New York is about to lose the historic Hotel Pennsylvania. Demolition of the 103-year-old Beaux-Arts structure designed by McKim, Mead & White began last week in earnest. Dump trucks and garbage compactors stand by on 32nd and 33rd Streets as a constant stream of crushed metal, glass, and cinder blocks are hauled away by construction workers. While the exterior of the building and the physical structure itself likely won’t be demolished for another couple of weeks, the current interior demolition work goes far beyond the removal of mattresses and furniture that occurred last November.
When the Hotel Pennsylvania first opened its doors in 1919, it was the largest hotel in the world, boasting 2,200 rooms across 22 stories of decorated brick facade. The Hotel Pennsylvania also had the oldest phone number in New York City. Clocking in at over 80 years old, the hotel’s phone number, 212-736-5000, was immortalized in 1940 by the famous Glenn Miller song “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” The majestic hotel was also responsible for another piece of classic New York literature: E.B. White’s short essay Here Is New York. The story goes that White arrived in New York on a hot, sweaty afternoon, checked into the Hotel Pennsylvania, and wrote the entire brilliant and beautiful essay in one sitting.
The demolition of the Hotel Pennsylvania is part of Governor Kathy Hochul’s Pennsylvania Station Area Civic and Land Use Improvement Project. This plan entails razing all buildings in a three-block area surrounding Penn Station and replacing them with glass office towers akin to that of Hudson Yards. The project is being spearheaded by the Empire State Development Corporation, which held the second of two public hearings on its plans last Thursday. Over 450 people attended and 259 spoke during the public comment period, with 85% of those who spoke opposing the project. Many advocated for a reorientation of the Governor’s project away from real estate development and toward modernizing Penn Station along the lines of ReThinkNYC’s proposal. Instead of more glossy high rises, many commented that Penn Station should be brought out of Madison Square Garden’s basement, have its platforms widened, and be converted into a European-style through-running station.
As for the Hotel Pennsylvania, the landmark building can easily be renovated and modernized for a 21st-century clientele. In fact, the Oklahoma City-based firm Burnett Equity recently completed an adaptive reuse of the Hotel Martinique, which is located just one block to the east of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Presiding over Herald Square since 1898, the Hotel Martinique reopened its doors to great fanfare at the beginning of 2022. Unfortunately, Vornado has elected to tear down its historic asset and even converted the main entrance into a construction turnstile.
If New York has learned anything from projects like the Hotel Martinique, the High Line, or the South Street Seaport, it is that preserving and building upon the history of this great city is what makes New York a proud home to its people. It is the creativity and care of adaptive reuse that should be encouraged and celebrated, not the senseless destruction of the city’s dense urban fabric.
Next, check out 10 Secrets of the Hotel Pennsylvania and Photos Inside the Abandoned Penn Station Power Plant!