The meaning behind Grand Central’s chandeliers

grandcentralchandeliervanderbilthallDropping from Vanderbilt Hall and other parts of Grand Central Terminal like heavenly jewels are spherical chandeliers—each with its light bulbs bare and exposed.

There’s a reason for this, and it stretches all the way back to the building’s construction and design at the turn of the last century.

The Vanderbilt family, which built this third version of Grand Central at 42nd Street, were “immensely proud of Grand Central’s status as one of the world’s first all-electric buildings,” states


Previously, train stations and the engines that went in and out of them were smoky and sooty, making them unpleasant—not to mention unsafe.

“In fact, their pride greatly influenced the station’s interior designs. When it first opened, every one of the stations chandeliers and lighting fixtures featured bare, exposed light bulbs—more than 4,000 of them.”


The chandeliers have changed over time; in 2008, the incandescent glow was replaced by fluorescent bulbs. But they continue to pay homage to the forward-thinking vision of the Vanderbilts and the era of quieter, cleaner, unadorned electricity.

Grand Central Terminal (never call it Station!) is a treasure of beautiful interiors. If you’ve ever noticed an acorn and leaf motif, that’s the Vanderbilt family again.

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9 Responses to “The meaning behind Grand Central’s chandeliers”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    The design of light fixtures that showed BULBS was the norm for several decades. (We live in a 1920s era house with origional fixtures that clearly display the bulbs!)

    It may have been a question of showing cleanliness and bright illumination at this gigantic terminal, but in countless homes across the nation, bare bulbs were a status symbol. It indicated you were progressive – did not rely on old fashioned gas lighting, but had the new fangled Edison or Mazda bulbs. The shape of the bulb became an important portion of the entire fixture’s design.

    Everything about that main room at the Terminal, makes me swoon! I think there is a movie scene that shows people waltzing there, as they should; and I have wondered if the accoustics would enhance a choir? How fortunate NYC is to be graced with such a place. MARVELOUS!

  2. Adam Cummings Says:

    My wife is convinced the acorns look more like pineapples!

  3. Nigtingale Says:

    The original article and your reply have made me think differently about home lighting in the past, but especially the Terminal. I visited it when I was 18. I can waltz and I’d love to do it there.

  4. Nancy Anderson Says:

    When will GCT show its electric power pride by lighting everything with LED bulbs?

  5. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Oh how wonderful — I finally remembered the dancing scene from the film — it was: ‘THE FISHER KING’. Shot on location in Grand Central Terminal – I hope your readership will pause and enjoy this bit of lovliness…

  6. jared squired Says:

    The chandeliers at GCT are also fashioned in the shape of acorns, the seed of the Oak tree, since the Vanderbilt family nitro was, “Great oak trees from little acorns grow.”

  7. Adam wolf Says:

    The round Globes are shaped like walnuts because Cornelius Vanderbilt used to ship them cross East River when he was young

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