New York's Grand Central Terminal turns 100 this year. But when it opened, "it was neither grand nor central," said writer Sam Roberts, the author of Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America. He talked about the origins of the iconic transit hub on Wednesday's Leonard Lopate Show -- and how it wound up transforming Midtown, spurring the growth of the suburbs, and even contributing to westward expansion.
But its origins were rooted in Cornelius Vanderbilt's competitive streak, said Roberts. The man known as "The Commodore" had taken control of the New York Central Railroad ("ruthlessly," said Roberts, "in the way robber-barons did in that day"). Meanwhile, Penn Station was being built on the other side of town by the rival Pennsylvania Railroad company, and the Vanderbilts "wanted to say 'we have the best and biggest railroad terminal in the world,'" said Roberts.
"They didn't own the land, but they did own the New York State Legislature," he added, "which made it a lot easier."