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Thread: New Penn Station (Moynihan Station)

  1. #46


    October 28, 2003

    40 Years After Wreckage, Bits of Old Penn Station


    Workmen haul down the two-ton stone eagle from the facade of Pennsylvania Station October 28, 1963.

    An early postcard shows the concourse of the old Pennsylvania Station.

    Forty years ago today at 9 a.m., in a light rain, jackhammers began tearing at the granite walls of the soon-to-be-demolished Pennsylvania Station, an event that the editorial page of The New York Times termed a "monumental act of vandalism" that was "the shame of New York."

    This grim anniversary falls in Halloween week, when spirits of the departed seem so notoriously restive, and those searching for the insistent phantoms of Penn Station can find them deep in the bustling, claustrophobic warren that has been carved out of the old terminal's subterranean remains. Ghost hunters need only know where to look.

    Consider, for example, the eroded splotch in the new imitation tile floor down a corridor off the station's busy rotunda.

    Peeking through, and clearly visible, are exposed blocks of surviving pink Milford granite, adjacent to a section of the original tan herringbone-patterned bricks that once supplied the paving for Penn Station's southern carriage drive. Horse-drawn buggies — not to mention Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey and five decades of passengers — traversed bricks identical to these as they rushed to waiting trains.

    "It's as if the old station just keeps insisting on coming out," said John Turkeli, a railroad historian and urban archaeologist who leads a free monthly public tour of both the Penn Station that is and the spectral Penn Station that was.

    It is true that the wrecking ball knocked down nine acres of travertine and granite. But thousands of distracted visitors to the current terminal have no idea that they are surrounded by dozens of minor treasures from the vanished masterpiece by McKim, Mead & White.

    If some Penn Station revivalists see only the tragic loss of architectural grandeur in such fragmentary and accidental survivals, Mr. Turkeli, 43, sees them as evidence of the indomitable spirit of the transportation hub, which opened to the public in 1910. "It just will not be forgotten," he insisted. Daniel A. Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, said he started the architectural tours a decade ago "to increase people's awareness, so that more great things won't be destroyed." The partnership sponsors the tours under the umbrella of the Business Improvement District, which runs along 34th Street from 10th Avenue to Park Avenue South.

    "When you see these vestiges of this famous place, you feel even more regret," he said.

    Some of the remains were identified by Lorraine B. Diehl, who used to lead the tours, and others were discovered by Mr. Turkeli. Those who wish to join Mr. Turkeli's 90-minute tours should gather at 12:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month at the tourist information booth in the station's rotunda; information is available at (917) 438-5123. But since the next tour will not be until Nov. 24, ghost seekers can, on their own, find many of the surviving artifacts by investing a bit of time and shoe leather. (However, visitors must wait for the tour to see a few inaccessible relics in restricted areas protected by station police.)

    A visit to Penn Station — which gave way to the Penn Plaza complex and Madison Square Garden — might begin outdoors at the statue of Samuel Rea, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1913 to 1925, in front of 2 Penn Plaza at Seventh Avenue and 32nd Street. The statue, by Adolph A. Weinman, once stood in a niche to the right of the staircase leading down into the main waiting room.

    Next, head south on Seventh Avenue toward 31st Street, and make obeisance to one of the original 5,700-pound Tennessee-marble stone eagles that once perched on ledges above the station's grand entrances. This eagle is in captivity now, fenced in, visited daily by a family of squatter pigeons. Could they be distant descendants of the flock that once decorated Penn Station's exterior and flapped under its vaulted roof?

    On 31st Street, head west to the middle of the block, and pause to look south, across the street, at the monumental surviving edifice of the coal-fired Penn Station power plant, now used for storage and backup power systems.

    Between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, head north under the canopy along the footpath of the driveway (now barred to vehicles for security reasons). Make a left into the terminal building, then pause atop the escalators. This is the location of the original grand staircase into the main waiting room; the Rea statue was once enshrined at the right.

    Look down at the rotunda below, site of the old main waiting room. It was patterned after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and once soared 15 stories to a vaulted ceiling. The big room, Mr. Turkeli noted, "then as now, never had a bench in it."

    "It has never really been," he said, "a place to wait."

