Thursday, June 17, 2010

Watch Where You Step!

Now we all know, of course, that the fabulous figures of Mercury flanked by Minerva and Hercules that frame the Grand Central clock were carved by Hastings sculptor John Donnelly. This week on the blog, however, we ask you to look not up, but down. We recently read this little article about the flooring of Grand Central Station in the “Mileposts” newsletter published by the MTA Metro-North Railroad. Wondering what this has to do with Hastings? Well, next time you are in Grand Central, think about how much pressure your feet put on the floor—and ask yourself how many Hastings commuters have been walking the same path since Grand Central opened in 1913!

At Grand Central, our five-year program to restore and repair the broken and cracked marble tiles and terrazzo sections of the Terminal’s floor continues. We’ve just finished the second year of this program; we are repairing about 5% a year to minimize disruption to the 700,000 people who pass through the Terminal each day. (We expect this rehabilitation project to be completed in 2012.)

Depending on the area of the Terminal that needs repairs, we have been replacing broken tiles with either newly quarried Tennessee pink marble ones or with custom terrazzo panels (a type of flooring consisting of marble chips set in cement or epoxy resin that is poured and ground smooth when dry). (About 25% of the floor needs replacement – we’re talking about some 45,000 square feet of Tennessee pink marble and 67,000 square feet of terrazzo that will be installed.) The very process of chiseling out the broken floor sections and then setting in new ones is difficult enough, but the hardest task is the acquisition, selection, and emplacement of the marble and terrazzo so that it is indistinguishable from the original, adjacent sections.

New sections of Tennessee pink marble in the center of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

To acquire an exact match of the Tennessee pink marble, we went to the quarry from which the original stone was cut. It had been closed since the late 1980s, but the owners agreed to reopen it so that Grand Central Terminal could attain identical marble to that of the original. The original slabs of marble were placed just 1/16th of an inch apart. This tight fit, however, left little room for “give” when the building vibrates due to trains traveling on the Terminal’s loop tracks (which actually run behind the famous Oyster Bar). The replacement slabs are placed with double the space between them. The 1/8th inch separation that is now the standard is invisible to the casual eye and will prevent cracking.

To duplicate the original terrazzo’s unique color and make-up is more challenging, as the original “mixture recipe” was lost to history. So a laborious and exacting process of trial and error ensued with multiple mixtures, combinations, and processes until, finally, a perfect color match was achieved. (Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, we keep the new written recipe for this perfect mixture a secret, and in a secure, locked drawer within Grand Central.)

The terrazzo slabs, which are actually softer and more prone to wear and cracking than the Tennessee pink marble, now have an almost imperceptible brass border on all sides. This stops any cracks that have developed in one slab, from transferring to the next slab … and then the next.

You can try looking for the new and shiny sections of the Terminal’s floor, but you won’t find them, thanks to the meticulous work of a our master stone masons.

(Reprinted with permission of Metro-North Railroad)

New sections of terrazzo in two different shades with brass border, set into the areas on the east and west sides of Grand Central Station’s Main Concourse.

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