Authorities in the Big Apple, including, it now seems, the state’s new governor, Kathy Hochul, have bought into a vision of Manhattan’s future that privileges the greedy moguls of high finance and their camp followers in high office. So what else is new? You’d think that as a woman the new governor would want to flee her predecessor’s priapic project as fast as her legs can carry her. But no.
What is new is that instead of ruining the city building by building, as has been the way for decades, the entire area around Pennsylvania Station, nine square blocks, is to be torn down and rebuilt with skyscrapers from horizon to horizon. The old district – 13 landmark and landmark-eligible buildings, and at least 50 in all – will be replaced by glitzy towers and transformed into a sterile wasteland of wind corridors and dark shadows alternating with the sun’s glare reflected in hundreds of acres of glass. Meanwhile, workers, residents and visitors will enjoy endless construction sites, street closures, detours, and traffic snarls around the busiest transportation depot in the western hemisphere.
In a letter to Association for a Better New York chairman Steven Rubenstein urging him to hear an alternative plan by ReThinkNYC, its chairman Samuel Turvey wrote:
The Governor’s plan does not differ markedly from her predecessor’s. Much of the neighborhood would still be needlessly demolished, “supertall” buildings loathed by everyone except, it seems, governors of New York, will still add unsustainable density to the vicinity, blot out the sun and obscure the skyline, and, when the dust settles, Penn Station will still be trapped in the basement of a hockey rink.
This is more than a matter of whether to rebuild Penn Station to the original 1910 design of McKim Mead & White. Hochul’s plan for the neighborhood would blot out that opportunity altogether, substituting a half-assed remodel amid its plan to redevelop the area. High on the list of legacy architecture set for demolition would be the venerable Hotel Pennsylvania, also designed by McKim Mead & White and right across Seventh Avenue from Penn Station. The plan, formerly the Empire Station Complex and now called the Pennsylvania Station Civic and Land Use Improvement Project, was recently opposed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which described it as “hauntingly reminiscent of the failed ‘urban renewal’ strategies of the 1960s.”
Penn Station today is not on anyone’s list of landmarked buildings, nor should it be, but press accounts have suggested that unidentified preservationists want to landmark both Madison Square Garden, which squats atop Penn Station, and Two Penn Plaza, the 29-story tower also built on top of the station. That is a ridiculous idea. Landmarking those two structures would spell doomsday for rebuilding Penn Station. Turvey stresses that ReThinkNYC and the Empire State Coalition, the alliance of which it is a part, oppose any such steps. He adds:
We are not sure who is behind using preservation laws to protect Madison Square Garden and 2 Penn Plaza but it may well be a very cynical ploy by someone to detract from the fact that the State of New York, [real-estate mogul] Vornado and the Dolans [owners of the arena] would like to see the Penn neighborhood obliterated to make way for a Maginot Line of supertalls, an underground Penn Station and a dated track plan. That becomes a reality only after destroying numerous historic sites, displacing residents and hundreds of small businesses.
Cynical ploys may be the mother’s milk of New York politics. It’s surely not for nothing that historian Vincent Scully wrote after Penn Station’s demise: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” Do we want to set the current Penn Station in cement? Do we want urban renewal in NYC? I don’t think so. Sam Turvey well encapsulates the situation:
To paraphrase Jane Jacobs, we could not save the original Penn Station but we can save New York. We can dothis, in part, by having the courage to rebuild an architectural masterpiece that should never have been destroyed andby letting logic, need and geography rather than political infighting and man-made jurisdictional limits define ourfuture transit operations. If we get this right, we will not only save New York but will unlock the region’s true potentialin ways that will burnish the legacies of all who fought to make this happen for generations to come.
A continuation of the public hearing held by the New York State Development Corporation in December on much of the above, which has been described as 90 percent in opposition to the Empire Station Complex, begins at 5 p.m. today at the link below: