Old Penn. Station // 1910-1963

Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan was opened in 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the largest building ever built occupying two entire city blocks, and boasted the biggest waiting room in history. Over 500 buildings were demolished for the station to make way for the Charles McKim-designed station, an icon in the Beaux-Arts style. The structure had “nine acres of travertine and granite, 84 Doric columns, a vaulted concourse of extravagant, weighty grandeur, classical splendor modeled after royal Roman baths, rich detail in solid stone, and an architectural quality in precious materials that set the stamp of excellence on a city.” Sadly, being one of the most beloved architectural gems in the city did not constitute its maintenance nor preservation.

In 1961, after numerous plans for redevelopment, air-rights were sold on the building and in 1963, Penn Station was razed. The former grand station was replaced by Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Plaza, an office skyscraper, all with a modernized station below. When the building was destroyed, art historian Vincent Scully famously said, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” In 1965, two years after Penn Station’s demolition commenced, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, thereby creating the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Additionally, Grand Central Station was proposed to be demolished later in the decade, but was saved thanks to preservation efforts.

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