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Penn Station History

Historic Penn Station (1910-1964)

McKim, Mead and White's Pennsylvania Station combined frank glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently-proportioned concourse with a breath-taking monumental entrance to New York City. From the street, twin carriageways led to the two railroads that the building served, the Pennsylvania and the Long Island Rail Road. Its enormous main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, approximated the scale of St. Peter's nave in Rome, expressed here in a steel framework clad in travertine and was the largest indoor space in New York City and, indeed, one of the largest public spaces in the world. In her 2007 book, Conquering Gotham: a Gilded Age Epic – The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, historian Jill Jonnes called the original edifice a "great Doric temple to transportation".

The demolition of the original structure – although considered by some to be justified as progressive at a time of declining rail passenger service – created international outrage. The New York Times editorialized:

Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance.

Its destruction left a deep and lasting wound in the architectural consciousness of the city. A famous photograph of a smashed caryatid in the landfill of the New Jersey Meadowlands struck a guilty chord. Pennsylvania Station's demolition is considered to have been the catalyst for the enactment of the city's first architectural preservation statutes.

Penn Station interior steel
Penn Station exterior Penn Station interior stone


Current Penn Station (1968 - present)

LIRR brochure detail

The current Pennsylvania Station, which can be compared to a catacomb with some large rooms and several hallways, is criticized for its charmlessness, especially when compared to the much larger Grand Central Terminal. That image persists even after owner Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority performed renovation work in the 1990s (and New Jersey Transit work later on) to improve the look of the waiting/concession areas, sharpen the station information systems (audio and visual) and remove much of the grime.

LIRR brochure front

[Image: Detail from Long Island Railroad brochure describing the then coming Penn Station.]

1960s Brochure on Penn Station
Download brochure [PDF]

Madison Square Garden ad Architect's model of Madison Square Garden and Two Pennsylvania Plaza tower. Caption presents information on the firms involved with the initial building program. [Larger image.]

[Image: Advertising image scanned from a 1968 Progressive Architecture Magazine.] via Wikipedia.

recent reported developments regarding Madison Square Garden

didn't I read in the paper very recently that Mad. Sq.
Garden pulled out of the overall plan? That they would
stay where they are and renovate?
So, this email from you is not accurate and up to date?
My opinion is that is good. I cannot see a Sport Arena
operation combined with a First Class Train Station operation.
Let just get the Station done!