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The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today

Illustration for article titled The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today

Penn Station now? Gross, ew, there's a Sbarro, and everything is ugly. But the original Penn Station was a marvelous piece of Beaux Arts design. Its story is also one of the most tragic tales in architecture—50 years ago today, it was torn down to make way for Madison Square Garden.

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The original Pennsylvania station—named for the Pennsylvania Railroad—opened its doors in 1910. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, it a monument of pink granite, marked by an army of 84 Greek Doric columns and 150-foot vaulted ceilings. Inside, glass and steel soared to make one of the most breathtaking train sheds ever built. Inspired by the Roman baths of Caracalla, its massive waiting area was one of the largest public spaces in the world.

When word got out that Penn Station's cash-strapped owners planned to raze it, the protest from journalists and critics around the city was swift and loud. But ultimately, their fight to save Penn Station was unsuccessful. Renowned architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote Farewell to Penn Station in an October 1963 editorial in the New York Times:

Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.

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That Penn Station was destroyed is tragic, and its absence left an unspeakable hole in the city's fabric. Its replacement is an ugly, pedestrian, depressing, bus station-style eyesore (which might not be long for this world either).

But there is a bright spot—after all, the demolition of the original station inspired a movement of architectural preservation in the city. Perhaps you have to lose something precious before you can truly value the world around you. [The Atlantic, New York Times, Wikipedia]

Illustration for article titled The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today
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Illustration for article titled The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today
Illustration for article titled The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today
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Illustration for article titled The Original Penn Station Was Demolished 50 Years Ago Today

Images via NYC-Architecture

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DISCUSSION

I get the point articles like this make but why do they never factor in all of the amazing events that New Yorkers (and visitors to New York) have been able to access right in the heart of the city due to the presence of MSG there as a result? And don't think of it only on the grandest scale of "how many championships have the Knicks or Rangers won" but of the THOUSANDS of events that a parent has been able to take a child to to just spend an evening together in the way that people get to in cities across the country. Everything is hard in NYC. People say "oh there's so much to do here" and there is but, it's always hard, there's always a crowd, an expense, a waitlist - if you want to see a football game you have to trek to Jersey, etc., etc. - MSG puts sports, concerts, expos, all sorts of stuff right at our fingertips 365 days a year and all we lost was a utilitarian building for passing through.