Imagine Park Avenue from 45th to 49th Street as a rail yard -- a corridor of smoke and cinders extending uptown from 49th Street. Think of breweries and factories operating where the Waldorf-Astoria, Lever House and the Seagram Building now stand. Picture to the east a district of tenements, warehouses, and slaughterhouses. In place of the United Nations and Tudor City, the squatters' shacks of Dutch Hill, inhabited by paupers, criminal gangs, and a herd of goats. It is hard to conceive that this cityscape ever existed, let alone that it was the environment in which Grand Central Terminal took shape less than one hundred years ago.
The first rail line into New York City -- the New York and Harlem Railroad -- was formed in 1831 and began service to a terminus at Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street the following year. Over the next five years, the railroad constructed a station, offices, and stables along Fourth Avenue, 26th and 27th Streets; through subsequent expansion and reconstruction, the New York and Harlem Railroad Station would come to occupy the entire block bounded by Fourth and Madison Avenues and 26th and 27th Streets. (In 1871, P.T. Barnum purchased the New York and Harlem Railroad Station and converted it into Madison Square Garden -- the first of several structures to bear that historic name).