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The Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City has some incredible pictures posted on their Flickr page showing the abandoned transportation system hours before Hurricane Sandy hits the area.
Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? There is not an endeavor, ambition or activity in the built world that cannot be enhanced by a warm, embracing ambience. There are abundant examples in every category of modern life, but observe just one (itself, perhaps, the least obvious) - transportation. Designed by Charles Luckman in 1968, the current Penn Station famously arose from the wreckage of the greatest train shed in America and, arguably, the world. Early in the 20th century, the railroad provided the principle means of overland travel, the terrestrial complement to the golden age of ocean liners. And, just as commercial airline travel would supplant ocean liners by mid-century, so too would the airways combine with automobiles and buses to render the railroad an antiquated means of long-distance transportation. By the 1960s, Penn Station had become a cathedral to a dead religion, its soaring, cavernous space an empty expanse of un-capitalized real estate. No longer the pink marble-columned gateway between the great Metropolis and the scale-less continent beyond, overseen by giant eagles of Vinalhaven granite sparkling in sunshine - Penn Station now moves only people, not their hearts and minds. What then can we learn from its surviving neighbor and contemporary just across town, now entering its centennial year and itself the survivor of 2 considerable demolition threats in the 1950's and 60's? Completed between 1903 and 1913 in a collaboration between Warren and Wetmore and the lesser-known Reed and Stern, Grand Central may lack some of the spatial complexity of the early Penn Station, but celebrates in elegant Beaux Arts formality the transformative possibilities of journey by rail.
And yet, for all its monumental vastness, its finery and craftsmanship and sheer luxuriant gorgeousness - all of it welcome and beguiling - a single element above all gives the totality of Grand Central its legible grace. At the very center of this elegiac spaciousness is an information kiosk that would fit within even the most modest studio apartment; a simple, graceful little rotunda of marble and glass supporting a four-faced brass and opal clock. It is a familiar face in a surging crowd, an eye-level exchange beneath a heavenly vault, and its presence asserts, so very gently, that the travelers who throng through this hall in their millions are really just so many individuals passing through time and space. Grand Central Station, which still exists and is still beautiful, and Pennsylvania Station, which still exists and is, well, no longer beautiful. The reason Pennsylvania Station is no longer beautiful is that the original Pennsylvania Station was torn down in 1963.
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.
I was surprised to hear in the podcast Grand Central referred to as Grand Central Station (which is the subway station), especially from a supposed lover of Grand Central Terminal. The episode also didn’t do much in terms of analysis or the inevitable ambiguity with this story. The demolition of the original Penn Station was a tragic loss for New York City architecture.
For anyone who has ever been to New York or even seen movies of the bustling metropolis, the pictures are slightly creepy and even reminiscent of the abandoned Chinese ghost cities. If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future?
Ironically, both Pennsylvania Station and Henry Ford's Highland Park Model-T factory were completed within a year of one another - one, the world's single greatest expression of the pre-eminance of train travel and the other the author of its demise. And so, the wrecking crews were summoned and one of America 's most iconic building gave way to the benumbing banality of Penn Plaza and a relocated Madison Square Garden. The sheer contrast between the enormity of the main concourse and this humble little structure lends a human scale to the million cubic feet of space and light and, in so doing, renders the room intimate, personal. That picture, which is from 1929, is below, along with one of Grand Central (?) with the same sun-beam effect. 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). I agree, Penn Station today is unbearable however it’s painting with some massive brushstrokes on Grand Central terminal. Some of the loft buildings offer cool former manufacturing space with brick walls, high ceilings and over sized windows.
Metro-North Railroad took the opportunity to scrub the floors of the lower level dining concourse. Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters.
Grand Central, New York City's two primary train stations separated by roughly 16 city blocks and 6 decades, the answer is as simple as it is elusive. The basic functions of the station remained, of course, but had been relegated to a basement, as far removed from daylight and the romance of travel as is possible to imagine - a low-ceilinged, fluorescence-muted rat race of fast food vendors, plastic tourist memorabilia and anonymous travelers. 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.
The previous systemwide suspension of service took place in August 2011 for Tropical Storm Irene. And, c’mon, can’t we find anyone less predictable than Roberta Brandes Gratz on this subject? Many factors led to the decision to get rid of the station and replace it with the current structure.

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