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Light shines on Grand Central's tennis courts

Architect George Monasterio oversees the overhaul of a hidden part of Grand Central. (Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman)

When Edward R. Murrow took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy on “See it Now,” he did it here. Years later, The Donald and his celebrity friends lobbed tennis balls here, too.

The place they did this, however, may surprise you: Grand Central Terminal. And soon, you’ll be able to see this secret slice of the station for yourself.

Quietly, this portion of Grand Central Terminal is undergoing a bold transformation, with Metro-North adding an employee facility and public tennis courts to this historic annex.

As an added bonus, huge, historic windows will be stripped of brick and vinyl, allowing light to seep into the third floor for the first time in 70 years. At night, the 42nd Street side of the terminal will literally glow from within.

“It’s going to be quite dramatic,” said George Monasterio, Metro-North’s chief architect.

Metro-North embarked on a $21 million renovation of the annex last year to comply with federal laws, which require the agency provide quarters for railroad conductors.

The current employee facility — a leaking, subterranean bunker near a sewer line — was inadequate, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.

A link to television’s past

As a bonus, the MTA is providing greater access to an area that was once the haunt of city elite and TV personalities. From 1939 to 1964, the annex was the home of CBS studios, with the first episodes of “What’s My Line?” and Murrow’s “See It Now” broadcasting from there.

Vibrations from the trains — they were visible on screen — eventually sent CBS packing, and a Hungarian immigrant turned the studios into a tennis club in 1965. In an unusual touch of whimsy, he added a 65-foot ski slope made out of plastic brush next to the two courts.

“There is an honest-to-goodness ski slope in Manhattan,” The New York Times reported at the time.

Tony tennis, anyone?

The courts underwent a stylish makeover in 1970, and Johnny Carson, the mayor and other city luminaries frequently played there. Donald Trump began leasing the space in 1984, paying dirt-cheap rent for a place to play and store his architectural models. Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and the Williams sisters practiced in the courts, but their conditions declined and the interior became ratty.

“It was a pig sty,” Anders said.

A major renovation

This week, Metro-North started demolishing some of the old walls, and will divide the 40,000-square-foot annex into two floors. A city tennis club will construct and operate new public courts on top, with dramatic southern views outside the terminal’s original 40-foot Beaux-Arts windows.

The MTA is opening two dormant elevators and constructing a lobby for the public visiting the third-floor. The complex should be open by April 2011.

“This is the exactly the kind of hidden treasure in New York City that we like to celebrate,” said Tara Kelly, a preservationist at the Municipal Art Society of New York.

A timeline of Grand Central Terminal’s secret annex:

1913: Grand Central opens, with an annex facing 42nd Street left vacant

1930s: Department stores display furnishings in it

1939: CBS opens its television studios

1965: CBS moves out, and Geza Gazdag, a Hungarian immigrant, opens the Vanderbilt Athletic Club

1967: Gazdag holds a tennis tournament among world champions

1970: Dallas-based Tennis International buys the club and hires famed design company Dorothy Draper & Co. to redecorate it

1984: Donald Trump leases the space for tennis and personal storage

2009: Metro-North discontinues Donald Trump’s yearly lease of $90,000; gives new 10-year lease to the Yorkville Tennis Club for $225,000

2010: Construction starts on new employee facility and tennis club


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