    After descending on the escalator, head left to a corridor marked "For Passenger Concourse Use Only," adjacent to the Grove Snack Shop. If it is between 6 and 10 a.m., or 4 and 8 p.m., it is permissible to stroll halfway down the corridor to view the eroded section of the previously mentioned floor tiles and see the remains of the building's signature granite and its herringbone bricks.

    Another section of these bricks has struggled out from under the asphalt on the opposite side of the rotunda. Without entering the off-limits corridor marked "Employees Only," visitors can stand at the portal and observe, back near the elevator, a swath of the remnant of the station's northern carriage drive.

    Back at the center of the rotunda, the futuristic waiting room for Acela and Metroliner trains occupies the former men's and women's waiting rooms. At the site of the current departure board, with its tiny digital clock, once stood a windowed arch beneath a large ticking station clock.

    Walk left, skirting the curve of the glass-enclosed waiting room, and head straight back to the far wall, at the West Gate of Tracks 5 and 6. There, heading down to the train level, is a remaining original staircase of brass and wrought iron (all the others have been replaced by escalators).

    Walking left to the baggage-claim signs, visitors will see a 1948 bronze plaque that had been affixed to the original station walls, honoring baggage-department employees who died in World War II, from Joe R. Adams to Frederick W. Zahodnick.

    Behind the wall, in the baggage area restricted to the public (but visible on Mr. Turkeli's tour), are four poignant artifacts of the Penn Station past. Upon the floor survives a section of the original glass bricks that brought natural light from the station's skylight down to the passageways and train level.

    Nearby, on the original wall of ceramic tile, a fading painted directional sign to the East Gates is still visible. The "E" and "G" have surrendered to time, leaving the Scrabblish message "AST ATES."

    Next to a wall is what is believed to be the last surviving elevator cage, with its dusty grill. And nearly obscured behind an Everest of heating ducts is the surviving cast-iron train indicator for Track 1.

    Outside the baggage area, in the public corridor paralleling the modern row of Amtrak ticket windows, an impromptu gallery of historic photographs has been affixed to the pillars. Depicted are the original waiting room, a station facade and 1910 pictures of the vaulting, 10-story-high main concourse, with staircases plunging to the train level, like the one at Tracks 5 and 6.

    "There's a lot of interest in these photos," said Michael J. Gallagher, the assistant superintendent of station operations, as he stood near one at the pillars. "People study them, and they constantly ask us why the station looks like it does now."

    So, what is his habitual answer? He sighed, "What can I tell you?"

    Those interested in a longer visit should head down the stairs past the train announcer's booth into the Long Island Rail Road station. To the right, after the long corridor toward Seventh Avenue, the sleek new ticket windows (under the destination boards) are just about where the old ones were in the original station.

    Also from the original station, a 30-foot-wide, Tuscan red, cast-iron partition, with beveled-glass windows, stands guard at the portal for the ticketed waiting area, adjacent to the gray police booth under the American flag.

    After leaving Penn Station, visitors should also seek out the street-level entrance to the Long Island Rail Road terminal on 34th Street near Seventh Avenue. There, they can find a working four-sided clock, suspended on cables and believed by Mr. Turkeli to have been in the original Long Island terminal.

    Those who have completed the tour, and have been saddened by an architectural loss of such immensity, might appreciate a bit of cheering up. In the end, the destruction of what the Municipal Art Society termed "one of the great monuments of classical America" led to the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.

    "And that led to the rescue of Grand Central Station," Mr. Turkeli said, "which could have met the very same fate."

    Part of the demolition of the old Pennsyvania Station in March 1964. The station opened to the public in 1910.

    The only remaining original staircase is made of brass and wrought iron. All the others have been replaced by escalators.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #47


    The Late, Great Penn Station:

    Here's an old column from the archives of the New York Times written by Ada Louis Huxtable, commemorating the 31st anniversary of the demolition. Let me fully cite this first, since it is material you would normally have to pay for:

    Huxtable, Ada Louise. “On the Right Track.”
    New York Times, 28 November 1994, sec. A, p. 17.

    On the Right Track
    By Ada Louise Huxtable;
    Ada Louise Huxtable is an architectural historian, critic and consultant.
    Thirty-one years ago, the shattered marble, travertine and granite columns, caryatids, gods and eagles of Penn Station -- modeled after the monuments of ancient Rome by McKim, Mead and White and built for eternity in 1910 -- were carted off to the Secaucus meadows, giving New Jersey undisputed title to the world's most elegant dump. Of the eagles that crowned the station's walls, a few tokens were reinstalled in front of the new Madison Square Garden, making the contrast between classical and cheesy terminally (pun intended) clear.

