Monasteries may not be an institution synonymous with New York City, but as we’ve shown, they are certainly a presence. Still, most retain a bucolic presence, even within urban or industrial zones. One exception is the Capuchin Monastery of the Church of St. John which sits on 31st Street just next to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. In this ramshackle stretch of no man’s land you’ll find a loading dock to MSG, the forgotten power station of the original Pennsylvania Station, and an unabashed homeless presence.
Not surprisingly this portion of 31st Street has come up in the city’s redevelopment plans several times. As of January 2015, Amtrak hoped to demolish the entire block and replace it with a rail station for New Jersey commuters, to be called Penn South.
Every month, we take two groups of intrepid readers to spend an afternoon tracking down the Remnants of Penn Station, of which there are numerous if you know where to look. As such, we see the small changes that take place over time in the much maligned station, as retail institutions like Penn Books close due to rising rents, as the strip of pizza joints, TGIF and Häagen-Dazs shut down as the operators of the station push for an upgrade of retail, to mirror Grand Central Terminal‘s shopping revolution. But of note recently is a non business-related change that has happened. A Maya Lin sculpture that even frequent visitors to Penn Station never notice has gotten an upgrade, and it’s an essential one.
One of the locations you’ll discover on our Remnants of Penn Station tour (next one on July 26th) is the original coal-fired power plant of the station, built as a mirror image using the same Tennessee granite as the lost Stanford White masterpiece. This building on 31st Street is just one of the many pieces (though this is certainly the largest remnant) scattered throughout the station area including eagles, railings, floor tiles and more.
Tickets for our July 26th tour of the Remnants of Penn Station:
Our tour, led by Tamara Agins, a project manager for the NYC Department of City Planning, and Justin Rivers, producer of the play The Eternal Space, about the demolition of Penn Station, is an expert-guided tour by those passionate about the history and future of the station. Rivers will show archival photos, some never published, from his 5000+ image collection of Pennsylvania Station.
Today, the power plant is a significant state of disrepair, with windows. As of 2003, it was reported by The New York Times that the building was used for “storage and backup systems.”
With its 24/7 transit system and a subway system that dates from 1904, New York City seems like a city of mass transportation. Its residents expect a lot, always pushing for better and increased service, more transit lines, and more bike lanes, but sometimes its worth taking a step back and remember where we came from.
In partnership with The Eternal Space, a play about an untold story of the destruction of Penn Station, we have added another slot of our special tour of the remnants of Penn Station on May 31st with Tamara Agins, tour guide, project manager at NYC Department of City Planning, and author of our popular article on the Secrets of Grand Central and Justin Rivers, playwright of The Eternal Space.
Sign up for the advance notice list for our summer tour here:
Weaving in moments from the play, which features over 1,000 never before published photographs of the station by renown photographers Norman McGrath, Peter Moore, and Aaron Rose, along with the work of railroad aficionados Alexander Hatos, an employee of Pennsylvania Railroad and Ron Ziel, a railroad historian, the tour will also cover the past, present and future plans for the central transportation hub in New York City, accompanying a hunt for the remaining pieces of the grand McKim, Meade & White station.
A portion of the tickets supports The Eternal Space, which has been previewed at The Center for Architecture. The event includes an optional drink afterward and conversation with the tour leaders and The Eternal Space creator at Tracks bar in Penn Station, which has some remnants of its own.
One of the highlights of the comprehensive exhibition, Saving Place: 50 Years of NYC Landmarks at the Museum of the City of New York, is the collection of architectural remnants from New York City’s buildings, both lost and still standing. From a marble eagle head from the original Pennsylvania Station to original lime moldings from Grand Central Terminal and cast iron medallions from the Battery Maritime Terminal, there is plenty for architecture and preservation buffs to revel in.