Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Hundred Years Ago on Groundhog Day

A hundred years ago today, Punxsutawney Phil was already foretelling the arrival of spring.  (Remarkably--miraculously--Phil's been doing that since 1890.) Also on Groundhog Day in 1913, Grand Central Station officially opened its doors, after ten years of construction.

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excerpt from Sam Roberts' book Grand Central, accompanied by multimedia and document features about the landmark building: "100 Years of Grandeur: The Birth of Grand Central Terminal."

The architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore played a significant role in the design of Grand Central, even though the New York Central Railroad had invited leading architects to submit designs for the new terminal, and Warren and Wetmore did not win that competition. Roberts explains what happened:
Reed & Stem, a St. Paul firm, won the competition. The firm began with two big advantages. It had designed other stations for the New York Central. Moreover . . . Reed & Stem could count on connections: Allen H. Stem was Wilgus's brother-in-law. [William J. Wilgus was the chief engineer for the New York Central Railroad, and building the new terminal had been his idea.]  Yet in the highly charged world of real estate development in New York, another firm's connections trumped Reed & Stem's. After the selection was announced, Warren & Wetmore, who were architects of the New York Yacht Club and who boasted society connections, submitted an alternative design. It didn't hurt that one of the firm's principals, Whitney Warren, was William Vanderbilt's cousin. [William K. Vanderbilt was on the New York Central board of directors.]
As we know, Whitney Warren's family connections extended to Columbia County. His grandmother Caroline Whitney Phoenix owned the estate that we now know as the Dr. Oliver  Bronson House and was the patron of the Phoenix Hose Company, which was headquartered in one of the two firehouses on Park Place. It remains an intriguing question what role, if any, that family connection played in there being two buildings designed by Warren and Wetmore in Hudson: the Columbia County Courthouse and the building at Warren and Sixth streets originally built for the Hudson City Savings Institution--both completed in the decade during which Grand Central was being designed and constructed--1903 to 1913.

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