mcgrath-16A photo from Norman McGrath’s Penn Station demolition collection. Source: Norman McGrath.

I love lost causes… That’s why I give tours of Penn Station.

She’s the ugly transit stepchild forced to process 650,000 disgruntled travelers a day while her prettier stepsister across town dresses up to host the regional commuter ball. Grand Central Terminal is breathtaking, romantic and loved throughout the world. Penn is made fun of, worn down and almost universally hated. Most people just count her out and pass her by.

But I think inside a lost cause like Penn is the core of something very special. That’s why for almost two years now, Untapped Cities and I have been taking people around the current station to find the still-beating heart of the old one.


moynihan-train-hall-nyc-untapped-cities3All images via Governor Andrew Cuomo

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his most recent plans to transform Penn Station from an outdated transportation hub into an efficient, modern destination. Although proposals for the redesign process have been tossed around for over 20 years – stalled in part by funding issues and disputes between parties – Cuomo is confident that the station will finally receive its long-awaited facelift. According to the governor, the necessary funding and approvals have already been secured.

moynihan-train-hall-penn-station-governor-cuomo-renderings-som-nyc-2-copyRendering by SOM for the new James A. Farley Station, An Extension of Penn Station

To much fanfare earlier this week, Governor Cuomo announced the latest iteration of his plans to overhaul Penn Station by 2021 – and that funding and approvals are already in place. Since the announcement of intentions to rebuild Penn Station in the early 2000s, there has been little opportunity for public dialogue on the pending future of the station.

On Wednesday, November 2nd, Untapped Cities and the Museum of the City of New York will present A Public Summit for the The Future of Penn Station at Cooper Union from 7pm to 9:30pm in The Great Hall. The panel discussion and public forum will go beyond the conceptual renderings and plans for a new Penn Station. Some of New York City’s leading urban visionaries, architects and planners will discuss how to move forward from the current challenging circumstances of Penn Station and then open the event up to an audience Q&A.

The speakers and panelists will be Susan Chin, President of the Design Trust for Public Space; Robert Eisenstat, Chief Architect at the Port Authority of NY & NJ; Gina Pollara, President of the Municipal Arts Society; John Schettino, Designer of The New York Penn Station Atlas; Tom Wright, President of Regional Plan Association.

Introductory remarks will be given by Michelle Young, Founder of Untapped Cities and Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and Whitney W. Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director and President, Museum of the City of New York.


The speakers will look at Penn in the context of the changing West Side, offer lessons learned from rebuilding World Trade Center infrastructure, and share perspectives on making Penn Station easier to use today. Looking to the transit hub’s future, panelists will address the question: What are the standards of success by which a rebuilt Penn Station should be measured? This conversation will seek to move beyond criticizing the current station and focus on identifying elements of a successful long-term vision.

Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students, seniors, members of the Museum of the City of New York, New York Transit Museum, the Design Trust for Public Space, the Regional Plan Association. The event is free for Cooper Union students, staff and alumni. Please contact justin@untappedcities.com for press RSVP. Proceeds beyond costs will be donated to Cooper Union.

Next, check out our popular tour of the Remnants of Penn Station and join us in October! 

New Yorker Hotel-Secret Tunnel-Basement-Subway-34th Street-NYCFormer entrance under the New Yorker Hotel that provided direct access to Penn Station

Roughly 200 feet beneath the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel lies a secret: an underground tunnel that connected the establishment to Penn Station. It’s mostly forgotten, used primarily as storage, but it once enabled guests to go directly from the subway and trains to an elevator and up into the hotel. A porter would greet you at the entrance and take you the rest of your way. Direct access was popular for the luxury buildings of this time – the Woolworth Building and the Knickerbocker Hotel are other examples.


Untapped Cities-HALO-MSG-Penn Station-Brooklyn Capital Partners Image via AE Superlab

In the latest development in the much-discussed redevelopment of Penn Station, Brooklyn Capital Partners has proposed a giant free fall tower ride atop Madison Square Garden or the James A. Farley Post office. As reported by the Daily News, the “Halo” would be the “world’s tallest giant free fall tower ride,” if built at 1,200 feet tall with 11 gondolas. The ride, priced at $35, would go up to 100 miles per hour, with speeds adjustable by the riders. Lease of the space, which the developers project at $38 million, would help fund the rehabilitation of Penn Station.


Rooftop Reds-Brooklyn Navy Yard Vineyard-NYCTour of Rooftop Reds, world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard

The weather is going to be stellar this weekend and we’ve got a bunch of tours this weekend to some neat “untapped” destinations in New York City. While our subway tours are sold out already, there’s still space on our exploration of the Remnants of Penn Station on Sunday and our second tour and tasting at Rooftop Reds, the world’s first commercially viable rooftop vineyard, on Saturday. Here are more details and why you should join us!