THIS WEEK FIFTY years ago, authorities in New York City carried out a “monumental act of vandalism” by knocking Pennsylvania Station to the ground.
Sports venue Madison Square Garden was built on the site in the stead of what had been a pink-granite, marble-columned Beaux-Arts-style masterpiece. Photographs of the original Penn Station – built between 1905 and 1910 – show it to be a landmark to rival the still-existing Grand Central Station.
In fact, Grand Central Station owes its continued existence to a landmarks preservation law that was brought in on foot of the outcry over Penn’s destruction. A New York Times article from 1963 decried the demolition:
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 station had 84 marble Doric columns and a 150-foot vaulted ceiling over its concourse.
This image shows 3,000 people crammed into the main waiting room at Penn Station on 3 April 1949 to hear New York City council president Vincent Impellitteri speak at the launch of the United Jewish Appeal’s ‘Caravan of Hope’:
Image: AP Photo/Harry Harris
And on a less busy day in spring of 1962, the Historic American Buildings Survey snapped these images to preserve what was soon to be lost:
All above five images from US Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
The station had been a meeting place, a focal point for visiting dignitaries as well as a travel hub. This iconic image from 1942 is of a US soldier kissing his wife goodbye at Penn Station before going off to fight in World War II:
Image: Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images
The children of Charlie Chaplin and Lita Gray Chaplin – Charles Jr and Sydney Earle – pictured on a train leaving Penn station en route to the Pacific coast on 14 July 1932:
Image: AP Photo archive
Cuban president Fidel Castro arriving at Penn Station to crowds of admirers on a US trip in 21 April 1959. (You can spot him just to the right of the lamp in the centre of the photograph, wearing a cap):
Image: Ray Stu bblebine/AP/Press Association Images
A 1962 aerial shot shows the original Penn Station in all its glory:
Image: AP Photo
After the destruction. The construction of the new Madison Square Garden – on the site where Penn Station had stood for 53 years – is shown on 24 August 1966:
And on 2 March 1967:
And on 14 December 1967:
And on opening night on 11 February 1968. Bob Hope stands centrestage, hosting a benefit show for the United Services Organisations.
All above images by AP Photo archive.
And what of the rail station? It still is a massive transport hub – the mostly underground terminal now looks like this:
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