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Pennsylvania Station, New York

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Home Stony Creek Granite Sites Public Buildings Pennsylvania Station, New York

Pennsylvania Station, New York

Pennsylvania Station, New York



"We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed."

Google Placemark : http://blackboard.quinnipiac.edu/@@9907937BED1E6414CE893F7246971C68/courses/1/QU20107_11FA/db/_1517267_1/embedded/Pennsylvania%20Station.kmz

The original Pennsylvania Station was built in 1910 in midtown Manhattan, on West 34th Street and Eighth Ave and was under the ownership of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The building required the funding of one-hundred million dollars, which was a huge sum of money during the 1900’s.The original architects of this incredible building were Charles McKim (1847- 1909), William Rutherford Mead (1846-1928), and Stanford White (1853-1906), who first stated working together in 1879. They were quickly recognized for being one of the most admired and respected partnerships in the United States. Not only did these men design buildings such as the Penn Station, but also many commercial, residential, and institutional buildings as well. In fact, the three men designed the grand General Post office that stand just across the street from the Pennsylvania Station, which would later come in handy, since it was reconstructed to work as a railroad after the original was demolished

            These men commonly used a Beaux-Arts style as they designed their buildings. This style aided in the creation of many grand classical structures from the 1880's until the First World War which were modeled after the monuments of ancient Rome. Typically each of these buildings would be characterized with projecting facades or pavilions, massive columns often grouped, definite cornices commonly enriched with free-standing statuary projections above the cornice, enhanced moldings, tall walls, banisters, or attic stories windows enframed by free-standing columns, and pediment entablatures on top. The buildings were always associated with neat and orderly plans outlining the stylistic construction. Beaux-Arts usually favored light colored rich materials such as stone or brick, particularly limestone, granite (stony creek or pink), and marble which would lighten the city from its dark demeanor. The Pennsylvania Station used many if not all of these techniques in its architecture along with structural steel beams creating the huge waiting room, combined frank glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently-proportioned concourse. Between the demolition of over five-hundred buildings, fifteen million bricks, twenty-seven thousand tons of steel, five-hundred and fifty thousand cubic feet of Milford pink granite, the station towered over one hundred-fifty feet high. There were a multitude of eagle statues which were 5,700 pounds each and lined the grand entrances along with many different young women statues. One of the only remaining original structures of the building is the staircase which is made of brass and wrought iron. All the others have been replaced by escalator. The station had a façade for the taxis which was lined with 84 stony creek granite columns and those who traveled on foot would enter through a stylish shopping area. Both of these entrance areas merged together into one giant waiting room, even though it did not contain any benches and was never a room for waiting to be done. The room was a block and a half long and had a gracefully arching high overhead roof which at points was fifteen stories high. This steel and glass roof was able to bring daylight all the way down to the platforms 45 feet deep below street level. Enabled by the light granite interior, it was one of the largest indoor spaces in New York City and one of the largest public spaces in the world. Those who entered this building would have encountered such an appealing effect even as they hurried along with their normal lives. This structure was built with the intention of being the largest railroad station in the world and was finally completed on November 27th, 1910.


            The Pennsylvania Station became a commonly used way of transportation traveling far distances and being available daily.  It transported passengers places like Chicago, St. Louis, Florida, Boston and many more. It also served as great transportation for commuters from Long Island, New Jersey, and a common subway riding system within New York City. The Station underwent its heaviest usage during World War II, but saw a decline around the 1950’s when the interstate system and air transportation were becoming alternitive means of transportantion.

            Looking to rid itself of a large cost of operation in the 1950’s, the now less popular Pennsylvania Station, which covered four valuable blocks of land in Manhattan, decided to open their land rights to whoever was interested. With the way the highway systems were being built as well as cars were being bought and used, there was no doubt that the station would continually find itself being used less and less. Madison Square Garden on the other hand was flourishing and decided it was time to consider a more modern building capable of holding bigger crowds. This would allow for a larger multitude of people and therefore increase the complexes income. In 1962 the Pennsylvania Railroad decided to give up the Pennsylvania Station rights in exchange for a new air-conditioned station below street level at no cost. The new station would be smaller, but the Pennsylvania railroad would get 25% stake in the new $116 million Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden Complexes being built. This new complex would be the fourth restoration on the Madison Square Garden and would house two sport arenas along with an entertainment complex .It was said that the new gain in revenue from these sports areas would bring so much profit as to outweigh the architectural value of the Pennsylvania Station. This change wouldturn these four blocks of distressed realestate land, into a heavily populous area full of benefits. Therefore, it was decided that the historical and incredible building known as the Pennsylvania Station would now be taken down as a matter of a business deal.


