Latest news of Penn Station

Alexandros Washburn proposal to replace existing Pennsylvania Station with one reminiscent of the original station that was demolished in 1963. (21st Century Unlimited)

In the wake of news that New York developer Vornado Realty Trust, perhaps anticipating a recession, hit pause on its plan to build ten skyscrapers around Pennsylvania Station, we have seen reports of a new and delightful proposal to rebuild something like the old station, which was demolished in the 1960s.

The new proposal comes from architect Alexandros Washburn, who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the city’s  design chief. In his plan, a facsimile of the vaulted steel and glass train shed would rise in the space once occupied by the Madison Square Garden arena. The shed would sit in a frame reminiscent of the 1910 Beaux Arts station designed by Charles Follen McKim. The Garden, whose lease is up next June, would be moved, as would the office tower at 2 Penn. A classical garden similar to Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library would fill the space between the new station and the Moynihan Train Hall recently completed in the James Farley Post Office across the street – a McKim, Mead & White masterpiece completed in 1914. (Click here for illustrations of this plan.)

Washburn’s lovely proposal is not to be confused with the plan advanced by ReThinkNYC to rebuild the old Penn Station on its still-existing foundation. The earlier plan is inspired directly by the original station, completed in 1910, which would be restored. The ReThink proposal’s advanced engineering, modern shopping and updated transit connections would enable American lifestyles to inhabit the grandeur of the Gilded Age icon’s space.

It remains the preferable proposal. Washburn’s plan omits rebuilding the original Waiting Room. It was this vast structure that so impressed arrivals to New York in its halcyon days. Another design, submitted by architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, merely recasts the circular arena structure in glass. All three designs would enable a shift of the regional rail system to what is known as “through-running,” a safer, faster and more efficient method of managing trains and trackage at Penn Station and throughout the network.

Whatever their respective merits, all three designs serve to promote the discussion that New Yorkers must engage if the city is to avoid Hochul’s uninspired, and indeed dispiriting, urban renewal plan to override city zoning and demolish many historic buildings, including at least a dozen eligible for landmark status. Her plan is widely opposed in the community, and would only enrich Steven Roth, owner of Vornado, who now has doubts of his own about the governor’s plan for the district.

Meanwhile, the governor’s has sought to mislead New Yorkers about how much light her proposed renovations would admit to the station, which would be criss-crossed by the shadows thrown by the multiple skyscrapers that she proposes. “Trying to sell us on an underground station that will be bathed in natural light,” says ReThinkNYC’s Sam Turvey, “is demonstrably false and we felt it was time to better illustrate that.” Hochul’s changes, he states, would merely bring Penn up to the low standards of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Showing New Yorkers such fraudulently sunny images is, he says, no more than “eyewash.” He dares the governor to show renderings that honestly reflect the amount of light her renovations would admit into the station.

This obfuscation is of a piece with the sly manner in which the Empire State Development Corporation has managed the project thus far, aesthetically and financially. ReThinkNYC plans to host a forum on the several design options at Cooper Union on Thursday, Jan. 26. New Yorkers would be allowed to compare the three designs (at last count) competing with the governor’s dismal plan for the station and its neighborhood, which she has likened to a “skid row.”

Photo of Waiting Room at original Penn Station, demolished in 1963. (ny.curbed.com)

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, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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2 Responses to Latest news of Penn Station

  1. LazyReader says:

    The destruction of Penn station was unfortunate, it was not a case of it outliving it’s usefullness. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in a heap of financial trouble. It is more than $40 billion in debt; it has a $60 billion maintenance backlog.

    Penn Station was horribly expensive to maintain even back in its heyday. And originally the proposal was a high rise building would be added to top it to seek rent attractive offices with direct access to it. Downscale market 60s midtown Manhattan and Historic preservation committees opposed projects. In current economic climate rebuilding Penn is financially unwise.

    Like

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