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admin 26.10.2015

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. Widows and parents want to preserve dead men’s sperm–but what are the rights of the deceased? Also recommended is Kristen Doyle Highland’s piece on the subject in the Lost New York volume that Bryan and I edited last year. The Coney Island blog Amusing the Zillion alerts readers to a November 6 rally to save Ruby’s and the other establishments facing eviction.
My own talk (it wasn’t a musical performance) was based on the idea that the acoustic properties of the clubs, theaters and concert halls where our music might get performed determines to a large extent the kind of music we write.
Author David Freeland visited our Faculty Resource Seminar today and offered us a glimpse of the city as it appears to him: as a palimpsest with layers of meaning waiting to be rediscovered if one knows where to look and what to look for.
Bryan and I began our third seminar for NYU’s Faculty Resource Network, which sponsors a variety of week-long programs each summer for faculty from affiliated colleges around the country. In the end, we decided to cut back on the reading we planned for the course, making it less literary and more interdisciplinary.
Our group includes literary scholars, librarians, architects, historians, and a scholar of immigration and public health. The afternoon presented a case study in the loss and recovery of a figure from New York’s downtown scene, the avant-garde cellist and pop musician Arthur Russell.
Tomorrow we’ll be talking with Freeland and joining him in the afternoon for a walking tour of Harlem. In my last post, I mentioned that older son loves to read series of books — the longer the better. The books are very formulaic, as Morgan sends them on various missions that last about 10 chapters. Blizzard of a Blue Moon is one of these Merlin missions, and my son is enjoying hearing about places he knows: like Central Park and the IRT subway, which costs a nickel in 1938. By the way, Jack and Annie’s mission in 1938 New York involves rescuing a unicorn that has been enchanted.
To all who were planning to attend tomorrow night, I’ve just received word that Dixon Place has decided to cancel this and all other events tomorrow because of the snowstorm that (if predictions are accurate) will be blanketing the entire New York region with lots of fluffy white stuff.  Fortunately, we will be rescheduling, so as soon as we determine a new date I will let you know! The panel takes place at the Dixon Place Theater (161 Chyristie Street, between Delancey and Rivington). Though Penn Station is a drab, low-ceilinged rat maze of a station, it used to be the opposite. It was vast, light-filled, and gorgeous. The old Penn Station was the brainchild of Alexander Cassatt, head of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Everyone, that is, except for one other railroad family that owned another station across town. The Vanderbilt family owned Grand Central Station, which was not anywhere near as “grand” as it is now. Penn Station was only 40 years old at this point, but already its days were already numbered.
Pennsylvania Railroad executives knew that they could profit if they could rent out the space above the station to a big, tall building. There were proposals to build parking garages, amphitheaters, and  a 40-story office tower. A deal was struck: Pennsylvania Railroad would keep the train tracks in place, and sell the air rights above them. A year later, on October 28, 1963, jackhammers tore into Penn Station’s granite slabs. The demolition took about three years.
After the destruction of Penn Station, Mayor Robert Wagner created the first Landmarks Preservation Commission.
And in 1968, Penn Station’s old rival, Grand Central Terminal was slated to join this list. Justice William Brennen wrote of Grand Central’s architecture: “Such examples are not so plentiful in New York City that we can afford to lose any of the few we have.
Correction: The official name of the current Grand Central structure is Grand Central Terminal, not Grand Central Station. It’s annoying to hear Grand Central Terminal, repeatedly and incorrectly referred to in the episode as Grand Central Station. As a tourist arriving from the UK via Newark, entering Manhattan for the first time by train through Penn Station is actually quite amazing as NYC is hidden from view until you emerge into a full size film set, eyes wide open like a child falling out the back of a dark Narnian Wardrobe, its amazing!
Right now Moynihan Station could be a showcase of how we advance a major transportation hub in NYC.


