Dear Governor Hochul,
I humbly ask you to reconsider your strategy to be presented tomorrow evening at the Pennsylvania Station Area GPP Draft and EIS Public Hearing. Please don’t needlessly destroy the historically significant neighborhood surrounding Penn Station under the auspices of improving it.
As demonstrated by the photos accompanying this letter, Penn Station and the surrounding neighborhood are evolving faster than we can photograph. We know these changes are being made in the spirit of progress, but a clean slate demolition of the immediate neighborhood is not progress, it’s regression. Of course, New York wants a better transit hub but I, like many, advocate for a thoughtful station rehabilitation that integrates the historical structures within and around it.
I know that to you and your advisors the choice seems clear. Penn is a problem and thus the neighborhood around it is also a problem. To fix one, it was erroneously posited by Governor Cuomo that you need to fix the other. In his initial proposal, the Empire State Development Corporation saw the buildings surrounding Penn and the Garden as antiquated satellites spinning aimlessly around a historical void. But this is not true. Like Moynihan Train Hall, these landmark-worthy buildings can be integrated into a revamped Penn Station that allows their history to be utilized and celebrated.
As the readers of Untapped New York know well, Penn Station has been my business for over two decades now. I spent ten years researching the station for an off Broadway show called The Eternal Space and in that time I came to understand the unique connection that exists between the old station and the current.
For the past nine years I have had the privilege of bringing close to 8,000 people through the current station and the surrounding neighborhood, highlighting the many remnants of the 1910 structure that remain. My guests have included Amtrak and MTA employees, members of the Economic District Corporation, commuters and the curious public. All have left these experiences not only with a greater appreciation for the station and neighborhood, but also with the knowledge that the area’s raw extent history is worth celebrating and preserving.
I also understand that your predecessor left behind a plan that served his inflated and misguided vision of the neighborhood’s redevelopment. Where once was blight, he promised renewal, where once there was low he promised tall and where once there was distinction, he promised uniformity. We have countless examples in our city’s history where this tactic failed. But the one where it failed so spectacularly brings us right back to the scene of the original crime.
The 1963 demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station was not a single act but the culmination of a misguided ethos. Progress was a cleaner, more efficient aesthetic for a dirty and depressed mid-20th century city. Well, we found that wasn’t exactly true after we watched progress age poorly. Instead we learned that once endangered buildings like Grand Central Terminal and Radio City Music Hall were not only worth saving for posterity—they were also good for business.
So why haven’t we learned our lesson? Why demolish the Penn Station Service Building, our last free standing remnant of McKim, Mead and White’s original station, when it can be repurposed as a grand entryway for Penn’s proposed southern extension? Why demolish St. John the Baptist church, with a vibrant community and significant historical footprint when it can live in harmony with the new complex? Why, in essence, demolish Penn Station all over again?
Yes please, let’s make the nation’s busiest transit hub better. Let’s focus on providing the complex with much needed infrastructure, like a new tunnel under the Hudson and more track capacity to service underserved areas of the region. And once we arrive, let’s create space, clarity and light where once there was confusion and darkness. Let’s put Penn in concert with Moynihan Train Hall and truly create a gateway worthy of New York City. But let’s not sacrifice the few architectural gifts we have left in the area to accomplish this.
Governor Hochul, let this be your moment.
Let this be your moment to show that you are the governor who sees value in New York’s historical architecture, not in unneeded glass towers. Let this be your moment to show that you are the governor who can prove we learned from the mistakes made decades ago. Let this be your moment to stand up and say I am NOT the governor who demolishes Penn Station all over again!
My thanks for your time and consideration!