    Because what goes around comes around, usually so that you want to laugh or cry, there are plans for a new Penn Station. The proposal is part of a program in which all of the facilities for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad will be coordinated for what is now fashionably called intermodal transportation but looks more like a railroad revival and great train station renaissance.

    In addition to vastly improved and expanded services, each rail unit will be given a "presence" -- something Stanford White and his partners knew a thing or two about. And since what goes around comes around in curious ways, the new Penn Station will be created in another classical building by McKim, Mead and White: the James A. Farley Post office, a designated New York City landmark just behind the present station, which has been declared obsolete by the Post Office and semi-surplus property by the Federal Government.

    Central to the project is the creation of a large new concourse, reminiscent of the scale of the bulldozed terminal. Because the rail yards continue beneath the Post Office building, the conversion is practical. But it is just as much about lost glory as future needs.

    The Post Office is a gargantuan box of die-stamped classicism that occupies the two full blocks between 31st and 33d Streets and Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It was built in two stages: the first, in 1913, extended halfway to Ninth Avenue; an annex, added in 1935, filled out the enormous double block.

    The original facade's nonstop 53-foot-high Corinthian columns and anthemion cresting topping a two-block sweep of granite steps was repeated and wrapped around the addition for what must surely be the most redundant colonnade in architectural history. This competent piece of Beaux Arts boiler-plate isn't in the same league as the old Penn Station. But today its acres of space and irreplaceable materials and details are solid gold.

    The Post Office will keep the arcade along Eighth Avenue, where 7,000 people a day come through bronze doors under an arched ceiling decorated with the seals of the countries belonging to the postal union. One hopes that the nicely browned WPA murals of the city at the north and south ends will remain.

    The plans for the new station, which will incorporate the redesigned present facility, have been under study since the 1980's by an alliance of railroad, postal service, real estate, construction and Government interests, led by Amtrak and the Tishman Urban Development Corporation. The architects are Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, a large firm experienced in the kinds of major undertakings with which such consortiums feel comfortable, working with a consultant on historic architecture, Jan Pokorny.

    The cost is budgeted at an optimistic $300 million -- one-third Federal, one-third city and state and one-third to be supplied by Amtrak. Under the enthusiastic sponsorship of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, half of the Federal commitment, $50 million, had been appropriated before the Republican upheaval that will replace the Senator as head of the Finance Committee in January. With Federal funding halfway home and agreements signed by the city and state, the odds still look good.
    Behind the "rebirth" of Penn Station is a 25-year story full of the twists of fate and fortune that give economists and futurists a bad name. Who could have predicted the knockout blow that air travel dealt to rail travel in the 50's and 60's? Or foreseen the postmodern crisis in architecture that sensitized architects and the public to the losses of the past? The majestic urban terminals, too expensive to operate and functionally obsolete, were abandoned to decay or demolished as prime sites "ripe for redevelopment" -- the real estate mantra of the times.

    The decline of the railroads paralleled the rise of the shopping mall, the growth of the preservation movement and the birth of the "festival marketplace." Recycled railroad stations, once left for dead, became filled with shops and restaurants and a notable preservation success. But this was an odd triumph in which the tail wagged the dog: retailing was the prime use and purpose, and train service was peripheral, if it existed at all.

    For years, Washington's Union Station rained debris from its magnificent barrel-vaulted ceiling ringed with heroic statues into a hole in the ground meant for a visitors' center that came to nothing. Train service was relegated to a kind of outhouse in the rear. Today this is one of the country's most successful indoor malls, but the trains are still out back.
    Real change came in the 1970's, when Government action to save the railroads brought grants and subsidies for operation and terminal upgrading. As ridership increased, station renovations put the trains up front again. Concourses were no longer treated as real estate opportunities. And while retail has become an important source of revenue, it is now supportive rather than primary. After a spectacular century of highs and lows, the great railroad station is being redefined.
    That redefinition recognizes and restores the tradition of public space -- the "waste space" of bureaucrats and bean counters. The early, published proposal for Penn Station's new central concourse as an enormous space frame covering the area of the Post Office's huge, skylit mail-sorting court was more Buck Rogers than McKim, Mead and White; it has gone back to the drawing board.

