"Whispering Gallery" Renovations Complete


Cleaning and restoration of the famed Guastavino tile ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal's popular "whispering gallery" is complete.

The whispering gallery, in front of the Oyster Bar restaurant on the Lower Level, is an acoustical anomaly that allows visitors to stand in diagonal corners of the 50-foot wide chamber and whisper to one another as the sound carries across the arc of the domed ceiling.

This restoration is proof of Metro-North's dedication to the stewardship of Grand Central Terminal, which celebrates its centennial on February 1, 2013.

The $450,000 project was completed on time and on budget just in time for the busy holiday season, when it is not unusual for nearly a million people to pass though Grand Central Terminal in a given day.

Loose tiles were reaffixed and pinned in place and the raised mortar between the herringbone-patterned tile work was replaced and cleaned leaving the whole 2,000-square-foot chamber brighter and cleaner.

The job was accomplished one quadrant at a time with little impact on pedestrian flow and no impact on the whispering effect.

The work was done by masonry specialists from Graciano Corporation, of Pittsburgh, PA, which also was the contractor in 2000 that restored the Guastavino tile vaults under the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge.

"Guastavino" refers to a method and material patented by Rafael Guastavino, an immigrant from the Catalonia region of Spain, who arrived in New York in 1881. His domes and vaults are seen in many places around New York City, including the City Hall subway station, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Elephant House at the Bronx Zoo, as well as the 59th Street Bridge.

Guastavino's method of arch construction uses layers of thin, glazed terracotta tiles set in mortar in a herringbone pattern. The tiles are naturally fireproof and as strong as steel or wooden beams but weigh much less.

About 200 tiles needed to be replaced in the Whispering Gallery. New ones were painstakingly duplicated in the Guastavino style by Boston Valley Terra Cotta of Buffalo, NY, fabricated from clay using a special recipe for texture and color for a precise match with existing tiles.

Metro-North ordered 250 tiles to have some in reserve. The former taxi stand on the Vanderbilt Avenue side of the building also has a Guastavino ceiling.