We’re excited to announce that PBS has given us an exclusive clip from the upcoming documentary The Rise and Fall of Penn Station airing this upcoming Tuesday airing next Tuesday. New York City’s Pennsylvania Station—now mostly underground and a mere shadow of its former glory—was once an engineering marvel designed by famed architect Charles McKim. It was crafted as the “entrance to one of the great metropolitan cities of the world,” stated McKim. Inspired by the architectural grandeur of ancient Rome, McKim designed the structure that would open to great acclaim in 1910 only to be torn down prematurely 53 years later. With an expansive network of sixteen miles of tunnels—many of which were below the city’s treacherous waterways—it was an impressive triumph of civil engineering.
The New York Times recently published images by 93-year old photographer Walter Chandoha who documented New York City’s Pennsylvania Station and its commuters two decades before the demolition. Chandoha was a student at NYU on the G.I. Bill in the 1940s and shot with a Rolliflex camera. He tells the Times, ”“When I look at the pictures now and I see the magnificence of it, I think, How could anybody knock this thing down? It’s like knocking down the Colosseum or the Brandenburg Gate. It’s impossible to imagine.”
While picking up a friend from Penn Station in 2001, playwright Justin Rivers was drawn to framed photos of a grand train station hanging on the wall. “Oh my god,” he exclaimed, “this must be some place in Europe.” It was at that moment he moved in closer, reading the words “Pennsylvania Station.”
The outrage of this demolition isn’t news to most of us in New York, although the exact picture of this bygone structure might be. The 1963 destruction became the focus for Justin as he began writing The Eternal Space. Photography faded across the screen during Wednesday night’s performance, bringing a face to the ghost left behind by this infamous event.
Designed and built by McKim, Mead & White in 1910, the original Penn Station was built in the Beaux Arts style, and it possessed a beauty and splendor that the newer Penn Station, admittedly, lacks. Despite the public outcry, the beloved structure was eventually demolished in October 1963. Today marks the 50th anniversary since the three-year demolition process began.
Architecture and preservation fans rejoice: there’s a play called The Eternal Spacecurrently in the works about the demolition of Penn Station. We’ve been following the development of this project since the initial readings in late 2012 and are excited to announce that there will be an official event at the Center for Architecture on November 6th to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Penn Station’s demolition which began on October 28, 1963.
The much maligned Penn Station holds the reputation for being the single busiest transportation hub in the United States, serving an impressive 300,000 passengers a day. But to the average New Yorker, it’s notorious for being quite possibly the most hated building in entire city. Not only is it difficult to maneuver around the throngs of people, but the station itself is a replacement of a much grander landmark. Despite these grievances, we urge you to pay attention to the signage and discover some great puns in Penn Station. (Or should we say, Pun Station?)