Edited by Gerald Boerner
For years, the main train station in New York City was the Grand Central Station. The Pennsylvania (Penn) Station was merely a satellite station. But both of these stations stood besides those stations along the east coast, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles as structures of great beauty. They were built in the Beaux Arts style with beautiful colonnades, vaulted ceilings, great arches, and marble floors. If it were not used as a transportation hub, one would think that it was a museum!
It is an interesting contrast with the European way of doing things. In Paris, for instance, an old train station was remodeled to become the Musée d’Orsay and is used to display parts of the world-class art collection of the Louvre. Preservation of historic structures are a cultural treasure and repurposed instead of replaced.
As so often happens in this country, the station’s above ground structures underwent demolition in 1963. It had served its city well since its opening in 1910. But it was not dead. After extension planning, a new complex that included the Penn Station, Madison Square Gardens, and a new set of office building towers was designed and built; the new station opened in 2002. This rebuilding was also an opportunity to build some inter-line infrastructure in the rail system itself. This resulted in the Penn Station becoming the Amtrak hub for New York City instead of Grand Central Station.
Again, looking at Europe, there are two ways to go about restoring a city. In Germany, after World War II, cities were given the option of replacing their bombed out building with historical replacements or rebuilding them using modern structures. We see the differences in these approaches where Frankfurt chose to modernize while Munich chose to restore their war-damaged structures. I wish we had the same wisdom as Munich sometimes since I see beautiful, historic buildings torn down when they are 40-50 years of age and new, “efficient” structures built in their place.
But it’s time now to explore the old and new Pennsylvania Station in New York City’s lower Manhattan and its function within the east coast’s transportation system… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4264 Words ]
Quotations Related to Train Stations:
“A train station is where the train stops. A bus station is where the bus stops. On my desk, I have a work station.”
“In the Soviet Union it was illegal to take a photograph of a train station. Look what happened to them. They tried to classify everything.”
— Tom Clancy
“When you are on a railway station platform waiting for the train that is due, and when you come to know that it arrives five hours late, how do you react? You fling abusive words at train.”
— Sri Sathya Sai Baba
“You know the actor John Garfield? In one movie he walked up to this train station, the ticket booth, and the guy says, ‘Yes, where are you going?’ And he says, ‘I want a ticket to nowhere.’ I thought: that’s it. The freedom to do that. I want a ticket to nowhere.”
— Wayne Shorter
“I lived at home and I cycled every morning to the railway station to travel by train to Johannesburg followed by a walk to the University, carrying sandwiches for my lunch and returning in the evening the same way.”
— Sydney Brenner
“So, you can set up an orchestra down this end of the railway station playing one particular area, and simultaneously at the other end something completely different going on. And in the middle they meet, or not, depending.”
— Robert Fripp
“Perhaps there is a sadist in me which delights in swimming against the gray onrush of commuters; of boarding an empty train in a teeming station-one of those coaches with the special fusty smell of aging upholstery.”
— Alan Franks
“How soon country people forget. When they fall in love with a city it is forever, and it is like forever. As though there never was a time when they didn’t love it. The minute they arrive at the train station or get off the ferry and glimpse the wide streets and the wasteful lamps lighting them, they know they are born for it. There, in a city, they are not so much new as themselves: their stronger, riskier selves.”
— Toni Morrison
Pennsylvania Station: The Railroad Hub in New York City…
Pennsylvania Station—commonly known as Penn Station—is the major intercity train station and a major commuter rail hub in New York City. It is one of the busiest rail stations in the world, and a hub for inbound and outbound railroad traffic in New York City. The New York City Subway system also has multiple services that connect to the station via two lines. The station is in the underground levels of Pennsylvania Plaza, an urban complex between Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue and between 31st Street and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan, and is owned by Amtrak. Serving 300,000 passengers a day (compared to 140,000 across town at Grand Central Terminal) at a rate of up to a thousand every 90 seconds. it is the busiest passenger transportation facility in the United States and by far the busiest train station in North America.
