Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
John Williams Campbell was born in Brooklyn in 1880 into a well-to-do family. His father was treasurer of the Credit Clearing House, a credit bureau for merchandise wholesalers. At the age of 18, Campbell joined his father at the firm and moved up the ranks, becoming a senior executive seven years later. By the 1920s Campbell was making millions as president of the Credit Clearing House and served on the board of the New York Central Railroad. In 1923 he focused his attention on building a private office, one that would showcase his position and wealth. To that end, he hired architect Augustus N. Allen to design the space. Campbell’s choice of location – a 60-foot long, 30-foot wide single room on the ground floor of Grand Central Terminal – was a departure from the typical skyscraper suite.
The office boasted a butler, a pipe organ, and a piano, as well as Campbell’s private art collection. A mahogany musician’s gallery with carved quatrefoils was installed. After hours, Campbell’s office doubled as a private recital hall, where guests could relax on 19th century Italian seating furniture (masquerading as 13th century) and listen to famous musicians play.
Hand-painted wooden beams adorned the 25-foot ceiling. The large stone fireplace behind Campbell’s desk housed a steel safe. Perhaps the most notable feature of all was the hand-woven Persian rug that covered almost the entire floor. It was rumored to have cost $300,000, nearly $4 million in today’s dollars.
Perhaps because of all its amenities, the office was dubbed “Campbell’s Apartment,” but there is no evidence that he or anybody else lived there. After Campbell’s death in 1957, the space became a signalman’s office. It was later used by the Metro-North Railroad police, as gun storage and then as a jail. During these years, it seemed to follow the fate of its mother building Grand Central in neglect and decline: the leaded glass windows were covered with plywood board, the timbered ceiling was concealed unceremoniously with a dropped ceiling, and the beautiful furnishings gradually disappeared (current whereabouts are unknown). Luckily, the restoration of Grand Central that began in 1993 saved Campbell’s office from a fluorescent-lighted fate. Two costly renovations in 1999 and again in 2007 ($1.5 million and $350,000, respectively) restored the office to its former glory and transformed it into a luxury cocktail bar and lounge with the purposely adopted misnomer, Campbell Apartment.