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admin 20.10.2015

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? 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.
New Yorkers and architectural enthusiasts were outraged by the razing of Penn Station; however, selling the air rights to the seven-acre structure created a financial gain for the station, which was seeing too few rail passengers.
Now, instead of Doric columns, passengers are greeted by a never-ending line of yellow taxi cabs and a large billboard announcing upcoming events at the Garden. 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.
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. When you looked up, you could see the sublime Roman style architecture, the glass ceiling soaring 100 feet above your head.
The original building, built in 1910, was demolished in 1963 to make way for Penn Plaza and the fourth and current setting of Madison Square Garden.
The demolition of the original structure was one of the reasons for the city's first architectural preservation statutes.
The complex is owned by Amtrak, but also offers services by Metropolitan Transit Authority, New Jersey Transit, and a Continental Airlines ticket booth. 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. 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.
New York's Pennsylvania Station used to be one of the largest indoor public spaces in the world. As a tradeoff, Penn Station received a new (smaller) underground station and 25 percent stake in Madison Square Garden.
600,000 passengers use the station every day, making Penn Station the busiest train station in North America. 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?
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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