One hundred years ago today, Grand Central Terminal opened to the public.
Over the past century, Grand Central has gone through ups and downs, but it's always been an iconic symbol of this great city.
When it opened in 1913, railroads were the major form of intercity transportation, and train stations became symbolic welcome signs that represented the unofficial entrance to a city. The grander the city, the grander the station had to be. Grand Central Terminal, just as the name suggests, was the grandest of them all, even outshining other beautifully imposing places like Washington's Union Station and Kansas City's Union Station.
Grand Central fell on hard times in the 1960s, as air travel replaced trains and city finances and rail lines were struggling. It became a place you would avoid or hurry through to get to or from your train. It wasn't a place to linger, and if you had to use a bathroom... forget it. They were seedy, smelly and dangerous.
New York lost another iconic train station when Penn Station was demolished in 1965 to make way for the new Madison Square Garden and an ugly, congested mess of corridors that became the current Penn Station.
Grand Central almost met the same fate in the 1965, until a group of citizens led by high-profile people like Jacqueline Kennedy Onnasis, fought to preserve and renew the station.
New Yorkers owe them a huge debt of gratitude, because Grand Central has not only regained its lustre, but it's become a fantastic people space in midtown -- a place where people can meet, star gaze at the restored ceiling with the constellations, grab a quick bite or have a fine, leisurely lunch or dinner, shop or visit a museum. On top of that, it's a place where some 750,000 people pass through every day on their way to and from work.
I'm one of those 750,000 and even after 40 years of commuting through Grand Central, I still get a rush when I walk through the main hall. It's a beautiful space, and we're fortunate to be able to enjoy it after 100 years.
I met the Mayor many times, while he was in office and afterwards. The first time was when I helped organize an Easter egg hunt for kids in Central Park for client L'eggs. The eggs were actually the egg-shaped containers that the pantyhose used to come in. The Mayor attended and officially started the egg hunt. He looked for a couple of little kids to take by the hand to lead the crowd of hundreds into the area where the eggs were hidden. I pushed my 3-year old daughter Jennifer to his side, and he grabbed her hand and, with a huge smile, said "Let's find some eggs." A photo of the Mayor and Jennifer appeared on the front page of The Daily News the next morning.
Mayor Koch was real and genuine. For an event we did at City Hall honoring youngsters who had won a traffic safety poster contest, he asked us to bring the kids into his office before the formal news conference. It was obvious how much he enjoyed talking with the kids, asking each winner, one-to-one, about his or her poster.
The last time I saw him was briefly at a Christmas party three years ago. He had clearly aged, but he still had that big wide smile. He was standing in the doorway as I was getting ready to leave, and I had to pass between him and the man he was talking with -- another former mayor, David Dinkins. As I excused my self to pass through, I nodded to each and said, twice, good evening Mr. Mayor. Koch laughed and said, "How often can you say that twice in the same breath."
Ed Koch, like Grand Central, symbolizes what makes New York great.