Tag Archives: Penn Station

Old New York In Photos #52

Penn Station And The City At Night – January 1941

Pennsylvania Station seen at night from The New Yorker Hotel January 1941 - photo Underwood & Underwood

Pennsylvania Station seen at night seen from The New Yorker Hotel January 1941 – photo Underwood & Underwood

Every time you see photographs of New York’s old Pennsylvania Railroad Station you have to ask yourself how could this architectural masterpiece be knocked down and carted off piece by majestic piece to the landfill? The answer resided with the owners of the Pennsylvania Railroad and real estate developers who saw the station as a white elephant: filthy; declining train ridership; losing tons of money and impractical as a revenue generator. The land Penn Station sat upon was too valuable to let this monument to interstate travel remain in place. It would be redeveloped as office buildings and the fourth Madison Square Garden put in its place with the railroad station relegated to an unsightly subterranean labyrinth.

Soon after its destruction lasting from 1963 -1966, the city and New Yorkers began yearning for the old Penn Station. All New Yorkers today await a suitable replacement for the modern underground lair we now possess ignominiously called Penn Station.

Look at this panoramic view of Manhattan looking lit up to capacity in January 1941. Here is the original photo caption:

Pennsylvania Station

The electric glamor of New York by night shines out in this shot looking southeast from the roof of the Hotel New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue.  Directly below is Pennsylvania Terminal, its glass roof aglow. Surrounding it are gleaming office buildings and hotels. No more thrilling metropolitan scene could be recommended to the thousands who arrive at this station daily. The beacon-like light in the background surmounts the Metropolitan Life Building (23rd Street Madison Avenue). credit: Underwood & Underwood,  January 26, 1941

11 months later this photographic view would not be possible because America had entered World War II. The mandatory brownouts (dimming of all lights at night) in American cities blotted out the spectacle of light and cast a protective veil over New York City that would not be lifted until the conclusion of the war in 1945.

Old New York In Postcards #12 – 20 Historic Buildings That Were Demolished

20 Historic, Beautiful New York Buildings That Were Demolished

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building - all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

City Hall Newspaper Row Buildings (l-r) World Building (aka Pulitzer Building), Sun Building, Tribune Building – all demolished. New York Times and Potter Buildings are still extant

New York City real estate developers will always knock down a building if a buck can be made. So it really should come as no surprise that these buildings were demolished because they outlived their usefulness or more often than not, the land they sat upon was deemed more valuable than the building itself.

Nathan Silver’s must-own book, Lost New York (1967) Houghton Mifflin, was the first book to explicitly point out what New York City had lost architecturally over the years. If you have never read it, you should.

For our short postcard essay, there are hundreds of examples we could have chosen from and we picked 20. We omitted places of worship, theatres and restaurants which are the most transitory of buildings.

We’ve covered hotels before, and we could do another story on all the historic hotels that have been torn down, but we’ve included a few in this retrospective.

Rather than comment extensively on the buildings, a brief summary will suffice and the images should convey what we have lost. These postcards have been scanned at 1200 dpi in high resolution, click on any postcard to enlarge.

Singer Building hresSinger Building – 149 Broadway (corner Liberty Street),  A gem by architect Ernest Flagg, built 1908. Once the tallest building in the world. The Singer Building was elegant and sleek. Demolished 1967-68 and replaced by a ugly box of a building built by the Unites States Steel Corporation.

Produce Exchange hresProduce Exchange – 2 Broadway between Beaver and Stone Streets. Architect George B. Post’s splendid work of grace was built in 1883, demolished 1957.

Gillender Building 2 hresGillender Building – northwest corner Wall Street and Nassau Street. Architects, Charles I. Berg and Edward H. Clark, built in 1897 at a cost of $500,000. The Gillender Building was the tallest office building in the world for a brief time. The 20-story tower lasted only 13 years. In 1910 it was the first modern fireproof building to be demolished and it was done at breakneck speed, in under 45 days. The Gillender Building was replaced by the Bankers Trust Tower. Continue reading

Old New York in Postcards #9 – Postcard Views Of The Interior Of Old Penn Station

Postcard Views Of The Interior Of Old Penn Station

Because it was dismantled over 50 years ago, many people are familiar with the grandeur of the original Penn Station only through photographs.

The station was opened to the public on September 8, 1910 and the cost of the exterior alone was over $100 million.

Seen from the exterior, the beautiful McKim Mead and White masterpiece represented a merging of modernity and classic architecture. Penn Station exterior

The interior was spacious and wondrous to behold. But according to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the owners of Penn Station, by the mid 1950’s, it was also grimy, outdated, in need of costly repairs and difficult to keep clean. These conditions existed mostly because the Pennsylvania Railroad let the station fall into that state.

The Pennsylvania Railroad knew the land the building was sitting on was worth more than the station itself. This grand monument to railroads and public space was sacrificed to “progress,” the development of the Penn Plaza office buildings and a new Madison Square Garden.

Without regard that a great civic wrong was being done, Penn Station was demolished between 1963 and 1966. It was replaced by a banal, claustrophobic, ugly underground maze also called Penn Station which bears no resemblance to the original, to cattle chute passengers to their trains.

More than two generations of New Yorkers have lamented the loss and contemplated replacements to bring about a new edifice and station worthy of the name. The Farley Post Office (also by McKim Mead and White) between 8th and 9th Avenues directly across the street from the current Penn Station is often discussed as hosting a remodeled station, but nothing has been done to bring those plans to fruition.

Here are some postcard interior views of the original Penn Station. (click on any image to enlarge.)