Last week, I went to Grand Central Station in New York City. I entered via the old Campbell Apartment entrance, I took the elevator to the 4th floor, and I played some tennis.
Keep reading to learn more about my first experience playing tennis at Vanderbilt Tennis Club, the super-secret tennis court inside Grand Central Terminal. I’ll even tell you how you can get 30 minutes of court time — free thanks to a postcard I found in the lobby.
Tennis Courts Inside A Bustling Train Station
Grand Central in Midtown Manhattan covers 48 acres and serves over 160,000 riders daily. (In case you’re wondering, among NYC stations, only Times Square Station has a higher ridership.) With its 44 platforms, GCT holds the world record for most number of platforms in a train station.
Tens of millions of commuters and sightseers pass through Grand Central every year. But most of them don’t know about a never-discussed, ultra-exclusive feature on the 4th floor: the Vanderbilt Tennis Club.
History of the Space
A Brief Timeline
The tennis courts inside Grand Central have not always been tennis courts. Over the years, it has seen a variety of occupants:
- 1934-1964 — CBS Television Studios
- 1965-1976 — An early version of a tennis club, owned by Hungarian refugee Geza Gazdag
- 1984-2009 — An elite tennis club, owned by Donald Trump
- 2010-present — Vanderbilt Tennis Club, owned by Anthony Scolnick
Before Grand Central Terminal was built in 1913, an original station — called Grand Central Depot — stood on the same spot in 1871. The 1913 bottom-up renovation and renaming effort expanded Grand Central from 3 floors to 6 floors, and the building’s facade changed, too.
That addition of 3 extra levels to the terminal paved the way for the tennis club that exists on the 4th floor of Grand Central today. Let’s explore.
CBS Television Studios
This is where our story begins. Starting in 1934, the first of several big-name tenants moved into the expansive space above Grand Central Terminal’s massive transportation operation.
For three decades, CBS Television Studios operated out of a space on the 4th floor of Grand Central Terminal. Iconic shows such as “What’s My Line?” and Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” were filmed and broadcast above the train tracks.
There’s a rumor that CBS eventually left the space because the rumbling of trains was being picked up on film.
The First Tennis Club
Credit goes to Hungarian athlete and Olympic coach Geza Gazdag, who took over the old CBS Television Studios space and began its decades-long evolution as a sports and activity space. Gazdag fled his native Hungary amidst political turmoil in 1956.
In 1965 he had his big idea. He scraped together $100,000 and turned the old CBS spaces into a 65-foot indoor ski slope and some tennis courts. For a while, his train station sports club flourished. People loved the novelty of its location, and quirky touches such as the carpeting on the tennis court floors.
But unfortunately, success became Gazdag’s enemy, as he was priced out of the leasing market for the very space that he had transformed. In 1976, he was outbid on his lease. Over the next several years, a stream of short-lived and unremarkable leaseholders cycled through.
Donald Trump’s Tennis Club
Donald Trump took over the lease of the Grand Central tennis club in 1984. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Trump characterized his stewardship of the space as “a great success.” The space became a favorite among the rich and powerful — according to Trump, at least. But this heyday was not to last.
By 2009, Metro-North had taken over a portion of Trump’s expansive tennis club to serve as a conductor’s lounge. When the railroad won $18 million in federal stimulus funds, with the goal of using these to build out that conductor’s lounge and rest area, the writing was on the wall for Trump’s elite club.
His lease was terminated in 2009.
After Donald Trump left, Anthony Scolnick won the lease for the tennis courts inside Grand Central Terminal. He is a former athletic director at Hunter College and he owns Yorkville Tennis Club and Sutton East Tennis (both on the Upper East Side). He signed the lease 7 years ago at $250,000/year.
Amusingly — though understandably — the site’s “History of the Space” tab on its web site contains no reference to the decades of drama and ownership changes its ownership.
I signed up to work with a tennis pro on a practice court for 1 hour.
He helped me with my swing, forehand, backhand, approach shots, and my serves. It was cool. I’d go back.
Info About Vanderbilt Tennis Club
Vanderbilt Tennis Club features:
- One regulation-sized indoor hard court (15+ feet of backcourt space; 30-foot ceilings)
- One junior court
- 2 practice lanes
- Courts are equipped with ball machines
- A fully equipped fitness room
I received this pricing sheet just this afternoon, so you can be sure these are current rates.
(I’ve seen similar numbers floating around on posts from just a couple months ago on Yelp, but these, understandably, are a bit higher with the new year.)
How to Access
To get to the Vanderbilt Tennis Club from outside Grand Central Terminal:
- Navigate to the terminal entrance on Vanderbilt Ave., between Madison Ave. & Park Ave.
- Look for the red awning of “The Campbell Apartment”
- On the opposite side of that, take one of the lobby elevators up to the 4th floor
To get to the Vanderbilt Tennis Club from inside Grand Central Terminal:
- Elevators are located halfway down the ramp that leads to the Oyster Bar near tracks 100-117
- If starting in the Main Concourse, start with your back to the Apple Store and walk towards the West Balcony and Michael Jordan’s Steak House NYC.
- Go up the stairs and exit the Concourse through the doors.
- Take a left just as you exit and walk to the second set of doors (for The Campbell Apartment)
- Enter the lobby
- Take any elevator to the 4th floor
You can reach the reservations desk the following ways:
They are open 6:00a-1:00a M-F, 7a-11p Sat & Sun.
How to Play for Free
I saved the best for last!
As I was leaving, I noticed a sweet postcard on the desk. Amazingly, despite the relatively high price point of per-hour play — and despite numerous anecdotal and Yelp evidence suggesting that bookings here are tough to come by — Vanderbilt Tennis Club offers a free 30-minute session to all new members. (“Pending availability,” of course. A call to the reservations line at Vanderbilt Tennis Club confirms that you won’t necessarily receive priority slots when redeeming this offer.)
Nevertheless, you can’t beat free! Just for fun, I emailed the reservations desk inquiring about upcoming slots to redeem the free 30 minutes of play. (I didn’t use my real name, just in case someone was cross-referencing for that “only for new customers” rule.) Dadi from the reservations team responded promptly and cheerily, asking what times might be good for me, and even inquiring after my playing level and previous experience.
Update! Scavenger Hunts & Team Building at Grand Central Station!
Museum Hack’s awesome Renegade Guides recently created Scavboss, a new kind of scavenger hunt at Grand Central Station here in NYC. We are starting public hunts soon, and have private and corporate team building hunts available!
I’m sharing this with you because I love free stuff, I love tennis, and I think you might enjoy it. Let me know if you give it a try! My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
- Good article: Playing Tennis At Grand Central, by Ben Worcester
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