A Serious Proposal To Rebuild The Original Penn Station
New Main Waiting Room Penn Station Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station.
The National Civic Art Society has developed a plan to entirely rebuild the original Penn Station.
The biggest and most obvious hurdle to accomplishing the Society’s plan would be demolishing the many buildings that currently stand on the site including Madison Square Garden and a 34 story office building. Then the next question arises: who would fund such an enterprise?
As crazy as all this sounds, the actual rebuilding plan sounds feasible. You would just need all the corrupt politicians and greedy real estate entities to cooperate. That will almost certainly not occur.
But that doesn’t stop one from hoping. The organizers have an executable plan and want to drum up support among the public. Here is the opening statement from their website rebuildpennstation.org
New York City’s original Penn Station was one of the finest buildings ever constructed. With its vast main hall and soaring concourse, it provided a triumphant gateway into the city. Its demolition in 1963 was one of the greatest architectural and civic crimes in American history.
That wrong is all the worse given the current station, which is cramped, dismal, and hard to navigate. As the historian Vincent Scully said about the original station, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”
As the rebuild Penn Station group pointed out, New York’s greatest architectural loss occurred 54 years ago.
On October 28, 1963 the demolition of Penn Station began and three years later the majestic station was gone, its marble and debris trucked out in pieces to the New Jersey Meadowlands and used as landfill.
Trains still go in and out of Penn Station. But the Penn Station that replaced the original has nothing in common with the original but the name.
Main Post Office completed 1912 photo: Underhill
Directly across from the original Penn Station between 31st to 33rd Streets and Continue reading →
We are looking north from Ann Street up towards Broadway (left) and Park Row (right).
The scene is typical of an average day in 1880s New York. We can see several trolleys at rest either having completed their runs or about to start them. Several delivery carts are scattered about nearby. A police officer stands in the middle of Broadway keeping an eye on things. A horse drawn hansom coach and driver are prominent in the foreground. Businessmen make their way about the city, many walking on the Belgian block street rather than the sidewalks. Telegraph poles and wires criss-cross Park Row and Broadway.
The hub of all this activity is the main branch of the New York Post Office, designed by Alfred B. Mullett and opened to the public on Sunday, August 29, 1875. Between 8 a.m and 8 p.m. it was estimated that between 20 – 30,000 people wandered into the new building. They passed slowly through its corridors gawking at the shiny new post office lock boxes, looking into delivery windows and buttonholing anybody who looked like an employee to ask questions.
Architecturally inspired by the French Renaissance style, the building proved to be wildly unpopular from the get go. Among the chief complaints about the Post Office was that it was ugly.
360° Panoramic View of New York City From The New York World Building in 1892
Stitching together 10 separate photographs from King’s Handbook of New York City (1892) as best I could, this image gives us a 360 degree view of New York City.
Taken from atop Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World Building, you can get a sense of what the entire city looked like before the turn-of-the-century, when the skyscraper emerged and would forever alter the skyline. A golden dome topped Pulitzer’s Building with an observation gallery that gave the visitor the following view.
(click to get the full size view)
Probably the three most prominent points in the panorama are from left to right, the Post Office, City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge.
City Hall & New York World Building c. 1908
At 309 feet, the World Building designed by George B. Post was the tallest office building in the world when completed in 1890.
Think about that for a minute. Just 26 floors. From the building’s foundation to the top of its flagstaff it measured 375½ feet. At the time that height was an outstanding architectural achievement.
The second floor of the beehive, as the interior of the dome of the World Building was known to its employees, also contained Joseph Pulitzer’s office. Here is how the New York World described the top of its own building just after its completion: Continue reading →
From An 1892 Guidebook – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About New York
14th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in 1892 photo: KIng’s Handbook of New York
Some of these facts are pretty interesting:
The New York Post Office handled over 600,000,000 pieces of mail matter annually. That may not be so amazing. What is amazing is that they had an annual profit of $3 million dollars!
Trinity Church is part of Trinity Parish. The Parish was the richest in America. Income from its real estate and other holdings amounted to over $500,000 annually
It was free to walk over the 9-year-old Brooklyn Bridge. Vehicles had to pay a toll of 3 cents each way.
At Centre and Franklin Streets stood the City Prison, better known as The Tombs, because of the architectural resemblance to Egyptian tombs. Before the death by electrocution law went into effect in 1889, all condemned murderers sentenced to death by the New York courts were executed in the Tombs. Continue reading →
This great view of Broadway looking south from Park Place was taken in 1875 by Thorne & Co. publishers of New York City views. With evidence from the shadows and with virtually no street traffic and few pedestrians, this photo apparently was taken early on a Sunday morning.
On the right hand side of the photo we see a couple of five story commercial buildings populated with local businesses offering sales including a clothing store, a jeweler and a toy distributor. One sign on the side of the stairs offers soda for a nickel.