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.
In the long term, hardly any resident of, or regular visitor to New York avoids Penn Station.
Penn Station’s culinary shortcomings are, of course, products of more than just sub-par cuisine and insectoid infestation—problems, likely unsolvable, of light, air and architecture, to name just three. Strangely, as Manhattan gets steeped more and more in products and places luxurious, curated and sterilized, it is the evaporation of such environs—albeit mostly with more historical and cultural cache—that many lament.
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.
We semi unconsciously create music that will be appropriate to the places in which it will most likely be heard. During our morning session, we used NYU’s Founders Hall and the old Penn Station to open a discussion of the dynamics of creation and destruction, nostalgia and counter-nostalgia, and the politics of preservation.
Before he read the Percy Jackson series, he read all of Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books. The description of the tree house embarking on its journey is always the same, and my son can now recite it by heart.
Reading the book made me remember those old cross-shaped wooden turnstiles that were still installed in a few subway stations when I was growing up. For Cassatt, Penn Station would fix a problem that had plagued New York for years — getting between Manhattan from New Jersey. Not wanting to be outdone by the beauty and grandiosity of Penn Station, the Vanderbilts tore down their Grand Central and built a newer, shiner, Beaux Arts-style Grand Central Terminal. But the one that won out was the futuristic sports and entertainment palace — Madison Square Garden.
By 1966, most of Penn Station’s remains — the Doric columns, the granite and travertine details — had been dumped in a New Jersey swamp. In 1965, the group helped pass the city’s first ever Landmarks laws so that something as drastic as the destruction of Penn Station, never happened again. Most problematically, they didn’t meet very often — they gathered only six months per three-year period. You should see some of our ageing stations in the UK …then you will know what depressing is! I am a biking tour guide of Central park and a student of architecture history (so a dream job, on a bike).
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. There it squats, obdurately begrimed in the lee of Madison Square Garden, a fetid nexus for passengers making Manhattan transfers, as well as those bound for more far flung locales. 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.
Put that way it sounds obvious … but most people are surprised that creativity might be steered and molded by such mundane forces. Readings and discussions will address the relationships between the literary imagination and the archives, between migrations and displacements, between loss and remembrance, and between preservation and development in the long and storied history of one of the world’s greatest cities. Their first four adventures take them to the time of the dinosaurs, to the middle ages, and to ancient Egypt.
650,000 people suffer through Penn Station on a their daily commute — more traffic than all of three the New York area’s major airport hubs combined. At the time, passengers could only get across the Hudson River via ferry. Cassatt built the first ever train tunnel to run underneath the Hudson River, which was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.
The case went to the Supreme Court, and on June 26, 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New York City’s Landmark Law. I share the tragic story of Penn Station every time we stop at the Onassis Reservoir, renamed in her honor as another great victory in Manhattan for the landmarks commission (she helped saved the reservoir right around the same time as Grand Central) However, ever since about a year and a half ago. 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. Without, even, a few reliable stores of lousiness—reminders that life is not always, relentlessly, oppressively but a proverbial dream?
They learn that the tree house belongs to Morgan le Fay, who is portrayed as the magical librarian of King Arthur’s Camelot. But in book 29 Christmas in Camelot, Osborne varies her formula: it is Merlin who sends Jack and Annie on their missions, four of them to mythical places like Camelot, and four to real-life places like Paris at the time of the Exposition Universelle (for which the Eiffel Tower was built). Lundy’s, way out in Sheepshead Bay, has closed and reopened more than once, and now appears to be closed again. And, c’mon, can’t we find anyone less predictable than Roberta Brandes Gratz on this subject? 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? Even Amtrak’s Acela riders find nothing to show at Penn Station for their exorbitant fares but a grim, half-scrubbed corral reserved for their waiting.
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.
And as Times transit reporter Matt Flegenheimer observed yesterday, in a delightful little feature, the dining options at the subterranean depot are very of much of a piece.
Consequently, he takes most of his meals at Sloppy Louie Morino’s, a busy-bee on South Street frequented almost entirely by wholesale fishmongers from Fulton Market, which is across the street.
Flood is ready for lunch, he goes to the stall of one of the big wholesalers, a friend of his, and browses among the bins for half an hour or so. Finally he picks out a fish, or an eel, or a crab, or the wing of a skate, or whatever looks best that day, buys it, carries it unwrapped to Louie’s, and tells the chef precisely how he wants it cooked.




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