Monday, January 4, 2021

Pennsylvania Station: A Beautiful Metaphor

 Annamaria on the First Monday of 2021

When I was a young child, the most elaborate building I ever saw was my parish church. 

But I knew the word "cathedral," and when I first saw New York's Pennsylvania Station, that's what it looked like to me.  What a glorious, perfect gateway to a splendid city.

Charles McKim, of the legendary architectural design firm of McKim, Mead, & White, designed Pennsylvania Station to be exactly that.  He used as inspiration, for instance, the Baths of Diocletian of ancient Rome.  While his firm was at it, they also designed New York's new main post office across Eighth Avenue from the station, with a facade that matched it in grandeur.  That was 1910.  And so it went for the next fifty years.  

Then in 1963, for the sake of "efficiency," real estate developers (and their unconscionable amounts of money) convinced the city to let them tear down the cathedral.  The citizenry's wishes were ignored.  An outcry of outrage came from across the globe.  Not yet a resident of my own personal Oz, I was unaware of the travesty.  But from when I found out, until today really, I have been broken-hearted.

When I saw what they put in place of that glorious building, I took to grumbling any time the subject came up, "They tore down a masterpiece and replaced it with a monstrosity, so they could make money.  Money to pay for trips to Europe to see the beautiful old buildings there." GRRRR!

I have actively hated what passed for Penn's replacement during every single one of my many hundreds of visits in the fifty years I have been a New Yorker.

To make matters worse.  The Post Office building remained nearby, as a pale reminder of what New York had lost.  And passing through beautifully restored other stations - Grand Central, 30th Street in Philly, Union Station in Washington -  intensified my pain.

Then, several years ago, rumors started to circulate that a plan was afoot to turn the post office building into the "new" Penn Station.  Glimmers of hope.

And this past Saturday, just in time to welcome in the intensely longed for 2021, an announcement: Moynihan Hall, the railway hub inside the repurposed post office building was now open to the public.  I immediately bundled up and hiked up there. Here is what I saw:

Impossible to photograph the full facade from street level.  Here is how it will look.

Construction to complete the complex is still underway.  But for now, though I still insist it was a mortal sin to wreck the original, at least the new space has its own grandeur. It is worthy of the city it serves.

It also is a metaphor for what New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo and President-elect Joe Biden have been saying of our post-Covid world.  "We need to build back BETTER."

Goodbye dreadful , grungy-from-the-get-go, poor excuse for a Penn Station.  Hello New York Pennsylvania Station reborn!

And goodbye you endless 366 days that were a poor excuse for a year, 2020. Hello the next year of our lives, 2021.

HOPE!  My favorite emotion!


  1. Replies
    1. What a perfect and insightful observation, Michael. Like the Vandals sacking Rome, the real estate barons lacked all respect for that which they could never create. They rampantly destroyed what was beautiful for their own venal ends. Barbaric!

  2. Sis, I moved to NYC after the Old Penn Station had been replaced by the New Penn Station/Madison Square Garden (that one's namesake's history is another story), but I grew up in Pittsburgh which had both an "original" style Penn Station and another station that was converted into an "extra crispy" elegant restaurant.

    At least we still have Grand Central.