The next building taking up the entire west side of Broadway from Barclay to Vesey Streets is the Astor House Hotel. Beyond the Astor House is St. Paul’s Chapel, followed by the recently completed Western Union Building. Further in the distance you can see the spire of Trinity Church. Continue reading →
Broadway with the Astor House Hotel on the left circa 1868
We are looking north on Broadway from Barclay Street on what has to be a weekend, as there is hardly any traffic on this normally bustling part of Broadway.
Enlarging the photograph you can see some interesting details. Horse drawn vehicles line up on both sides of the street as a few pedestrians mill about. A glimpse of City Hall Park and its trees can be seen on the right. Architect Alfred Mullett’s main Post Office has not been built yet (1869-1880) and has not encroached upon the southern end of the park, which was sacrificed for that building.
A few gas lamps provide the nighttime illumination for the area. There are also no overhead telegraph wires or poles visible. Surrounding most trees in the foreground are wrap-around wooden advertising placards. In the left hand corner of the photograph is a large ad for the Pennsylvania Railroad, in what may have been the Astor House’s ticketing office.
Besides the interesting view up Broadway, the famous five-story granite Astor House Hotel on the left is the focal point of this photograph. Astor House was built on Broadway between Barclay and Vesey Streets in 1836 by John Jacob Astor. After it opened it was called “the world’s finest hotel.” Presidents and statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun made Astor House their chosen hostelry when visiting New York. Continue reading →
Postcards of Old New York – Featuring Broadway and Fifth Avenue
These postcards generally depict New York from 1900 – 1920. We are concentrating this batch on the well traveled areas of Broadway and Fifth Avenue.
As the brief description on the card says we are looking south and east along Broadway from Warren Street. The trees on the left belong to City Hall Park. The wide building with the large central rotunda is the main branch of the General Post Office, which was demolished in 1938. Behind the Post Office stands The Park Row Building, which at 391 feet was the tallest office building in the world when completed in 1899. The Singer Building surpassed the height of The Park Row Building in 1908. To the right of The Park Row Building stands the 26 story St. Paul Building built in 1896 and demolished in 1958.
Interesting to note: the flags are at half-staff on the Postal Telegraph and Cable Company Building on the right. Continue reading →
Reading Howard Wallace Connelly’s highly entertaining 1931 autobiography Fifty-Six Years In The New York Post Office– A Human Interest Story of Real Happenings in the Postal Service (self-published) the following anecdote begins Chapter VI:
When the pneumatic tubes were installed at the General Post Office, October 7, 1897, we Supervisors were given a fine treat after the ceremonies were over. A rough hastily constructed row of steps (circus show style) had been erected facing the tubes. Senator Chauncey M. Depew was Master of Ceremonies. Probably over a hundred friends and Post Office officials were spectators. The first tube contained only a large artificial peach. The roar of laughter that greeted it was heartily joined by the Senator. A Bowery audience that had attended a political meeting at which he was the principal speaker, instead of trying to break up the show, took quite a liking to the speaker and a loud voiced man yelled, “Chauncey, you’re a peach.” Hence the laugh when the first tube arrived. From the second tube, a cat was taken. How it could live after being shot at terrific speed from Station P in the Produce Exchange Building, making several turns before reaching Broadway and Park Row, I cannot conceive, but it did. It seemed to be dazed for a minute or two but started to run and was quickly secured and placed in a basket that had been provided for that purpose. A suit of clothes was the third arrival and then came letters, papers, and other ordinary mail matter.
Hah-ha very funny. The postal officials must have had a ball putting a cat into the tubes. Can you imagine the public outcry if something like that was done now?
Connelly omits that the first parcel actually sent through the tubes was sent by Depew to the Produce Exchange Post Office which included Continue reading →
This photograph shows a mountain of gifts awaiting sorting and delivery in the New York City Post Office on December 9, 1931.
There was a time when there was no Fed-Ex, UPS, DHL or other real competitor to shipping most parcels. There were express companies that shipped valuable documents, packages and large amounts of goods such as Adams Express, American Express, Wells, Fargo and others, but for the majority of Americans, The United States Post Office was your only choice.
After Thanksgiving was the traditional kickoff for the Christmas gift buying season. And by early to mid-December there would be a campaign to remind postal customers to send their mail early in order to get their cards and packages delivered in time for Christmas. Nowadays, Christmas (or at least the advertising) seems to start right around Halloween. That is a shame.
Broadway Street Scene Looking North From Fulton or Ann Street, 1898
A scene of New York life, just before the turn of the century. Two things to note:
1) Everyone wears a hat.
2) This being the main business district of New York, there is only one woman clearly visible among all these people.
Something we take for granted today, but in 1898, almost all the secretarial help and the business office assistants were male.
The building in the middle of the background is the main branch of the New York Post Office. It was completed in 1875 and had been built on what was once part of City Hall Park. The Post Office was demolished in 1938.