Ed Driscoll

...But It All Balances Out

If the news here in California sounds grim, at least it’s offset by a wonderful development on the east coast. Offset? For me, it’s all cancelled out in terms of how good this piece of news makes me feel: the original Penn Station is (in a sense) being rebuilt. The original was knocked down in the mid-1960s, but the enormous post office across the street is a virtual double for its former exterior. James Lileks links to this New York Daily News piece, which says:

State and city officials yesterday named the developers who will replace one of the city’s lost jewels – the old Pennsylvania Station – with a new gem.
After years of delay, the city, state and two big developers are all aboard with a design to turn the main post office on Eighth Ave. into a grand transit hub recalling the elegant Pennsylvania Station that was razed in 1963.

The $818 million plan will preserve the handsome facade of the James A. Farley Post Office, erected in 1913, while adapting the building as the new Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station, to honor the late U.S. senator, who pushed hard for the idea.

“This is going to be a magnificent gateway for New York,” Gov. Pataki said at yesterday’s unveiling of the design, which also calls for shops, restaurants and a boutique hotel.

Pataki noted that more than 500,000 subway, NJTransit, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak riders a day now use Penn Station, a bland hub located across Eighth Ave. He called the current location “horribly inadequate.” It’s “certainly not an appropriate gateway to the greatest city in the world,” he added.

As envisioned by James Carpenter Design Associates, in collaboration with Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, the new central train hall will mirror the old Penn Station through the addition of tall, steel arches on which will sit a huge, yet lightweight, skylight.

A second, so-called “grid shell skylight” will be set atop a hall to be located roughly in the middle of the building, between Eighth and Ninth Aves., that will serve as a taxi station and baggage dropoff.

The winning plan for the project was submitted by a team of major New York developers, The Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust, which has extensive holdings in the area.

The companies will put up about $300 million of the projected $818 million cost at different stages before the work is completed in 2010.

The city, state and federal governments and the Port Authority are also helping to fund the project, whose main transit beneficiary will be NJTransit trains.

The congestion that commuters now face in reaching the track level in Penn Station will be relieved with the addition of staircases and other access to 11 platforms that already sit under the Farley building.

The Postal Service will occupy 250,000 square feet.

Up to 1 million square feet of air rights will be applied to the northeast corner of Eighth Ave. and 33rd St., where a Duane Reade store now stands. A residential tower is expected to rise there, next to Vornado-owned 1Penn Plaza.

“The completion of the Moynihan Station gives a second chance to recapture the extraordinary station that once was Penn Station,” said Charles Gargano, chairman of the state Economic Development Corp.

Yes sir!

I’ve spent countless hours in the current Penn Station, which arose in the mid-1960s. Lileks has an exceptionally well-written description of just how awful the current facility is:

The sin of the demolition of the old Penn Station was never erased, and the wretched piss-soaked warren they put in its place was a constant reminder of the Original Sin of post-war urbanists. That unholy combo of bottom-liners and utopians took away one of the most magnificent spaces in urban American and replaced it with something that seemed lifted en masse from a claustrophobic dream. To modern eyes it makes no sense: the era where social divisions were keenly felt gave us a space so vast that all distinctions dissolved in its great stone heaven; the egalitarians, by contrast, gave us a space whose equalizing impulse was best expressed as the desire to oppress everyone