Completed in 1913, Grand Central Terminal – commonly, if incorrectly, called Grand Central Station – is one of New York’s most venerated 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, designed by French painter Paul César Helleu. When commuters complained that the sky is backwards – painted as if looking down from above, not up – it was asserted as intentional (possibly to avoid having to admit an error).
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 small rectangular patch of soot (in the northwest corner, below the crab) that stands 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 (also known as Transportation). Designed by the French sculptor Jules-Félix Coutan, the piece was executed in Long Island City by local carvers Donnelly 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 vaulted Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant, Great Northern Food Hall and grab-and-go Grand Central Market. You can also pop into the Transit Museum Store for great transport-themed NYC souvenirs.