The romance of Penn Station lost

The romance of Penn Station lost
Artist Joseph Pennell captures the romance of the original Pennsylvania Station in his series of railroad etchings titled The Commuters, Down to the Trains, and Hall of Iron.

When it comes to lost landmarks, the destruction of the original Pennsylvania Station is one of the travesties of New York City history. More than fifty years later the “monumental act of vandalism” is still keenly felt, as every commuter “scuttles in… like a rat.” Despite the loss, there may be a consolation prize for us all. For many of the years I’ve been present on this Earth New Yorkers have debated the conversion of the Farley Post Office into a new Pennsylvania Station. Although certainly not as grand as the original station, the style is similar – in fact designed by the same architects as the station: McKim, Mead, and White. Though it will never fully blunt the loss of Penn Station, converting part of the post office may well allow folks to again “enter the city like a god.”

The new post office shortly after construction

Although proponent of the project, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan never got the chance to see the fate of the project, talk eventually did turn to action. The initial phase of the project has opened to the public – you can now find a new entrance to Penn Station on Eighth Avenue and 31st Street at the south end of the post office building. Although this is just a small portion of the larger Moynihan Station project (named, of course, for the senator that supported it), the new station access is a welcome change to the dungeon that is Penn Station.

Inside you’ll be greeted with bright whites, bold and modern typography, and stylized murals of New York City landmarks. The magic of technology grants the illusion that you are above ground with pleasing blue ceiling lights, including imitation skylights that display floating clouds. Beside providing a new entrance to the station, the new section grants new access to several of the train platforms, relieving stress on the rest of the station.

The new section of Penn Station appears to be a popular spot for newscasters to report the (mis)happenings in the station, so expect to see it as a backdrop more frequently in the future (especially the next two months). Amtrak’s summer repairs begin on Monday – something the news media has already nicknamed the “Summer of Hell” – but for us railfans it provides a special treat. Empire Service trains will be making their return to Grand Central Terminal to further relieve some of the stress in Penn Station, and I will certainly be looking forward to it!

11 Responses

  1. Steve Dunham says:

    The appearance of the expansion is not at all what I expected. I thought it would be nice but retro. It’s bright, unlike the current Penn Station, and that’s an improvement, but I’m worried about those graphics. Some of them look like a tag cloud, and you can read them when the room is empty but it will be hard to see the bottom words when it’s full of people. I think the word “Tracks” is too small on the track signs. 13/14 looks like a fraction rather than a pair of track numbers. I think overhead signs would have been better. Maybe I’m just cranky.

    • Emily says:

      Haha, cranky Steve! I think your point is valid about the large text. I think it looks nice when it is empty, but when there are tons of people obscuring it, it will likely be hard to read.

    • Tyler Trahan says:

      “Tag cloud” is exactly right. Wayfinding signs should be as simple, concise, and consistent as possible. Results like this make me think that the ego of the designers has overridden the needs of the user.

      Cambridge Seven got it right in 1967 when it standardized signage on Boston’s MBTA. I’ve never had any trouble navigating even the most convoluted of stations, many of them crammed into ancient cut and cover tunnels underneath the city’s infamous road network.

  2. JOhn says:

    are there any chairs? can you hear boarding announcements on the PA? otherwise it’s no better than a glorified vestibule

    • Emily says:

      You can hear announcements, but there are no chairs. With the new access to the platforms, however, depending on what track your train is on you could get to it without ever having to see the rest of the station.

      • JOhn says:

        I guess it all depends on if a person could connect between a Niagara Falls train and a Boston train….I’ve never heard Empire trains announced before, they seem to like to force us into a standing line like we’re being sent to gitmo or something.

  3. Dave says:

    I’m not saying that the destruction of Penn Station was a good thing, but consider the Concert for Bangladesh, The Song Remains the Same, “I think we see Willis coming out!” “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” and “Osama Bin Laden can kiss my royal Irish ass!” During the Ken Burns documentary, I wondered where were Marv Albert and Sam Rosen to provide a little balance. One architectural critic in that said that “what was lost wasn’t as important as what was gained.” She was referring to landmarks preservation and the salvation of Grand Central, but New Yorkers have made many important and lasting memories at MSG.

    • Walter Haner says:

      I have been a life long NY Rangers fan and as a child used to go to the Old Garden on 50th. While that needed to be replaced, the new building is a terrible disaster compared to just about any other NHL arena that I’ve been in — compare it to the Buffalo arena for example. That we destroyed Penn Station and built a second rate — nay third rate — arena in it’s place remains the greatest act of vandalism perpetrated in NYC.

      • Emily says:

        Have to agree with Walter on that one. If you want to argue that the establishment of the Landmarks Preservation Comission was an important gain, I would probably have to agree with you. I’m a firm believer in that one of the two great stations in New York had to go to save the other (and in reality save a lot more of the city’s history) – a sad impetus to wake the city up… but you won’t get me to agree that MSG was an appropriate replacement, or was an important gain for the city!

  4. Naomi says:

    This looks so similar to JetBlue’s T5 terminal at JFK. Color scheme, font, etc. We accidentally stumbled into this new part of PENN on Saturday evening July 8th and it was so empty, it was as if no one knew it had opened yet. I think the digital screens on the ceiling (which usually shows clouds) is a bit much but that’s probably just me.

  5. Backshophoss says:

    The”summer of hell” is the rebuilding of “A” interlocking and hopefully a good chunk of the leftover Sandy
    damage that was lurking in that area,the “new” concourse was needed,but is lacking LIRR TVM’s and
    Amtrak’s Quick-Trac Machines for now.
    Believe there’s intention of adding retail stores on this concourse over time.
    There’s been some grips that the concourse doesn’t reach tracks 1-4(NJT’s stub tracks).

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