Stand by for the “kissing room,” commuters. Once upon a time, it was the place in Grand Central Terminal where New Yorkers waited to greet soldiers home from war or college kids back for holidays -- where joyous reunions unfolded nonstop with hugs and kisses all around.
Today the space feels like an awkward anomaly. Off Grand Central’s main hall, it’s too large and too quiet -- with a purpose that isn’t entirely clear. There’s a flower dealer here, a shoeshine stand there, a lightly patronized newsstand and a lot of pink marble.
But now, reports The Wall Street Journal, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is about to approve $15.5 million to renovate the space as a meeting place for commuters. When the MTA's East Side Access tunnel begins to bring Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central, perhaps by 2019, two escalators and an elevator will carry tens of thousands of riders a day up from the catacombs and into one of the world’s great rail cathedrals. The space is formally known as the Biltmore Room for the hotel that once was above it.
Nope, we won’t see much of the hearts and flowers stuff this time -- mostly just weekday warriors in business attire speed-walking past each other to compete for cabs or subway standing room. But the space is sure to brighten even the most wretched commute.
As Vincent J. Scully Jr., the architectural historian, famously put it after the old Penn Station was demolished: “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”
Soon Grand Central access will turn those sentences around for many LIRR commuters.
Speaking as a former Grand Central commuter, I can tell you, there’s a moment every morning when you enter the main hall and see the light streaming in through the eastern window onto a gleaming floor, and you’re very happy you’re where you are. Long Islanders have much to look forward to.
Pictured: A rendering shows where two escalators carrying LIRR riders from deep underground will emerge in the Biltmore Room at Grand Central Terminal. The room is also known as the "kissing room" because it's where families once greeted soldiers returning from war. (MTA Photo Illustration)