Friday, May 15, 2015

Forgotten New York: The Grand Central/Roosevelt Hotel Tunnel

New York Grand Central Jonah Engler

Even as amazing and extensive as the past lives of New York City have proven to be, it is somewhat hard to imagine that there could still be mysterious sites left for public history buffs as well as tourists and curious columnists to explore within the well-traversed confines of Manhattan.

Jan Carlson Jonah Engler
According to Gothamist's Jan Carlson, when the right people are asked, as she and Gothamist photographer Sai Mokhtari recently did, even some of the city's best kept secrets are still able to be uncovered. The current case in point is a long-abandoned underground tunnel that once joined The Grand Central Terminal, located on the corners of 42nd Street and Park Avenue, to the Roosevelt Hotel, housed at the intersection of Madison and 45th..

Classic Grand Central - Jonah EnglerGrand Central Terminal, historically known as Grand Central Depot when it first opened in 1871 until the original facility was torn down and replaced by the current building in 1913, has long been the hub of subway transportation within the city. Its forty-four platforms likewise connect a large number of commuters via rail travel from the city's outlying communities to Manhattan on a daily basis.

The Roosevelt Hotel, initially opened in 1924 and named for Theodore, the first President Roosevelt, contains more than one thousand hotel rooms including over fifty suites, and was the first to utilize store fronts in its sidewalk connections.

While not highly publicized, the subterranean tunnel connecting the two sites is not exactly a secret to those most intimately familiar with both premises. Carlson advises that when she first attempted to locate the secret passage, she and Mokhtari were directed to a gated and locked stairwell below the main lobby by a hotel guide. She was further advised by a Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesperson that the temporarily inaccessible stairway led only to the hotel basement, and could not confirm the existence of the tunnel.

Ancient Train Grand Central Jonah Engler
Reluctant to give up on the quest for the mysterious tunnel, Mokhtari returned to the hotel several days later. Through assistance from an employee of a clothing store located on 46th Street and a knowledgeable bellhop, theGothamist photographer was able to finally locate and photograph remnants of the secret tunnel that once connected Grand Central Terminal to the Roosevelt Hotel. Although the actual tunnel entrances to both buildings have been under lock and key for several years, reportedly due to a large number of homeless persons sleeping in the passage, Mokhtari was able to capture on film what remains of the tunnel rest rooms, as well as a storage place for abandoned luggage and old baggage carriers.

The obsolete tunnel is definitely an exemplar of a less-publicized and by-gone era in New York, when city residents as well as tourists could walk underground from one destination to another without having to deal with the daily hustle and bustle on the sidewalks above. What remains to be seen is how many more secret passageways still remain within the subterranean depths of this largest and obviously most intriguing American city.

Jonah Engler is a financial expert who loves history and technology.

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