    The future roof will rise as high as cautious preservation agencies permit, but height is essential here. The court's original skylight never soared, in any sense. The Post Office is more like a classical corset for new construction than a creative inspiration. (For that, one should see Rafael Moneo's stunning and sympathetic additions to the superbly restored railroad station in Madrid.)

    Meanwhile, at Grand Central a restoration and revitalization plan of exemplary quality by the architects Beyer, Blinder, Belle is forging ahead. New York's other great terminal has survived its own threats, including a traumatic proposal to build a gargantuan tower of aggressive vulgarity on top, the cruelest of jokes on its Beaux Arts splendor. This was fought up to the Supreme Court, winning a substantial victory for the city's landmark designation.

    Over the years, grime and neglect obscured the constellations of the 125-foot-high concourse ceiling, light ceased to filter through the immense arched windows and the bulbs of the mammoth chandeliers disappeared and dimmed.

    Government money, the return of rail travel and the upgrading of revenue-producing commercial space have contributed to the ongoing and outstanding restoration and improvement of the terminal's technical, structural and architectural elements by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro North Railroad.

    With the east balcony free of Kodak's full-color sabotage, a new stair is planned to match the existing stair to the Vanderbilt Avenue balcony on the west, for access to restaurants in the underused balconies and mezzanine. The addition is in the spirit and letter of Warren and Wetmore's brilliant 1903 to 1913 classical design. But only a faithful replica of the present stair will do.

    To sit at the one small restaurant on the west balcony is to long for more. Rising into those vast heights is the buzz of all the voices of travelers and transients mingling in the upper air. Shafts of sunlight pierce long shadows, spotlighting the moving figures on the floor. The soft, susurring sound transforms activity and motion into a shared experience; it contains the timeless promise of the city's, and the world's, pleasures and adventures. This is the essence of urbanity.

    Copyright 1994 The New York Times Company

    Reading this article reminds me that this redevelopment project has now languished for an amount of time longer than it took to build the original station. Planning was begun in 1902, tunneling in 1904, work on the station building in 1906, and the whole thing opened in the autumn of 1910.

  3. #48


    The only remaining original staircase is made of brass and wrought iron. All the others have been replaced by escalators.
    A small point, but anyone who uses the station regularly knows that there are plenty of the old staircases left. Sloppy work on the part of whoever wrote that caption.

  4. #49
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    Nov 2002
    New York City


    Karma is a bitch, also. A few years after the demolition of the old Penn Station, Penn Central Railroad went spectacularly bankrupt. A fitting end.

  5. #50
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    Nov 2003
    Bergan county NJ/Philadelphia


    The only remaining original staircase is made of brass and wrought iron. All the others have been replaced by escalators.
    I always thought that those railing were faux "historical" pieces put in when that concourse was renovated but I was wrong.
    Also, before they redid the floor you could see the original marble and glass block flooring through the 60's terrazo

  6. #51


    Originally posted by TLOZ Link5.

    New York Daily News -

    New Penn Sta. needs to get on faster track

    Thursday, March 11th, 2004

    And the first shall be last.

    No, that's not a quote from "The Passion." Or maybe it is. I don't speak Aramaic. But here, it's intended to be a description of what's happening on Manhattan's West Side.

    The late great Sen. Daniel Moynihan was the first public figure to point out that west midtown was not all it could be. Eleven years ago, he envisioned a grand new Penn Station on the site of the Farley Post Office. The idea turned the city's eyes westward to Eighth Ave. And beyond.

    Today, just two weeks and a day before the first anniversary of Moynihan's death, the words "West Side development" don't conjure thoughts of a splendiferous Penn Station, but rather a domed stadium for the Olympics and the Jets; a massive expansion of the Javits Convention Center; an extension of the No. 7 train to 11th Ave.; a blocks-long pedestrian mall, and a new business district. While these projects are all well-intended, they are now hogging the spotlight. And Moynihan's original, majestic vision has become as distant as a fading train whistle.

