The Gothamist yesterday ran a long article by Jake Offenhartz, “A Dramatic Plan to Rebuild Penn Station & Restore its Lost Grandeur,” that explains the several initiatives involved in the proposal to rebuild Penn Station in its original Beaux Arts style.
The first would be to bring the idea to the attention of the political, bureaucratic, design and corporate elites who control the station’s future (if anyone does). The second would be to incorporate rebuilding the McKim, Mead & White masterpiece (opened in 1910 and demolished in 1963) into evolving plans to upgrade Penn’s transportation system, which is literally falling apart. A vital and creative proposal to solve cascading problems with the rails and platforms would involve turning Penn from the terminus of the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey commuter rail into a through station. A third would be to flesh out the MM&W design, preserved in a set of all 353 blueprints at the New York Historical Society. It must be meshed with new materials and technologies, with modern needs, and commercial facilities that would revitalize the area around the station, said to be undervalued by 30 percent compared to the area around Grand Central Terminal.
Architect Richard Cameron of Atelier & Co. proposed this plan a couple of years ago after having thought it through for more than a decade. He has been joined by the National Civic Art Society, led by Justin Shubow, which, one hopes, might be able to put a bug in the ear of President Trump as part of his infrastructure program. Newly enlisted behind the Rebuild Penn plan is an urban policy center, RethinkStudio, whose director, Jim Venturi, was first to reimagine Penn as a through station.
So far, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not acknowledged the Rebuild Penn plan. His proposal for a lame renovation that would address none of the station’s or the system’s main problems has been opposed editorially by the New York Times, but the newspaper has come out strongly in favor of a proposal to move the Garden to the Farley Post Office next door and replace its circular structure with a glass drum. Better than the current situation but … yawn! Moving the Garden is a necessary step in any useful plan for Penn; the Farley is now envisioned, however, as an extension of Penn for Amtrak, an elegant step that still would not solve the system’s mounting crises.
The general awfulness of Penn Station today is made all the more painful by the grandeur of the first version. Inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, the original McKim, Mead and White masterpiece featured 150 foot glass ceilings, pink granite walls, and 84 Doric columns.The general waiting room, large enough to fit the entirety of Grand Central Station, possessed nine acres of travertine and granite. Summarizing the difference between that station and the one that came after it, architecture critic Vincent Scully famously said: “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”
I had been unaware the Grand Central Terminal could be fit entirely into the waiting room of the original Pennsylvania Station. It seems evident that rebuilding Penn Station in its old style within a broader revitalization of the area for commerce would transform the neighborhood, raising revenue in such a way as to minimize the cost to taxpayers of the entire project. More important, it would retrieve part of the city’s lost soul. It would, one might dare to say, make New York City great again. If only someone could be got to listen and hear the argument for Rebuild Penn.
The drawing above and those below are by Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn.