CHAPTER FOUR: THE GRAND CENTRAL YEARS: 1904–1914
In 1904 Warren & Wetmore sought the commission for the Grand Central Terminal complex, the era’s largest building venture and city improvement. Up to that point, the firm had primarily brought in residential commissions, but involvement on the terminal design and a series of opportunities—many in conjunction with the railroad—transformed the practice. Over the following ten years, as the design and construction of the highly publicized, world-famous building was carried out, Warren & Wetmore’s reputation grew significantly and its architectural range expanded. Although the firm continued to design the occasional house or estate building for friends and family, larger commercial projects in New York and terminals, hotels, offices, and ancillary buildings for the railroads became its bread and butter.
While the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad’s ambitious building campaign extended well into the 1920s, the work completed during the first decade of the ongoing project was the product of collaboration between two firms: Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem. As the associated architects worked on the numerous railroad commissions from shared space at 314 Madison Avenue, Warren & Wetmore also focused on its own projects from its office at 3 East 33rd Street. So as the firm built its reputation as a railroad architect in tandem with the more experienced firm of Reed & Stem, it worked separately on store and hotel designs, forging relationships with some of the country’s leading hotel chains and securing future commissions.
An admirer of the grand urban planning of Baron Haussmann in Paris, Warren longed to bring order and beauty to the streets of his native city and envisioned a New York of tree-lined boulevards and axial gateways. In 1903 Mayor Seth Low, who was instrumental in creating the Municipal Art Commission, organized the New York City Improvement Commission, and George McClellan, the succeeding mayor, appointed prominent artists, politicians, and businessmen, including Francis Pendleton, Daniel S. Lamont, Harry Payne Whitney, Daniel C. French, and Whitney Warren, to the advisory committee. With the goal of transforming New York into “one of the great metropolitan cities of the world,” the commission devised a plan for grouping buildings, laying out parks and boulevards, and improving the waterfront. The commission’s aesthetically based final report (1907) reflected little concern for economics and transportation with its presentation of renderings of spacious plazas and radiating boulevards connecting key buildings, city entries, and parks. The keynote of the plan—the broadening of 59th Street—created a monumental axis between the Queensboro Bridge, Central Park, and a projected Hudson River bridge…