Sunday, January 11, 2009

The History of Penn Station

Some of these concrete eagles can still be found around the city, being used as art for offices and parks

Most people who have commuted into New York City from New Jersey or Long Island, or perhaps taken the train from other parts of the country like Washington, Boston, or Chicago, have thought of Penn Station as the basement under the Felt Forum on 33rd Street. A large basement, with shops, newsstands and ticket booths, but still a basement.

Between 1910 and 1964, though, a great monument to travel existed on this site. The largest building ever erected for rail travel, Pennsylvania Station, commissioned by Pennsylvania Railroad President Alexander Cassatt and built by architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, stood between 31st and 33rd Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues - over eight acres. It was truly a temple of transportation.

With the 277-foot long waiting room designed to resemble the Roman Baths of Caracalla and the Basilica of Constantine, the grand edifice used 500,000 cubic feet of granite; was supported on 650 steel columns; required the digging of tunnels over 6,600 feet long under the Hudson River; required the demolition of over 500 buildings and the removal of over 3,000,000 cubic yards of soil and bedrock. It had a 150-foot ceiling.

After 53 years of New York bound travelers being welcomed like gods in the grand structure, it all came tumbling down under the management of Robert Moses, the New York City Parks Commissioner. During his time Moses gained a very large amount of control over the NYC's construction of buildings, bridges and freeways. At one point he wanted to run a freeway through the entire island of Manhattan, but it failed with the help of the amazing Jane Jacobs - urbanist, writer and activist. The original Penn Station was demolished due to several reasons; The invention of the vehicle and airplanes - travelers began to drive and fly instead of commuting by tube, people began to move out into the suburbs, and the building maintenance was lacking, causing dirt and grime build up on the structure, and then there was Robert Moses... who wanted new modern structures.

But...what a beauty it was while it lasted.

Above are some shots of the way Penn Station use to look. The bottom two photos are current shots.


diane said...

Robert Moses was an idiot.

Matt Rowley said...

when I went to NYC I stayed near there.

John Busschaert said...

I love New York history. Not always, but many times the old things were built with a sense of unique quality and art we don't see today. It's sad that Penn Station did not survie . The Woolworth Building (1913) is one example that did survive.

Matt Fox said...

The loss of the old Penn Station was such a dark hour in NYC history.

Anne Corrons said...

Thanks for this history of Penn Station. I always love having a drink there.

Anonymous said... time I go to Robert Moses beach in Long Island I will make to spit on the plaque. What an imbecile...