On This Day

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Associated Press
Penn Station

On This Day: New York’s Penn Station Opens

November 27, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 27, 1910, Pennsylvania Station opened in New York City, with trains entering Manhattan for the first time by way of tunnels under the Hudson River.

Building Penn Station

Before 1910, only one railroad, William H. Vanderbilt’s Central Railroad, traveled into Manhattan, dropping off passengers at Grand Central Terminal. The Pennsylvania Railroad and ten other railroads serving Manhattan were forced to disgorge their hundreds of thousands of passengers on the New Jersey shore, where fleets of ferries transported them across the Hudson River.

Alexander J. Cassatt, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was determined to “somehow send the Pennsylvania Railroad across the mile-wide Hudson River and bring its elegant gleaming passenger trains triumphantly into the heart of Manhattan,” writes Jill Jonnes, author of “Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels.”

His first project, later abandoned, was to construct a huge bridge across the Hudson. In 1901, he announced plans to enter New York City by tunneling under the Hudson, an ambitious and incredibly expensive project. At the center of his grand project was Pennsylvania Station, to be built on Seventh Avenue just south of 34th Street.

Cassatt hired architect Charles McKim of the French Beaux Arts school to design the station. Though neither Cassatt nor McKim was alive when it opened in 1910, they left an architectural masterpiece that changed train travel in New York.

Penn Station was the greatest of them all,” says Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New Yorker. “Penn Station emerged out of a time when the whole act of travel had a kind of ritual ceremony to it. The beauty, really, of coming into a city or leaving a city with a great piece of architecture, a great gateway was really what it was.”

The Demolition of Penn Station

In the 1960s, the Pennsylvania Railroad was losing ten of millions of dollars a year. It decided that it could make money by demolishing Penn Station and replacing it with an underground station, allowing it to sell the air rights to the plot of land. In 1963, the three-year demolition of Penn Station began.

The public in New York and around the world was outraged that such a beautiful and historic structure could be demolished. As a direct result, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was established to protect historic buildings.

“Largely because of the destruction of Penn Station, a million buildings nationwide have been saved,” writes CBS News. “One thousand in New York City alone have been spared.”

New Penn Station

The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was at the forefront of a campaign to close down the existing Penn Station—a "very inadequate subterranean substitute,” in his words—and to extend the lines westward to Eighth Avenue, using the more classical-looking Farley Post Office as the new station.

Plans for Moynihan Station are still being debated and revised. Details and updates of the current plan can be found on the New Penn Station Web site, administered by the Municipal Art Society of New York, and the Friends of Moynihan Station Web site, administered by a collection of civic organizations, business groups and elected officials.

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