Completed in 1913, Grand Central Terminal – more commonly, if technically incorrectly, called Grand Central Station – is another of New York’s beaux-arts beauties. Adorned with Tennessee marble floors and Italian marble ticket counters, its glorious main concourse is capped by a vaulted ceiling depicting the constellations. That these are presented backwards is no mistake: French painter Paul César Helleu wished to depict the stars from God's point of view, from the out, looking in.
The original, frescoed execution of Helleu's design was by New York–based artists J Monroe Hewlett and Charles Basing. Moisture damage saw it faithfully repainted (alas, not in fresco form) by Charles Gulbrandsen in 1944. By the 1990s, however, the mural was in ruins again. Enter renovation architects Beyer Blinder Belle, who restored the work, but left a tiny patch of soot (in the northwest corner) as testament to just what a fine job they did.
Clad in Connecticut Stony Creek granite at its base and Indiana limestone on top, Grand Central's showpiece facade is crowned by America's greatest monumental sculpture, The Glory of Commerce. Designed by the French sculptor Jules Félix Coutan, the piece was executed in Long Island City by local carvers Donnely and Ricci. Once completed, it was hoisted up, piece by piece, in 1914. Its protagonist is a wing-capped Mercury, the Roman god of travel and commerce. To the left is Hercules in an unusually placid stance, while looking down on the mayhem of 42nd St is Minerva, the ancient guardian of cities. The clock beneath Mercury's foot contains the largest example of Tiffany glass in the world.
These days, Grand Central’s underground electric tracks serve only commuter trains en route to northern suburbs and Connecticut. But whether you’re traveling somewhere or not, the station merits a special trip for the architecture alone – not to mention for its swank cocktail lounge Campbell's Apartment, vaulted Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, and grab-and-go Grand Central Market.