Penn Station is at the center of the Northeast Corridor, an electrified passenger rail line extending south to Washington, D.C., and north to Boston. Intercity trains are operated by Amtrak, while commuter rail services are operated by the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. The station is also served by six New York City Subway routes.
Penn Station saw 8.4 million Amtrak passenger arrivals and departures in 2010, about double the traffic at the next busiest station, Union Station in Washington, D.C.
A train station, also called a railway station (mainly British Commonwealth) or railroad station (mainly US), and often shortened to just station, is a railway facility where trains regularly stop to load or unload passengers or freight (goods). It generally consists of a platform next to the tracks and a station building (depot) providing related services such as ticket sales and waiting rooms. If a station is on a single track main line, it usually has a passing loop to facilitate the traffic. The smallest stations are referred as stops or mainly in the British Commonwealth, halts (flag stops). Connections may be available to intersecting rail lines or other transport modes such as buses or rapid transit (metro) systems.
Midtown Manhattan, or simply Midtown, is an area of Manhattan, New York City home to world-famous commercial zones such as Rockefeller Center, Broadway, and Times Square. Midtown Manhattan is home to the city’s tallest and most famous buildings such as the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building.
Old Penn Station New York City with aerial & skyline views of Manhattan…
Pennsylvania Station is named for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), its builder and original tenant, and shares its name with several stations in other cities. The current facility is the substantially remodeled underground remnant of a much grander structure designed by McKim, Mead, and White and completed in 1910. The original Pennsylvania Station was an outstanding masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and one of the architectural jewels of New York City. The station’s air rights were optioned in the 1950s. The option was executed soon after. The option called for the demolition of the head-house and train shed, to be replaced by an office complex and a new sports complex. The tracks of the station, which were well below street level, would remain untouched. Demolition began in October 1963. The Pennsylvania Plaza complex, including the fourth and current Madison Square Garden, was completed in 1968.
Planning and Construction
Until the early 20th century, PRR’s rail network terminated on the western side of the Hudson River (once known locally as the North River) at Exchange Place in Jersey City, New Jersey. Manhattan-bound passengers boarded ferries to cross the Hudson River for the final stretch of their journey. The rival New York Central Railroad’s line ran down Manhattan from the north under Park Avenue and terminated at Grand Central Terminal at 42nd St.
West Side Yard between Penn Station and the Hudson River
The Pennsylvania Railroad considered building a rail bridge across the Hudson, but the state required such a bridge to be a joint project with other New Jersey railroads, who were not interested. The alternative was to tunnel under the river, but steam locomotives probably could not use such a tunnel, and in any case the New York State Legislature had prohibited steam locomotives in Manhattan after 1 July 1908. The development of the electric locomotive at the turn of the 20th century, however, made feasible the construction of a tunnel. On December 12, 1901 PRR president Alexander Cassatt announced the railroad’s plan to enter New York City by tunneling under the Hudson and building a grand station on the West Side of Manhattan south of 34th Street.
Beginning in June 1903, the North River Tunnels, two single-track tunnels, were bored from the west under the Hudson River and four single-track tunnels were bored from the east under the East River. This second set of tunnels linked the new station to Queens and the Long Island Rail Road, which came under PRR control (see East River Tunnels), and Sunnyside Yard in Queens, where trains would be maintained and assembled. Electrification was initially 600 volts DC–third rail, later changed to 11,000 volts AC–overhead catenary, when electrification of PRR’s mainline was eventually extended to Washington, D. C. in the early 1930s.
The tunnel technology was so innovative that in 1907 the PRR shipped an actual 23-foot (7.0 m) diameter section of the new East River Tunnels to the Jamestown Exposition near Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the colony at Jamestown. The same tube, with an inscription indicating that it had been displayed at the Exposition, was later installed under water and remains in use today. Construction was completed on the Hudson River tunnels on October 9, 1906, and on the East River tunnels March 18, 1908. Meanwhile, ground was broken for Pennsylvania Station on May 1, 1904. By the time of its completion and the inauguration of regular through train service on Sunday, November 27, 1910, the total project cost to the Pennsylvania Railroad for the station and associated tunnels was $114 million (approximately $2.5 billion in 2007 dollars), according to an Interstate Commerce Commission report.
