Did you know that you can play tennis inside of Grand Central Station in NYC?

Last week, I went to Grand Central in the center of Manhattan. I took the elevator to the 4th floor, and then I played some tennis.

Wait, what?

Tennis Courts in Grand Central

This is an outside view of Grand Central. I’ve added a text overlay to show you where the tennis courts are located:

Tennis courts are located on the 4th floor of the station, around where it says "tennis" in the photo.

Courts are located here on the 4th floor.

Inside, it looks like a normal tennis court.

Vanderbilt Tennis Club, inside Grand Central Terminal, has multiple courts.

The secret club has 1 main court and 2 practice half-courts.

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 Grand Central

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.

The Vanderbilt Tennis Club inside Grand Central Station

The Vanderbilt Tennis Club inside Grand Central Station

History of Vanderbilt Tennis

The tennis courts inside Grand Central Terminal weren't always tennis courts. Here's a timeline of previous occupants.

The tennis courts inside Grand Central Terminal weren’t always tennis courts. Here’s a timeline of previous occupants.

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

1934-1964

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

1965-1976

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

1984-2009

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.

Vanderbilt Tennis Club

2010 to Present

The full court in Grand Central

The full court in Grand Central

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.

Practice Courts

There are two practice lanes upstairs, each with a ball return machine.

There are two practice lanes upstairs, each with a ball return machine.

My Experience

I signed up to work with a tennis pro on a practice court for 1 hour.

Me on one of the practice tennis courts in Grand Central

Me on one of the practice tennis courts in Grand Central

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

Current Pricing

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.)

Screenshot 2017-01-24 at 2.22.40 PM

Expect to pay up to $295/hour to play tennis inside Grand Central Terminal!

How to Find the Vanderbilt Tennis Club in Grand Central

To get to the Vanderbilt Tennis Club, use the Campbell Apartment entrance.

To get to the Vanderbilt Tennis Club, use the old Campbell Apartment entrance.

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
Another view of the Campbell Apartment entrance

Another view of the Campbell Apartment entrance

Tennis Club Contact Information

You can reach the reservations desk the following ways:

They are open 6:00a-1:00a M-F, 7a-11p Sat & Sun.

Bonus: How to Play for Free

Proof of the offer!

Proof of the offer!

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.)

You can use this info to contact them and set up your session.

You can use this info to contact them and set up your session.

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.

They seem reasonably willing to actually give out this free perk. Give it a try and let me know if it works!

They seem reasonably willing to actually give out this free perk. Give it a try and let me know if it works!

Conclusion

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 hello@nickgray.net

You might also enjoy these two articles I’ve written about New York City stuff:

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