Michael Kimmelman’s recent piece, “How to Transform Penn Station: Move the Garden,” revives the idea of moving Madison Square Garden into Farley Post Office (supposedly Moynihan Station someday). The Timesman unpacks some excellent ideas but doesn’t mention the one that would finally atone for New York City’s gravest sin.
He does not mention rebuilding Pennsylvania Station, built in 1910 and demolished in 1963, as originally designed by McKim Mead & White. Apparently, the idea of extending Penn Station into the old Post Office building (also by MMW) originally also included moving the arena there. (The famous motto “Neither snow nor rain,” etc., is emblazoned above the colonnade.) Since relocating Madison Square Garden has bedeviled every plan thus far, the idea of moving the arena across the street into Farley is the linchpin of a Beautiful Idea masquerading as a Grand Compromise.
Architect Richard Cameron has proposed a realistic plan to rebuild Penn Station, which I’ve reported on extensively, including my post “Rebuild McKim’s Penn Station.” It should take center court in any new plan.
Kimmelman understands that extending Penn into Farley cannot square the circle, and realizes that the current plans for a Moynihan Station seem to grow increasingly tedious. One critic of the latest idea, announced this week by Governor Cuomo, is quoted by David Dunlop in his Times story “Penn Station’s 5th Redesign Fails to Charm Some Critics.” The critic shrugs: “From ‘Wow!’ to ‘Meh’ in five easy steps.” Except that I’d certainly challenge the initial “Wow.” All five designs have dashed ice water – in the form of modern architecture – on the excitement generated by the original proposal to merge Penn with Farley.
Little plans, as Daniel Burnham said, “have no magic to stir men’s blood.” So far no plan, however big, to correct the error erected atop the grave of the original Penn Station has striven to reach for grandeur. The only way to recast the idea in a manner that will stir the blood of New Yorkers – who keep getting slapped upside the head by development – is to restore the original Pennsylvania Station.
That Kimmelman makes no mention of the obvious solution to this Big Apple Rubik’s Cube may be laid to his leading role in the architectural establishment. But his article reveals that it can be done. Yet it can happen only if New Yorkers oust the tiny experts – including their governor – who claim to speak on their behalf.