Fifty years ago demolition began on the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City. The Beaux Arts structure, designed by McKim, Mead, and White, which opened in 1910, had an exterior surrounded by 84 Doric columns, a concourse with a 150-foot vaulted ceiling, and an impressive train shed In the mid-1950s, a proposal emerged to raze the station and construct in its place a home for the World’s Fair — the so-called “Palace of Progress.” That plan fell apart, but a new one surfaced in 1960, this one led by the Madison Square Garden Corporation. That project made room for the arena by flattening the existing Penn Station and building an underground one instead. Some historically minded residents rallied to save the station. On a hot August evening in 1962, the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York gathered more than a hundred protestors to circle the Penn Station entrance, but ultimately their preservation efforts failed.
Instead, we get the Madison Square Garden of today (below), the site of many incredible events but sadly in an inferior structure. Plans are underway to turn the grand post office across the street from MSG into Moynihan Station to return the grandeur lost by the old Pennsylvania Station by architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. SOM will maintain the facade of the Farley Post Office, which sits behind Penn Station on Eighth Avenue between 33rd and 31st Streets. The interior will be restored to house new train and intermodal halls, and a sweeping glass ceiling will create a light-filled central hall. Phase One, began this October, consists of building major transportation infrastructure the station will need. This includes extending the west end concourse below the post office building to allow for access to more tracks, improving ventilation, improving and updating signal work, upgrading the connector between the post office and the current Penn Station, and creating two new entry points on either side of the post office’s facade. Phase One should be complete by 2015, and at that point, Amtrak will move all Penn Station operations to the new location.
In a Timeseditorial published just after the demolition of the old Penn Station began, Ada Louise Huxtable wrote that the city would some day be judged “not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed”. Boy, was she was right. (Penn Station photos: Cervin Robinson, Images courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Moynihan Station image: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)