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Grand Central Tennis Club: A Little Known Piece of History

tennis club grand centralEven lifelong New Yorkers are unaware of one of the city’s best kept secrets — the tennis courts above Grand Central Terminal. This monumental station was designed by Associated Architects, Reed & Stem and Warren & Wetmore in 1901, and when construction was completed in 1913, a large attic space was left unoccupied directly above Vanderbilt Hall (the waiting room at the entrance on the 42nd Street side). If and how this attic was used before the 1930s is a bit of a mystery, though there is an unsubstantiated rumor that it served as a ballroom for some time. In 1939, television studio equipment for the Columbia Broadcasting System was installed in this space. Within just nine years, these facilities were expanded and upgraded as an integral part of the plan to transform CBS into a nationwide network. The first episodes of “What’s My Line?” and Edward R. Murrow’s news program “See It Now,” including the groundbreaking series on Senator Joseph McCarthy, were broadcast from this space. It has been reported that CBS gave up the studio owing to the rumble of the trains below. Soon afterward in 1965, Geza A. Gazdag, a Hungarian immigrant, founded the Vanderbilt Athletic Club in the former broadcast studio. He built two tennis courts on the soundstage and created a lounge out of the control room. A year later, Gazdag installed a 65-foot long indoor ski slope made of plastic brush next to the courts. By 1970, the club had come under the ownership of the Dallas-based Tennis International, Inc. It was then that the newly coined Vanderbilt International Tennis Club underwent a $100,000 redecoration by Dorothy Draper & Co., Inc. It was described by Carlton Varney as “the biggest tent in town.” Frequented by executives and politicians, the club also hosts tennis pros in preparation for the US Open. Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Martina Navratilova, Robby Ginepri, John McEnroe and the Williams sisters have all practiced on these courts. Owned by Donald Trump since 1984, the space is leased from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), and is open to the public for an hourly fee. Trump himself has called the tennis courts “one of the greatest secrets.” Grand Central Terminal Every Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. For thirty years, MAS has offered a tour of the magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark that it helped to save. Meet at the information booth, main concourse. Suggested donation: $10 per person.