When the Pennsylvania station was demolished on October 28, 1963, it came as a shock to the public and seemed to be a step toward other means of transportation. Some agreed that the demolition was just and that with such a decline in railroad systems there was no need for such a massive station. On October 30, 1963 the New York Times editorial, “Farewell to Penn Station” is quoted saying,"Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed." It is noted that some realize the insufficient funding and upkeep of the station and that it is up to the city to maintain its monumental buildings or else they will be destroyed. Irving M. Felt, Madison Square Garden Corporation president, also commented by saying that “Fifty years from now, when it’s time for [the new Madison Square Garden] to be torn down, there will be a new group of architects who will protest.” Felt realized that not everyone may have agreed with the plans, but to him and many others, when it comes to progress toward the future (and future profability) changes have to be made. Others, however, were livid about these plans and felt that the destruction of such a monumental and beautiful building should not be allowed. The city was being stripped of one of the finest buildings in order for a commercial building to be built and more money to be made. Various art and architecture institutions even took steps in effort to try and have the museum preserved. Around 300 people were recognized for marching, writing letters, signed newspaper ads, or spoke at hearing in protest. Unfortunately for them, all of the attempts made to save the station were quickly dismissed. Much of the debris was dumped in the New Jersey Meadowlands, where sculptures and left over fragments of the lovely station were left to deteriorate. The destruction of the original building created architectural uproar throughout the city and fortunately some of the statues and ornaments were able to be saved and put on display. Such as the statue called night, which used to guard the entrance to the original Penn Station, which now sits on display at the Brooklyn museum. All eight of the egal statues can also be accounted for, in the link below. Many of the Statues were sculpted by the famous Adolph Alexander Weinman, who commonly used Audrey Munson as his model. 



 After the destruction of the Pennsylvania Station, five architects joined together and decided to take all steps needed throughout the future in order to preserve New York City’s heritage. The assembly was named the Action Group for better Architecture in New York (AGBANY), which captured a great amount of publicity and also drew more attention the public about the destruction. The group’s chairman was Norval White and their headquarters were located in White’s apartment. Today more than 1,100 buildings are under guard of this group and other groups looking to keep the historic buildings safe. Because of this group and from this point on these sacred buildings, which give today’s people a sense of awe and wonder will be around and able to provide future generations with those very same experince. A listing of such preserved buildings can be found through the link below.


            Today’s Penn Station does not compare to what once stood at the corner of west 34th street and 8th avenue. However, one could get an idea as to what the architecture may have looked with regards to the Ottawa’s Union station built just a year after in 1912 as well as the Chicago Union Station. Although these stations would only be about half the size as the original Pennsylvania Station, they would present a good example ofthe architectural techniques used.  The once monumental station will now forever be replaced by the strictly profitable Madison Square Garden. The Penn Station has managed to make intended finacial rebound as a hub of transportation, and today about 500 million more people are using its convenience annually, with continued growth expectation.  By the 1990’s the Station had more than reached its capacity and as a possible solution Senator Daniel Patrick pulled together the political requirements and funding required in order to turn the Farley Post Office Building across the street into a recreated Penn Station. The Farley Post Office Building was also designed by McKim, Mead, and White and was very similar in structure and design, so between the location and architecture it was a perfect means of bringing back a glimpse of what the original Penn Station was like. This had also been one of the first buildings protected by the AGBANY after the demolition.  The budget for this project varies by source but an average $300- $484 million will be dedicated to the new Farley Amtrak concourse. One-third of the funding would be Federal, one-third would be city and state and one-third would be supplied by Amtrak. Not only is this new creation about lost historical needs, but also abount the future demand. The Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corporation, is an agency hoping to locate as many fragments from the original structure and bring them back to Manhattan as decorative pieces in the new Farley Post Office Building. Alexander E. Washburn, the president of this group, and his project associate Marijke Smit have been tracking these pieces in places like New York, New Jersey, and even in Kansas City. These additions to the new concourse will allow passengers a beautiful arrival into the city, but sadly will never compare to that of the original Pennsylvania Station. It is amazing how a quick change in development cause so many drastic changes over a short period of time.


picture 2- http://www.moynihanstation.org/newsite/2006/07/a_narrative_history_of_penn_st.html





Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:19  


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