The railroad paid tribute to Cassatt, who did not live to see the completion of his great edifice:
Alexander Johnston Cassatt
President, Pennsylvania Railroad Company 1899–1906
Whose Foresight, Courage and Ability achieved the extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad into New York City
— Inscription on statue of Alexander Cassatt in Pennsylvania Station (1910)
Occupying two complete city blocks from Seventh Avenue to Eighth Avenue and from 31st to 33rd Streets, Pennsylvania Station when completed covered an area of 8 acres (3.2 ha) and was one of the first rail terminals to separate arriving from departing passengers on two different concourses.
Original Structure (1910–1963)
The original structure was made of pink granite and was marked by an imposing, sober colonnade of Doric columns. The colonnades embodied the sophisticated integration of multiple functions and circulation of people and goods. McKim, Mead and White’s Pennsylvania Station combined frank glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently proportioned concourse with a breathtaking monumental entrance to New York City. From the street, twin carriageways, modeled after Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, led to the two railroads that the building served, the Pennsylvania and the Long Island Rail Road. Its enormous main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, approximated the scale of St. Peter’s nave in Rome, expressed here in a steel framework clad in plaster that imitated the lower wall portions of travertine. It was the largest indoor space in New York City and, indeed, one of the largest public spaces in the world. Covering more than 7 acres (2.8 ha), it was, said the Baltimore Sun in April, 2007, “As grand a corporate statement in stone, glass and sculpture as one could imagine”. In her 2007 book, Conquering Gotham: a Gilded Age Epic – The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels, historian Jill Jonnes called the original edifice a “great Doric temple to transportation”.
During the more than half-century timespan of the original station under owner Pennsylvania Railroad (1910–1963), scores of intercity passenger trains arrived and departed daily, serving distant places such as Chicago and St. Louis on “Pennsy” rails, and beyond on connecting railroads to Miami, Florida, and the west. In addition to the Long Island Rail Road, other lines using Pennsylvania Station during that era were the New Haven and the Lehigh Valley Railroads. For a few years during World War I and the early 1920s, arch rival Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger trains to Washington, Chicago, and St. Louis also used Pennsylvania Station, initially by order of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA), until the Pennsylvania Railroad terminated the B&O’s access in 1926. The station saw its heaviest usage during World War II, but by the late-1950s intercity rail passenger volumes declined dramatically with the coming of the Jet Age and the Interstate Highway System.
The Pennsylvania Railroad began looking to divest itself of the cost of operation of the underused structure, optioning the air rights of Penn Station in the 1950s. Plans for the new Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden were announced in 1962. In exchange for the air-rights to Penn Station, the Pennsylvania Railroad would get a brand-new, air-conditioned, smaller station located completely below street level at no cost, and a 25% stake in the new Madison Square Garden Complex.
The demolition of the original structure — although considered by some to be justified as progressive at a time of declining rail passenger service — created international outrage. As dismantling of the grand old structure began, The New York Times editorially lamented:
"Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance."
Its destruction left a deep and lasting wound in the architectural consciousness of the city. A famous photograph of a smashed caryatid in the landfill of the New Jersey Meadowlands struck a guilty chord. Pennsylvania Station’s demolition is considered to have been the catalyst for the enactment of the city’s first architectural preservation statutes. The sculpture on the building, including the angel in the landfill, was created by Adolph Alexander Weinman. One of the sculpted clock surrounds, whose figures were modeled using model Audrey Munson, still survives as the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri. There is also a caryatid at the sculpture garden at the Brooklyn Museum, and 14 of the 22 original eagle ornaments still exist. Ottawa’s Union Station, built a year after Penn Station (in 1912), is another replica of the Baths of Caracalla. This train station’s departures hall now provides a good idea of what the interior of Penn Station looked like (at half the scale). Chicago’s Union Station is similar as well.
