Discover Copper Online

Winter 1998

New "Bronze Age" at Grand Central

To the half-million daily visitors to New York's Grand Central Terminal, its $196-million restoration seems to usher in a new Bronze Age. There's ubiquitous interior use of copper alloys, especially bronze. For instance, each of the 28 ticket windows is lit by a restored bronze lamp and covered by a substantial new brass grill. There's also a convenient bronze luggage rail under each window. More bronze is in view in every direction, such as the door and window frames for the central information booth.

Archival photo of a ticket window at Grand Central showing the original bronze grill. This illustration helped artisans recreate the 250-pound grills which, it is believed, were melted down during WW II to make armaments. The light over the window and the luggage rail under it are also bronze. Insets: close-up of a ticket window showing the Beaux Arts-style lamp and elaborate grill (left); the Biltmore Clock "meeting place" in the center of main concourse (right).

Many tons of copper were required for aspects of the restoration not visible to passers-by. Most of the wiring and plumbing in the landmark terminal was replaced "and only with copper," according to Charles Copeland, senior vice president, Goldman Copeland Associates, New York-based engineers. All the motors in the terminal were replaced with high-efficiency, copper-wound motors supplied by leading manufacturers.

To provide enough power for the renovated terminal, two new substations were added from which 13,200-volt feeder loops emanate. The electrical upgrading, which took 10 years, employed 50 electricians and cost nearly $40 million, says Copeland. To power the terminal at peak demand requires no less than 15 megawatts.

The terminal's roof is a testa ment to the durability of copper. In fact, all that was needed to restore the hundreds of feet of the original, two-foot-high ornamental copper cornice was a good cleaning. Even though the rest of the original roof installed in 1913 was still "serviceable," notes Edward Gezirjian, it was replaced as part of the general renovation. Gezirjian is general manager of L.P. Kent Corp., Bronx, N.Y., which installed the new roof. The 40 tons of quarter-hard, 20-oz copper for the new roof were supplied by The New York Roofing Company, Queens, NY. To enhance the terminal's ventilation, shafts were later cut through the new roof. These shafts have been covered with copper roofing.

The many tons of brass in the terminal's chandeliers and fixtures are not visible because they are all plated with either gold or nickel. To restore the chandeliers to their original brilliance, they were dismounted and shipped to Historic Arts & Castings, West Jordan, Utah. There, they were disassembled, each part cleaned, re-plated and, in a few rare instances, parts were replaced. All the chandeliers were then reassembled with new copper wiring. The old wiring was recycled.

New copper roof crowns restored Grand Central Terminal.

The ten 800-pound, melon-shaped chandeliers in the balconies - five in each -flanking the Main Concourse can be lowered by means of winches for cleaning and replacement of their lamps. The motors powering the winches are now premium grade. There are scores of small, plated, overhead bronze fixtures holding either one or four lamps illuminating the many passageways in the terminal. About 30,000 incandescent lamps are replaced each year throughout the terminal.

The five largest chandeliers, each of which weighs 2,500 pounds, were re-hung from the 56-foot-high ceiling of the former Main Waiting Room. It has been renamed Vanderbilt Hall after Cornelius Vanderbilt, first president of the New York Central Railroad. The 58-by-207-foot room is available for receptions, parties and civic events.

Historic Arts & Castings restored many other copper-alloy elements in the terminal, such as the bronze lamps over the ticket windows, the bronze door and window frames for the information booth and the brass handrails for the staircase to the west entrance, according to Robert Baird, vice president of operations. New bronze grills had to be cast for the terminal's many return-air vents. They are made of copper alloy C87300.

There are many other copper, brass and bronze elements in the terminal that required installation or restoration. Airflex Corp., East Farmingdale, N.Y., fabricated and installed the brass handrails for the new staircase at the east end of the Main Concourse and the bronze cladding on inner doors. The same firm also restored the brass handrails in the many passageways and restored the bronze grills in the food court.

Another firm, Olek Lejbzon Custom Refinishing, New York, restored the coppper track indicators and the ornamental brass gates leading to the two levels of tracks terminating at Grand Central. Printed scrolls, hung next to each track to show destinations, were originally stored in copper chests near the tracks. However, now that destination information on newer display boards can be changed remotely, the chests are no longer used. But in keeping with the restoration, they have not been removed.

The original bronze grills over the ticket windows, each of which weighed 250 pounds, are believed to have been melted down for armaments during WW II. To recreate them, artisans from Excalibur Bronze, Brooklyn, N.Y., relied on an archival photo taken shortly after the terminal opened. The new grills were actually cast in a silicon brass, C87500, that looks like bronze. In addition, the same firm created some new fixtures out of silicon bronze, C87300, says Bill Gold, owner.

Travelers and visitors to the terminal can take advantage of dozens of new and renovated boutiques, food shops and eateries. They include the long-famous Oyster Bar and the brand-new Michael Jordan's-The Steak House. The interior of the Steak House is modeled after the famous 20th Century Limited that raced between New York and Chicago.

The 12-year-long and still incomplete renovation of the terminal is overseen by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, New York. This firm also supervised the restoration of Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The copper roofing for the buildings on Ellis Island was also replaced by L.P. Kent Corp. In addition to extensive work at Grand Central, Excalibur Bronze was heavily involved in the restoration of the big main reading room at the main New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. The Copper Development Association was a technical consultant to the architects and several of the contractors involved with the Grand Central and Ellis Island projects.

Airflex: 516/752-1219
Beyer Blinder Belle: 212/777-7800
Excalibur: 718/522-3330
Goldman Copeland: 212/929-0480
Historic Arts & Castings: 801/280-2400
E.P.Kent: 718/365-4505
Olek Lejbzon: 212/243-3363
New York Roofing: 718/786-6363

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