UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Fall 1998
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Mark Nusbaum, '85
Sara Horowitz, '89

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UB's School of Architecture and Planning

Grand Central Terminal

Landmarks Preservation Commission

American Institute of Architects

Beyer Binder Belle

"My role was different than that of a design architect or a project manager in that I conveyed the partnersí design ideas through a set of construction documents and specifications."

making Grand Central

grand again

by Michael L. Jankowski

Mark Nusbaum, '85, puts his UB architectural training to work in restoring a glittering landmark

ew York City's renowned Grand Central Terminal, with its great arched windows, gleaming marble floors and soaring barrel-vault ceiling sparkling with 2,500 gold-leaf stars representing the winter night sky-not to mention a grand concourse larger than the nave of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral-was an engineering feat of unprecedented glory and magnificence when it was completed in 1913. But the National Historic Landmark did not age gracefully.
    By the 1950s, the once-noble structure fell into disrepair-and disrepute-as scores of undesirables began to take up residence in its grimy, crumbling waiting rooms and its seemingly endless maze of dim underground passageways.
    In the late 1960s, however, thanks to the impassioned intervention of preservationists, city managers were persuaded to collaborate to save the terminal. By 1975, the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had lent her fervent support to the campaign. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld the New York City Landmark and Preservation Commission's jurisdiction over Grand Central, and America's most famous railroad landmark was spared the fate of her doomed sister terminal, Penn Station, which had been unceremoniously demolished in 1964.
    Today, after the most expensive facelift in modern U.S. architectural history-more than $200 million-Grand Central Terminal is once again a synergistic showpiece of the very best in American architecture, aesthetics and engineering.
    One individual who can take personal and professional pride in this accomplishment is Mark Nusbaum, AIA (American Institute of Architects), who received his undergraduate and master's degrees from UB's School of Architecture and Planning in 1983 and 1985, respectively.
    Nusbaum, a native of New Rochelle, New York, and an associate at Beyer, Blinder, Belle-the Manhattan architectural and planning firm that created the master plan for the terminal-served as project architect for much of Grand Central's revitalization.
    "My role was different than that of a design architect or a project manager in that I conveyed the partners' design ideas through a set of construction documents and specifications," he explains. "You're really developing a set of drawings that contractors can build from. I'd been doing this for a while on projects before Grand Central came along. I think there was careful consideration [in the selection process], but I also think I was the right person at the right time. I was just finishing up a project and needed an assignment, and this jumped on my desk." This was not the first involvement Nusbaum's firm had with the restoration of Grand Central.
    "The project was actually in the office for 11 or 12 years," Nusbaum says. "We were hired by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Metro-North back in 1988 to do a master plan. It amounted to about $450 million, but they didn't have the money to do it all at once, so while I was working on other projects, there were people in the office already working on Grand Central.
    "Things were being done kind of piecemeal. By the time I got to it, in 1994, they were in the phase of the project where they wanted to restore the main concourse with the sky ceiling. I spent '94 through '96 working on the drawings. Then, what Beyer, Blinder, Belle likes to do-and it's proven very effective-is to pack up the team that has been working on the project and move them right up to the site to physically oversee the restoration."
    In this case, a team of five to seven people, headed by Nusbaum, spent three and a half years in the terminal. "We did the drawings, we knew the project, and what we did was to make sure that the contractor was performing his job according to our drawings and specifications," Nusbaum says. "We wanted that quality, so we were up there monitoring. It was a battle every day."
    That uncompromising drive for excellence, he says, was nurtured and developed during his student days at UB.
    "Every day I take what I learned at UB with me to work," he states. "We all worked very hard there, and we were all very competitive, and we all wanted to be the best architect in the school. But there was a sense of camaraderie, too. What all my professors had in common was that they demanded excellence. To present a project to the faculty that was poorly designed-or worse, incomplete-risked embarrassment in front of other students. We all feared that."
    At UB, one of the many faculty members who had an impact on Nusbaum was Bonnie Foit-Albert, M.A. '75. "I took design courses with her my freshman and sophomore years, before being accepted into the School of Architecture and Planning as a junior," he recalls. "She was the one who introduced preservation to me. That was something I really wasn't geared to: I wanted to design new buildings, and all of the courses I took basically were to do new buildings."
    That training was put to work almost immediately when Nusbaum started at Beyer, Blinder, Belle. His first few projects, including one for the Yale University Department of Anthropology, which was housed in a Victorian home in New Haven, were preservation/restoration jobs. Larger-scale projects followed, and Nusbaum soon developed a reputation for working on multiyear, multimillion-dollar-and, in the case of Grand Central, multiblock-projects.

major logistical challenge of the Grand Central renovation, Nusbaum points out, was that "we had to restore a building that a half million people walk through every day, without interrupting the flow of commuters. And, believe it or not, of those half million people, only about 130,000 are commuters-everybody else is crossing through it to get to another street."
    That uninterrupted flow was accomplished by creating a 40-foot-wide by 120-foot-long "bridge" on tracks that slid over the main concourse. Completion of the bridge alone, which extended from the east end of the concourse all the way to the west end, took eight months.
    As part of the restoration, the terminal's retail complex was expanded. Like other aspects of the project, this was greeted by positive reviews. "Grand Central probably was one of the first indoor malls in the country when it opened in 1913," Nusbaum notes. "Back then, it had everything a traveler needed. What we did was expand that retail presence and provide a higher level of service for commuters. You can still get your shoes shined, but now you can also buy Godiva Chocolates or pick up something from Starbucks."
    Additionally, an alleyway off Lexington Avenue was tapped for a new entrance, as well as a food market. "It was designed so that commuters going home from work could pick up something on the way to the train," Nusbaum explains. "But what we've discovered is that about 40 percent of the people who buy food there are Manhattanites, so it's been an enormous success."
    Inside the cavernous concourse, where the gold-leaf constellations on the 120-foot-high sky ceiling sparkle once more, an east grand staircase-which was depicted in the original plans of the terminal in the early 1900s but never built-was added to mirror the grand staircase on the opposite side. A fiber-optics lighting system was installed to replace the 40-watt lamps that had served as the stars of the constellations. Every step of the way, Nusbaum notes, each significant change had to first be cleared by the Landmark and Preservation Commission.
    Demonstrating his love of the project, Nusbaum conducts seven or eight tours annually of the Grand Central for the 92nd Street YMCA, a New York City cultural institution. And this past fall he volunteered to host a special tour to 40 UB alumni, family and friends.
    "The true measure of the success of and interest in an alumni program like that tour," comments organizer Helene Blieberg, B.A. '77, vice president and executive director of the CBS Foundation, "is if there are as many people there at the end as there were at the beginning. At Grand Central, everyone stayed."

Michael L. Jankowski is assistant director of alumni relations at UB.

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