Demolition of Station Building…
Construction of Madison Square Garden
After a renovation covered some of the grand columns with plastic and blocked off the spacious central hallway with a new ticket office, Lewis Mumford wrote critically in The New Yorker in 1958 that “nothing further that could be done to the station could damage it”. History was to prove him wrong. Under the presidency of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Stuart T. Saunders (who later headed ill-fated Penn Central Transportation), demolition of the above-ground components of this structure (the platforms are below street level) began in October 1963. Although the demolition did not disrupt the essential day-to-day operations, it made way for present-day Madison Square Garden, along with two office towers. A 1968 advertisement depicted architect Charles Luckman’s model of the final plan for the Madison Square Garden Center complex, which would replace the original Pennsylvania Station.
Looking west from Ninth Ave. Counting from the left,
track #4 is the line that will turn northward along the east bank
of the river, tracks #6-11 converge on the tunnels under the river,
and #12-15 carry LIRR trains to West Side Yard.
A point made in the defense of the demolition of the old Penn Station at the time was that the cost of maintaining the old structure had become prohibitive. The question of whether it made sense to preserve a building, intended to be a cost-effective and functional piece of the city’s infrastructure, simply as a monument to the past was raised in defense of the plans to demolish it. As a New York Times editorial critical of the demolition noted at the time, a "civilization gets what it wants, is willing to pay for, and ultimately deserves.” Modern architects rushed to save the ornate building, although it was contrary to their own styles. They called the station a treasure and chanted "Don’t Amputate – Renovate" at rallies.
Only three eagles salvaged from the station are known to remain in New York City: two in front of the Penn Plaza / Madison Square Garden complex, and one at The Cooper Union, Weinman’s alma mater. Cooper’s eagle used to reside in the courtyard of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at 51 Astor Place, but was relocated in the summer of 2009, along with the engineering school, to a new academic building at 41 Cooper Square. This eagle is no longer viewable from the street, as it is located on the building’s green roof. Three are on Long Island: two at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point and one at the Long Island Rail Road station in Hicksville, New York. Four reside on the Market Street Bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, across from that city’s 30th Street Station. One is positioned near the end zone at the football field of Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville, Virginia. Yet another is located on the grounds of the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
The furor over the demolition of such a well-known landmark, and its replacement by what continues to be widely deplored as a mediocre slab, are often cited as catalysts for the architectural preservation movement in the United States. New laws were passed to restrict such demolition. Within the decade, Grand Central Terminal was protected under the city’s new landmarks preservation act, a protection upheld by the courts in 1978 after a challenge by Grand Central’s owner, Penn Central.
The outcry over the loss of Penn Station prompted activists to question the “development scheme” mentality cultivated by New York’s “master builder”, Robert Moses. Public protests and a rejection of his plan by the city government meant an end to Moses’s plans for a Lower Manhattan Expressway.
In the longer run, the sense that something irreplaceable had been lost contributed to the erosion of confidence in Modernism itself and its sweeping forms of urban renewal. Interest in historic preservation was strengthened. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, renowned Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” This feeling, shared by many New Yorkers, has led to movements for a new Penn Station that could somehow atone for the loss of an architectural treasure.
Recent History and Present Day
The current Penn Station, on the site of the old one and using the same platforms, is arranged into "Amtrak", "NJ Transit" and "LIRR" concourses. Each one is maintained and styled differently by its respective operator. The NJ Transit concourse near Seventh Avenue is the newest and opened in 2002 out of existing retail and Amtrak backoffice space. A new entrance to this concourse from West 31st Street opened in September 2009. Previously, NJ Transit passengers could use only the Amtrak concourse to reach their trains. The main LIRR concourse runs below West 33rd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. Significant renovations were made to this concourse over a three year period ending in 1994. The LIRR’s West End Concourse, west of Eighth Avenue, opened in 1986. Parts of the Amtrak concourse (in particular, the shopping areas) maintain the original 1960s styling and have not been renovated since the new Penn Station was built; however, there have been renovations to other parts (the waiting rooms).
