Wednesday Apr 23 2014
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"Old” Penn Station

Pen Station Model

A new exhibit is now on display at the Whippany Railway Museum to commemorate New York City's “Old” Penn Station. Photographs of the station, vintage post cards, locomotive models and Pennsylvania Railroad memorabilia are included in the exhibit as well as a huge, highly detailed model of the iconic building.

While 2013 marks the 100th Anniversary of Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, it was 103 years ago that the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) opened the doors to it's long-awaited Gotham gateway known simply as Pennsylvania Station. Grand Central may still be grand, but Penn Station was nothing less than magnificent ! Display
Display Opened to the public on November 27, 1910, New York City's original Pennsylvania Station, designed by Beaux-Arts architects McKim, Mead and White, was a grand temple to rail travel bounded by Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 30th and 33rd Streets. The Seventh Avenue facade was dominated by a colonnade of granite pillars modeled after the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The main waiting room, designed to echo the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, featured a giant barrel-vaulted ceiling as high and long as the nave of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The main departure concourse featured a dramatic glass train shed which brought ample sunlight down to the train platforms themselves. Richly detailed sculptures abounded, including 22 statues of giant eagles which once perched all along the cornice of the station.

The Pennsylvania Railroad's enormous station gave the traveler, visitor, and commuter alike an experience of grandeur never before seen in the United States. Pennsylvania Station was a monument not only to “The Standard Railroad of The World” (the PRR), but was an architectural icon of New York City and one of the grandest public buildings of the 20th Century.

marilyn monroe

The station occupied four city blocks; yet one was never confused by its vastness. Patrons progressed easily from the European-like elegance of the arcade to the opulent magnificence of the main waiting room and then to the drama and movement of the concourse. Charles McKim's brilliance was evident in his ability to break up the spaces so that each was a different experience and all were related.

Pennsylvania Station was the result of a decade of planning, engineering, and building. To make the station possible trains had to be electrified and new tunneling techniques developed. Construction of Penn Station and its associated infrastructure, including rail tunnels under both the Hudson and East Rivers began in 1904 at a total cost of $114 million (today worth about $3 billion)... all of it funded entirely by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Display 

McKim, Mead and White had intended for their masterpiece to survive for 500 years; it barely lasted 53. In 1962 the PRR made the decision to demolish the station as rail travel gave way to the airlines. No one could have foreseen that the destruction of Pennsylvania Station would prove to be one of the key moments in the birth of the historic preservation movement.

On Oct. 28, 1963, as the very skies seemed to weep a gentle rain, desecration and demolition began. Penn Station’s main clock was sentimentally set at 10:53 to signal the opening date of the station...1910, and its lifetime...53 years.

It would take three years to destroy and dismantle McKim’s noble work. Only when Penn Station was gone did New Yorkers realize what they had lost. The public outcry was immense: the New York Times called it a "...monumental act of vandalism..." and "...the shame of New York." Architectural historian Vincent Scully lamented, "Through (Penn Station) one entered the city like a god. Now one scuttles in like a rat." And Ada Louise Huxtable, the Times' architecture critic, warned, "We will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed." The glory of “Old” Pennsylvania Station was replaced by the steel and glass of the new Madison Square Garden complex, with the rail station consigned to the “basement” of the Garden.

The result of this outcry was the creation in 1965 of the New York City Landmarks Commission, the first of its kind in any city in the U.S. Multiple buildings and districts in New York have been preserved since, particularly Grand Central Terminal, New York's last surviving grand gateway. The Whippany Railway Museum's display is a tribute to this great citadel of transportation's past and gives Museum visitors but a glimpse of the grandeur and glory that was 'Old' Pennsylvania Station.

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