Column: “The Rise and Fall of Penn Station”

Eagles removed from Penn Station sitting on a flatbed truck, 1963. ("Rise and Fall of Penn Station")

Eagles removed from Penn Station sitting on a flatbed truck, 1963. (Courtesy of photographer Norman McGrath)

Before Pennsylvania Station opened in 1910, travelers headed for New York on the Pennsylvania Railroad, owned by the largest company in the world, had to debark in New Jersey and cross the Hudson River by ferry to Manhattan. It’s hard to imagine travelers brooking such inconvenience today. It’s just as hard nowadays to imagine the grandeur of the original Penn Station.

Inspired by the ancient Baths of Caracalla, in Rome, the project filled 28 acres (eight for the station itself) of the city’s Tenderloin: 500 buildings were purchased, one by one, in secrecy, to keep costs low before the depth of the pockets involved could become known. Designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, the station consumed 500,000 cubic feet of granite, 27,000 tons of steel, 83,000 square feet of glass window panes and 17 million bricks. Its main waiting room compared in size and in splendor to the nave of St. Peter’s. The entire station was intended to voice the grandeur of the city, the nation and the railroad.

“The Rise and Fall of Penn Station,” a PBS documentary by Boston’s WGBH, will run at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18. It was written, produced and directed by filmmaker Randall Mac-Lowery. The fascinating program focuses most of its attention on what arguably was the most dramatic aspect of the project: not the station but the tunnels, and especially the effort to dig them under the Hudson and East rivers.

To read the rest of this column, please visit The Providence Journal.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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