space in crowded midtown Manhattan, it was built with two levels of tracks. The first photo was taken shortly after the station opened in 1913, showing the ramp to the lower platforms. At the time, the Main Concourse, located just on the other side of the columns on the left, served inter-city passengers, while the lower tracks were for suburban commuter trains.

By the mid-1900s, passenger travel had significantly declined, and the station was subject to a major alteration that would have destroyed most of the original interior. However, it survived and was subsequently restored, and today the only real difference in these two photos is the appearance of the walkway above the ramp. Amtrak no longer uses the station, though, so today all of the platforms on both the upper and lower levels are used by Metro-North Railroad commuter trains.

Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street, New York City (2)

The view looking south on Fifth Avenue from 42nd Street, with the New York Public Library on the right side, around 1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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This view is similar to an earlier post, with the only difference being that it is a little further back and angled further to the right. The first photo here was probably taken around the same time as the one in this previous post, as they both show the Taft-Sherman campaign banner across Fifth Avenue in the distance. Based on the fact that the trees to the right don’t have many leaves left, the photo was probably taken in the fall of 1912, maybe in late October or the first week of November.

President Taft had actually visited this location about a year and a half earlier, when he presided over the opening ceremonies for the New York Public Library. Today, not much has changed in this exterior view of the library building. Another building still standing from the first photo is the Knox Hat Building, in the center of the photo at the corner of 40th Street. This incredibly ornate building was designed by architect John H. Duncan and completed in 1902 for the Knox Hat Company, who used the first two floors for retail space and had offices in the upper floors. It was later used as a bank, and it is now owned by HSBC. They combined it with the modern glass skyscraper behind it, but the historic building still retains its distinctive appearance.

New York Public Library, New York City (2)

The New York Public Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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The first photo here was taken a few years before the one in this earlier post, and it shows the library shortly before its completion. At this point the building had been under construction for about six years, and although the exterior was mostly finished, there was still about three more years of work left to do. The grounds had not been landscaped yet, and instead the library was surrounded by dirt and debris, with a simple brick wall and metal picket fence around the construction site. Also missing from the first photo were the two lion statues that now flank the front steps. Originally nicknamed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after two of the library’s greatest benefactors, they were designed by sculptor Edward Clark Potter and were installed by the time the library opened in 1911.

New York Public Library, New York City

The main branch of the New York Public Library, seen from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2019:

The New York Public Library system has its origins in a number of 19th century private libraries, including the Astor Library and the Lenox Library. In 1895, these were consolidated into a single, city-wide public library, but the organization was in need of a suitable building. In the 1890s, the Boston Public Library had set the standard for grand city libraries, and New York City followed suit with this central library, located along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. This spot had previously been the site of the Croton Distributing Reservoir, a massive 50-foot tall granite structure that was built in 1842 and could hold up to 20 million gallons of drinking water. It was demolished around 1900 and construction on the library began in 1902.

The interior of the library is known for its elegantly-designed public spaces, such as the marble Astor Hall, the walnut-paneled McGraw Rotunda, and the two-block long Main Reading Room, but there is far more to the building than just what is publicly accessible. When the library opened in 1911, its collections were stored in seven levels of stacks underneath the Reading Room, which had 75 miles of shelf space. The library eventually outgrew this space, though, and in the 1980s the stacks were expanded underneath Bryant Park, which is located behind the library.

Since 2008, the building has been officially named after Stephen A. Schwarzman, a businessman who donated $100 million toward renovating and expanding the library. Its exterior has remained largely unchanged from the first photo, but virtually everything else around it has changed in the past century. Today, Midtown Manhattan has grown up around the library, and while the backdrop of the first photo is a sky filled with white puffy clouds, today the view of the sky is now almost entirely obscured by modern skyscrapers that literally overshadow the library.