If you enjoyed our previous set of Farm Security Administration photos, no doubt you will enjoy the ones today, possibly even more so. Captured by Marjorie Collins, another one of the lesser-known FSA photographers, today’s set of photos features New York’s Pennsylvania Station. Taken about a year after the photos we saw last week (these date to August 1942), the war is in full swing, and the station is filled with soldiers. As was the FSA’s goal, these images artfully capture what life was like in the 1940’s.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of the Pennsy, and I don’t frequently post things about Penn Station, but I think this set of photos was too amazing to pass up. We may be celebrating the centennial of Grand Central Terminal, but I think it is also a perfect time to reflect about New York’s other great “temple of transportation,” and its greater significance in terms of historical preservation.
Grand Central Terminal was still in construction when the Pennsylvania Railroad opened their great station in 1910. Designed by the famous McKim, Mead, and White, the two stations shared a Beaux Arts aesthetic. Both were exquisite New York monuments, and they almost shared the same fate – the wrecking ball. With the decline in rail travel both the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads were strapped for cash and looking to make a buck anywhere they could. With the significant costs to maintain such large stations, the buildings were worth more to them as real estate. In 1963 the gorgeous Penn Station was demolished in order to build Madison Square Garden above.
Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.
–Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the high-profile face of historic preservation in New York City.
I am firmly of the belief that New York could not have two great railroad stations – for it was the destruction of Pennsylvania Station that motivated people to protect the city’s historical landmarks. In 1965, two years after Penn Station’s destruction, New York’s Landmark Preservation Commission was established. Grand Central was declared a landmark, and the New York Central, and later the Penn Central, were not permitted to destroy it – a fight the railroad took all the way up to the Supreme Court. If not for the destruction of Penn Station, it is very possible that we would not be celebrating the centennial of Grand Central right now. So thanks, Penn Station, we shall not forget you.