Better Before? The Original Penn Station

581_Original_Penn_Station
This was Penn Station.

New York’s Grand Central Terminal. With its Paul Cesar Helleu-designed ceiling, chandeliers and famous clock telling people how fast to run in different directions to their trains, the station has a reputation for being one of the world’s most impressive stations. Do you know what is not known as one of the world’s most impressive stations? New York’s Penn Station, our city’s other major rail station. Today most of us think of Madison Square Garden (the area that sits directly above the train tracks) and emergency-only rest rooms when we think of Penn. But what most of us don’t know is that the original Penn Station was considered by many to be an architectural masterpiece. Was it really better before?

The Before

Designed by architects McKim, Mead and White, the original Penn Station (named after the Pennsylvania Railroad) shared that beautiful Beaux-Arts style in common with neighboring Grand Central, which was built about 30 years prior. Charles McKim, the station’s lead architect, was inspired by famous stations and structures in Paris and Rome. Construction took nine years, and doors opened in 1910. After about 50 years in operation, people traded in their train seats for car and jet seats, and the station was forced to downsize.

The Ugly In-Between

Talks of demolition turned into actual demolition, and The New York Times cried foul. Rallies ensued. The public reaction resulted in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (and Act). The station’s planned replacement was referred to early on as a “modern sports palace.”

The After

Whatever your thoughts about the fall of a beloved landmark or the aesthetic of the new building, the addition of Madison Square Garden (MSG) was no walk in the park. The builders had to embark on a never-before-attempted construction feat: to build above an active railroad station. While the tracks remained, and continue to serve their original purpose to this day, one of the most expensive sports arenas in history has also gone the distance. It was built in about half the time it took to build the Original Penn, and opened its doors 1968. Even if rumors of a redesign of Penn Station without Madison Square Garden bear fruit, MSG has stood the oldest pro hockey and second oldest pro basketball venue in the nation, as well as one of the most famous concert venues on the planet.

Image “Penn Station1” by Unknown – Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons 

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