    The delay of Penn Station's revival compounds the act of what I call edificide that occurred 40 years ago, when the exquisite 1913 station was demolished to make way for an insipid Madison Square Garden. In the old Penn Station, architectural scholar Vincent Scully said, "one entered the city like a god." In its subterranean replacement, he said, "one scuttles in like a rat."

    Moynihan, who called America "the land of the second chance," knew there had to be a way to undo the crime. He realized that if a new Penn Station could be built in the stately stone post office crafted by Stanford White, designer of the original Penn Station, it would be the quintessential urban project - a locus of human interaction, a destination, a center of the great metropolis. "It represents everything that makes cities great," said one former Moynihan aide.

    Sadly, the vision has been derailed. The project should have been well into construction by now. Under the initial plan, the station would occupy about 40% of Farley and the post office would continue its operations in the remainder of the building.

    In 2001, suddenly all bets were off. The Postal Service declared, despicably, that it had changed its mind and no longer would vacate the space. So the feds and the state forked over $230 million to buy out the Postal Service entirely. But that meant doubling the size of the proposed station. Back to square one. The rosiest estimate now is for the $800 million project to be completed by 2010.

    The indignities don't end there. Amtrak, which will be the new station's prime tenant, is reluctant to tender the $50 million it had pledged. "They're using every trick in the book" to break that pledge, according to a senior state official. Ironic, because Amtrak is sure to make millions from extra ridership once the station opens.

    Meanwhile, the No. 7 train extension, which was originally planned to pass through Penn Station, now will bypass it, going across 42nd and down 11th Ave. to the new Olympic/Jets stadium. That is public planning folly.

    This is not the way to commemorate the memory of New York's greatest legislator of the last half century. Moynihan, after whom the new station will be named, used to rail against how long it took to get things done.

    "It's what my father used to call 'civic entropy,'" said Moynihan's daughter, Maura, who now heads a committee to make sure the station is built. But she remains resolute: "I'm going to fight like a dog until I get to ride a train out of Moynihan station. Count on it."

  7. #52


    I'll be overjoyed when this idiotic project dies. Spend that money on new rail tunnels, which are what Penn Station really needs. Build a grand station house over it when you really have the resolve and the resources to do it right, and in the correct location -- where MSG currently stands.

    And, for God's sake, please stop calling it Penn Station's "revival!"

  8. #53


    The sad thing is that very minimal amounts of money need to be spent to fix the capacity problems at Penn. All that needs to be done is for the unions to agree that NJ Transit and LIRR trains can run through Penn rather than have to turn around there.

  9. #54

    Default New Penn Station

    Can someone list a web page where I can view a video render of the “New Penn Station” designed by SOM?

  10. #55


    dbhstockton, the "idiotic project" will not die, as it is already 100% funded. The delays are related to redesign, since the entire building will now be added to Penn Station, rather than just half, as originally proposed.

    Regarding a second NJ tunnel, NJ Transit plans to break ground on the project in a few years. The agency is currently studying exact alignments and platform arrangements. The plan is to build an entirely new platform level and concourse underneath existing Penn Station platforms.

    The two projects have completely different funding streams. Spending money on one project does not impact the other, as the agencies are completely different. The Moynihan Station is a NY project, the new tunnel/concourse/platform project is primarily funded by NJ.

  11. #56
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    Jan 2003
    Garden City, LI


    Making a grand Penn Station, as it is now a rat-hole, is not idiotic. NYC is grand and it's transportation depots should be the same.

  12. #57
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    The Nation's Capitol (DC)

    Default here's their Web site

  13. #58


    Quote Originally Posted by billyblancoNYC
    Making a grand Penn Station, as it is now a rat-hole, is not idiotic. NYC is grand and it's transportation depots should be the same.
    I agree. In Europe, train travel is far more pleasant, and thus people use their cars much less. Anything we can do here to keep people from getting into their cars to come to Manhattan would be a plus. Great new train stations on the West Side and Downtown are two ways to do that.

  14. #59
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    New York City


    None of this would have to be discussed now if the old Penn Station had not been demolished. Screw Madison Square Garden, and for that matter WorldWide Plaza (built on the site of the second MSG). I would have gone without them.

  15. #60
    Banned Member
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    Dec 2002
    Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY


    The Foley Post Office Building is set to play a major role as a media site for the Republican Convention in Agust/September. I'd think any work on the new project would have to be scheduled for after that.

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