Pennsylvania Station: Destruction of an American Masterpiece

Built in 1910 by the famous architects McKim, Mead, and White, Pennsylvania Station was a masterpiece of the Beaux Arts style.

Built in 1910 by the famous architects McKim, Mead, and White, Pennsylvania Station was a masterpiece of the Beaux Arts style. Of enormous proportions, it took up two city blocks and was one of the largest public spaces in the world. It was the first station to divide travelers into arrivals and departures in two concourses.

 

It was a masterpiece of American architecture that evoked the great halls of Rome and the palatial railway stations of Europe, and was a crown jewel in New York City. At its peak in 1945, it handled 100 million travelers a year. Its destruction in 1963 after only 53 years provoked international outrage and was considered a “monumental act of vandalism” and started the historical preservation movement in the United States, saving Grand Central Station from a similar fate.

Inspired by the great halls of Rome, visitors "entered the city like a god".

Inspired by the great halls of Rome, visitors “entered the city like a god”.

Inspired by the Paris Gare d'Orsay, Pennsylvania Station was conceived to be twice the size of its European counterpart.

Inspired by the Paris Gare d’Orsay, Pennsylvania Station was conceived to be twice the size of its European counterpart.

The great waiting room was inspired by the Roman baths of Carracas

The great waiting room was inspired by the Roman baths of Caracalla

The vaulted ceilings reached 150 feet

The vaulted ceilings reached 150 feet

lobby

At its peak in 1945, the station handled 100 million passengers in a single year, an average of 274,000 per day.

At its peak in 1945, the station handled 100 million passengers in a single year, an average of 274,000 per day.

Pennsylvania Station stood for only 53 years

Pennsylvania Station stood for only 53 years

The protests in 1963 were apparently carried out by very well-dressed people

The protests in 1963 were apparently carried out by very well-dressed people

 

The New York Times editorially lamented, "Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance."

The New York Times: “Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance.”

Madison Square Garden goes up in its place. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, renowned Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, "One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat."

Madison Square Garden goes up in its place. Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, renowned Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

 

Watch the full documentary on American Experience

One comment


  • Marc Goodman

    Yes, a terrible, terrible loss. Penn Station was modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

    I remember reading that the wonderful columns were to be saved and used later. What happened??

    Another loss was the wonderful Madison Square Garden by Mckim, Mead and White. “One of the most beautiful buildings in New York was replaced by one of the most ugly”! All boils down to $$$$ and parking spaces..

    June 01, 2015

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