Tracks 1–12 are used only by Amtrak and NJ Transit trains, and the Amtrak and NJ Transit concourses both have gates to these tracks on the south side of the station. The LIRR has the exclusive use of Tracks 17–21 on the north side of the station and shares Tracks 13–16 with Amtrak and NJ Transit. Except for the shared tracks, a passenger can not reach the LIRR tracks directly from the Amtrak and NJ Transit concourses. Since Amtrak and NJ Transit share tracks, passengers from a NJ Transit train can wind up in the Amtrak concourse, and vice versa.
As of April 3, 2011 the public timetables show 212 weekday LIRR departures, 164 weekday NJ Transit departures, 51 Amtrak departures west to New Jersey and beyond (plus the triweekly Cardinal), 13 Amtrak departures north up the Hudson, and 21 Amtrak departures eastward.
In the 1990s, the current Pennsylvania Station was renovated by Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and New Jersey Transit, to improve the appearance of the waiting and concession areas, sharpen the station information systems (audio and visual) and remove much of the grime. Recalling the erstwhile grandeur of the bygone Penn Station, an old four-sided clock from the original depot was installed at the 34th Street Long Island Rail Road entrance. The walkway from that entrance’s escalator also has a mural depicting elements of the old Penn Station’s architecture.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, passenger flow through the Penn Station Complex was curtailed. The taxiway under Madison Square Garden, which ran from 31st St north to 33rd St half way between 7th and 8th Avenues, was closed off with concrete Jersey barriers. A covered walkway from the taxiway was constructed to guide arriving passengers to a new taxi-stand on 31st Street.
Despite the improvements, Penn Station continues to be criticized as a low-ceilinged "catacomb" lacking charm, especially when compared to New York’s much larger and ornate Grand Central Terminal. The New York Times, in a November 2007, editorial supporting development of an enlarged railroad terminal, said that "Amtrak’s beleaguered customers…now scurry through underground rooms bereft of light or character".
Penn Station, New York…
Please take time to further explore more about Penn Station (New York), Grand Central Terminal, Commuter Rail, Train Station, Midtown Manhattan, and Amtrak by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below. In most cases, the text in the body of this post has been selectively excerpted from the articles; footnotes and hyperlinks have been removed for readability…
Other Events on this Day:
President Jefferson warns citizens of a conspiracy to make the western frontier a separate nation, a scheme that allegedly involves Aaron Burr.
Thomas Davenport, a Vermont blacksmith, invents the electric motor.
Alfred Nobel establishes Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. These prizes were first awarded in 1901.
New Yorks’s Penn Station opens as world’s largest train station.
Macy’s department store stages its first Christmas parade (later known as the Thanksgiving Day parade) in New York City, featuring hundreds of employees, floats, live animals, bands, balloons and Christmas-themed window displays. The Macy’s parade tradition is still going strong nearly 90 years later.
Restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia, begins.
French Adm. Jean de Laborde orders the scuttling of a fleet of French ships and submarines at the southern port of Toulon, in order to avoid the fleet’s capture by the German navy in World War II.
Conference of Teheran (Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin).
City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to hold prominent elected office, and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone are murdered at City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former member of the board of supervisors.
President George W. Bush spends Thanksgiving with the troops fighting in Iraq.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Penn Station (New York)…
Wikipedia: Grand Central Terminal…
Wikipedia: Commuter Rail…
Wikipedia: Train Station…
Wikipedia: Midtown Manhattan…
Brainy Quote: Train Station Quotes…
Brainy Quote: Train Station Quotes…
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Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Some of my Favorite Train Photos…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Channel Tunnel: Crossing UNDER the Channel…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: North Platte (NE) Canteen…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Transcontinental Railroad…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Southern Sunset Route: New Orleans to San Francisco…