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So far the plan has received all cheers, but a historic opportunity requires a serious conversation. Late last month, the New York City Council told Madison Square Garden it has 10 years to find a new location.
Some brief background for the unfamiliar: the splendid original Penn Station was demolished in 1963 and replaced with the current stadium-station complex.
There's unanimous agreement that the current Penn Station, a drab underground tunnel trapped below the Garden, is a monstrosity unbecoming of a great city.
The 10-year clock for moving the Garden and planning a new Penn creates a historic opportunity for whoever becomes the next mayor of New York. But no one seems to be asking where all the people who currently move through the Garden will go.
To conclude: every New Yorker, if not every frequent Northeast Corridor traveler, wants a better Penn Station. Bernie Sanders’ purity challenge: Will he support blue-collar workers if it helps their bosses too?
The original Penn Station was a steel and glass shrine to transportation, an elegant Beaux-Arts temple with its 150 foot high ceilings and a waiting room modeled after the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Now it is an underground Habitrail™, lit by yellowed fluorescents and flavored by the odors of Roy Rogers™ and Cinnabon™ stinking down the corridors.
Life Magazine has posted an entire series by Eisenstaedt of WWII soldiers’ farewells at Penn Station here.
Peter Moore and his wife Barbara documented the death of Penn Station and published their work, The Destruction Of Penn Station. The only consolation is that Penn Station’s demolition was a large factor in the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965. Fifty years ago today, on October 28, 1963, destruction began on the original Pennsylvania Station in New York. Photographer Cervin Robinson captured the original station in a series of pictures taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey in the spring of 1962 (below). The current Penn Station is certainly an eyesore, especially compared with its classic predecessor, but its own destruction may occur in the not-so-distant future.
Because it was dismantled over 50 years ago, many people are familiar with the grandeur of the original Penn Station only through photographs. The station was opened to the public on September 8, 1910 and the cost of the exterior alone was over $100 million. Seen from the exterior, the beautiful McKim Mead and White masterpiece represented a merging of modernity and classic architecture.


The Pennsylvania Railroad knew the land the building was sitting on was worth more than the station itself. Without regard that a great civic wrong was being done, Penn Station was demolished between 1963 and 1966. More than two generations of New Yorkers have lamented the loss and contemplated replacements to bring about a new edifice and station worthy of the name. The news was a clear sign that the city intends to advance ideas for building a new Penn Station, which exists on the same site.
If billions are spent merely giving Penn a facelift, it's reasonable to wonder how much money and motivation will be left for the crucial work of actually improving regional mobility.
A broad plan for a renovated Penn Station district, released this summer by the Municipal Arts Society, estimated that 10.4 million square feet of new office space in the area would "be readily absorbed" within 30 years. The Garden does smother Penn Station right now, but that situation also means there's a direct, underground connection between the two venues. He writes about transportation, behavior, and history, and has a general interest in the science of city life. Excepting the mad scurry for Amtrak platforms after the track number has finally been revealed on the big board, it is an oppressive space completely without joy. The iconic Beaux Arts structure, designed by McKim, Mead, and White, opened in 1910 with a distinct air of grandeur: an exterior surrounded by 84 Doric columns, a concourse with a 150-foot vaulted ceiling, and a train shed of "unparalleled monumentality," in the words of historian Carroll Meeks.
That project, detailed by the New York Times in July 1961 [PDF], made room for the arena by flattening the existing Penn Station and building an underground one instead.
Robinson laments the station's demise but notes that at least some good came out of the situation.
City officials recently gave Madison Square Garden ten years to find another location, clearing the way for a brand new Penn in its place.
But according to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the owners of Penn Station, by the mid 1950’s, it was also grimy, outdated, in need of costly repairs and difficult to keep clean. It was replaced by a banal, claustrophobic, ugly underground maze also called Penn Station which bears no resemblance to the original, to cattle chute passengers to their trains. The Farley Post Office (also by McKim Mead and White) between 8th and 9th Avenues directly across the street from the current Penn Station is often discussed as hosting a remodeled station, but nothing has been done to bring those plans to fruition. In the end, the most iconic arena in the Northeast went up against the most congested travel hub in North America, and lost. But opponents of that plan convinced the council to reconsider — most notably, Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, who called the present Penn Station a "calamity," and the Municipal Arts Society, which solicited lovely renderings of a new one.
Indeed, so far the news of a potential new Penn Station has been received with loud cheers and little criticism.


Every day, several hundred thousand people move through Penn Station to ride Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and six New York City subway lines. The Garden has moved several times in its history, and if it has to move once more, it will certainly thrive in its new home, too. With 320 events a year at the Garden, which holds about 20,000 per event, that's 6 million more people who would flood already crowded midtown streets if the arena moved. In a Times editorial published just after the demolition 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" [PDF].
The city's historical preservation movement gained considerable momentum in the aftermath of the old Penn Station's demolition. Still, there are many questions to be answered before that day arrives, and Robinson for one doubts anything can match the glory of the original.
These conditions existed mostly because the Pennsylvania Railroad let the station fall into that state. The construction of Moynihan Station across the street from Penn will create a new home for Amtrak travelers, but that project has financial obstacles of its own, and Amtrak accounts for a rather small percentage of Penn traffic. Such expectations may need to be tempered, especially since nearby areas of Hudson Yards and Midtown East will also be creating vast amounts of office space during the same time period. But for the billions it will cost to remodel Penn Station and move Madison Square Garden, the city could pay for a number of key transportation projects with greater potential to enhance mobility.
Kimmelman and others have suggested giving the Garden a new waterfront space just south of the Javits Center, a few avenues west of its current location atop Penn Station. What additional transport projects will be required to accommodate this new foot traffic — over and above the costs of a new Penn Station itself? And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed. What's less clear is how much of that increase was tied to improved accessibility, which requires transportation improvements in addition to a new physical station, and brings us back to question number one. These include a long-awaited tunnel across the Hudson, future phases of the longer-awaited Second Avenue Subway, or the "X line" subway route through the outer boroughs (where more and more commuters are heading anyway). That would give the Garden an attractive space near Hudson Yards, the High Line, and the emerging 7-train extension.



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