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The Destruction of Penn Station: How New York Metropolis Misplaced Its Majestic Beaux-Arts Rail Terminal


Within the New York of outdated, “one entered town like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” When he wrote these phrases, architectural historian Vincent Scully issued what has ended up because the definitive judgment of Pennsylvania Station. Or somewhat, of the Pennsylvania Stations: the majestic authentic constructing from 1910, in addition to its utilitarian substitute that has stood in Midtown Manhattan since 1968. However then, the phrase “stood” doesn’t fairly apply to the latter, because it resides completely underground, under Madison Sq. Backyard. Through the years, New Yorkers have come an increasing number of overtly to resent the Penn Station they’ve and lament the Penn Station they misplaced, which architect Michael Wyetzner introduces to us in the Architectural Digest video above.

“A conjectural reconstruction of Imperial Rome’s Baths of Caracalla of 212–216 AD,” writes New York Assessment of Books structure critic Martin Filler, the unique Penn Station constituted “a harmonious synthesis of two divergent and supposedly irreconcilable architectural approaches, the Classical and the commercial.”

It was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which within the late nineteenth century was “the nation’s largest enterprise enterprise, with a funds second solely to that of the federal authorities,” writes the New Yorker‘s William Finnegan, and which at the moment had a formidable engineering drawback to unravel: “Its tracks ended, like these of each railroad approaching New York from the west, in New Jersey, on the banks of the Hudson River. In 1900, ninety million passengers have been obliged to switch to ferries to achieve Manhattan.”

To run the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tracks into the middle of New York Metropolis required digging a set of tunnels beneath the Hudson, the place, says one historian on PBS’ American Expertise documentary on the rise and fall of Penn Station, “no one thought tunnels may very well be constructed. It’s nearly as if they have been going to go to the moon.” The technological achievement was matched by the aesthetic: “Its essential ready room, paneled in Italian travertine, with fluted columns and coffered ceilings 100 and fifty ft excessive, was the world’s largest room,” Finnegan writes. “The prepare shed was equally grand, with arching metal girders, staggered mezzanines, and glass-block flooring that allow daylight by means of to the tracks. ” Like different main city rail terminals of its period, writes Tony Judt, Penn Station “spoke straight and intentionally to the business ambitions and civic self-image of the trendy metropolis.”

By the mid-twentieth-century, nevertheless, trains have been dealing with aggressive competitors from each the non-public automobile and the airplane, which displaced their stations from the middle of contemporary life. “Between 1955 and 1975,” Judt writes, “a mixture of antihistoricist trend and company self-interest noticed the destruction of a outstanding variety of terminal stations.” However prospects for rail of 1 variety or one other in America have seemed up in recent times, and “we’re not embarrassed by the rococo or neo-Gothic or Beaux-Arts excesses of the nice railway stations of the commercial age and may see such edifices as an alternative as their designers and contemporaries noticed them: because the cathedrals of their age.” Therefore, in New York, the preservation of Grand Central Station — in addition to the bitter and protracted battle (lined extensively in Finnegan’s New Yorker piece) over whether or not and flip the unloved Penn Station right into a cathedral of our age.

Associated content material:

An Immersive Architectural Tour of New York Metropolis’s Iconic Grand Central Terminal

An Architect Breaks Down the Design of New York Metropolis Subway Stations, from the Oldest to Latest

New York’s Misplaced Skyscraper: The Rise and Fall of the Singer Tower

A Subway Trip Via New York Metropolis: Watch Classic Footage from 1905

Well-known Architects Gown as Their Well-known New York Metropolis Buildings (1931)

Primarily based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His tasks embrace the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by means of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video collection The Metropolis in Cinema. Comply with him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Fb.

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