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Pennsylvania Station (1910–1963)

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Pennsylvania Station
Pennsylvania Station aerial view, 1910s.jpg
View from the northeast in the 1910s
LocationNew York City
Coordinates40°45′01″N 73°59′35″W / 40.7503°N 73.9931°W / 40.7503; -73.9931Coordinates: 40°45′01″N 73°59′35″W / 40.7503°N 73.9931°W / 40.7503; -73.9931
Owned byPennsylvania Railroad
Penn Central
ArchitectMcKim, Mead, and White[1][2]
Architectural styleBeaux-Arts
Other information
OpenedSeptember 8, 1910 (LIRR)
November 27, 1910 (PRR)
Key dates
DemolitionOctober 28, 1963
Former services
Preceding station Pennsylvania Railroad Following station
Manhattan Transfer
toward Chicago
Main Line Terminus
Manhattan Transfer New Brunswick Line
Preceding station MTA NYC logo.svg LIRR Following station
Terminus Main Line Woodside
towards Long Island
Preceding station New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Following station
Terminus Main Line
Express service
New Haven
Preceding station Lehigh Valley Railroad Following station
Manhattan Transfer
toward Buffalo
Main Line Terminus
Preceding station Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Following station
Manhattan Transfer
toward Chicago
Main Line
Until 1926

Pennsylvania Station was a historic railroad station in New York City, named for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), its builder and original tenant. The station occupied an 8-acre (3.2 ha) plot bounded by Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. As the terminal shared its name with several stations in other cities, it was sometimes called New York Pennsylvania Station, or Penn Station for short.

The building was designed by McKim, Mead, and White and completed in 1910, enabling direct rail access to New York City from the south for the first time. Its head house and train shed were considered a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and one of the great architectural works of New York City. The station contained 11 platforms serving 21 tracks, in approximately the same layout as the current Penn Station. The original building was one of the first stations to include separate waiting rooms for arriving and departing passengers, and when built, these were among the city's largest public spaces.

Passenger traffic began to decline after World War II, and in the 1950s, the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the air rights to the property and shrank the railroad station. Starting in 1963, the above-ground head house and train shed were demolished, a loss that galvanized the modern historic preservation movement. Over the next six years, the below-ground concourses and waiting areas were heavily renovated, becoming the modern Penn Station, while Madison Square Garden and Pennsylvania Plaza were built above them. The sole remaining portions of the original station are the underground platforms and tracks, as well as scattered artifacts on the mezzanine level above it.



Pennsylvania Station, Plate 20 from: Bromley, George W. and Bromley, Walter S. Atlas of the City of New York Borough of Manhattan. Volume Two. (Philadelphia: G. W. Bromley and Co., 1920)

Until the early 20th century, the PRR's rail network terminated on the western side of the Hudson River, once known locally as the North River, at Exchange Place in Jersey City, New Jersey. Manhattan-bound passengers boarded ferries to cross the Hudson River for the final stretch of their journey. The rival New York Central Railroad's line transported passengers from the Hudson Valley in the city's north, ran along Park Avenue in Manhattan, and terminated at Grand Central Depot (later Grand Central Terminal) at 42nd Street and Park Avenue.[3]:28 Many proposals for a cross-Hudson connection were advanced in the late 19th century, but financial panics in the 1870s and 1890s scared off potential investors. In any event, none of the proposals advanced during this time were considered feasible.[4]

The PRR considered building a rail bridge across the Hudson, but the state of New York insisted that a cross-Hudson bridge had to be a joint project with other New Jersey railroads, who were not interested.[5][6] The alternative was to tunnel under the river, but steam locomotives could not use such a tunnel due to the accumulation of pollution in a closed space, and the New York State Legislature prohibited steam locomotives in Manhattan after July 1, 1908.[7]

The idea of a Midtown Manhattan railroad hub was first formulated in 1901, when the Pennsylvania Railroad took interest in a new railroad approach recently completed in Paris. In the Parisian railroad scheme, electric locomotives were substituted for steam locomotives prior to the final approach into the city. PRR President Alexander Johnston Cassatt adapted this method for the New York City area in the form of the New York Tunnel Extension project, which he created and led the overall planning effort for. The PRR, who had been working with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) on the Tunnel Extension plans, made plans to acquire majority control of the LIRR so that one new terminal could be built in Manhattan, rather than two.[8]

The Corinthian columns of New York Penn Station's Main Waiting Room

The project was to include New York Penn Station; the North River Tunnels, crossing the Hudson River to the west; and the East River Tunnels, crossing the East River to the east.[8] The original proposal for the terminal, which was published in June 1901, called for the construction of a bridge across Hudson River between 45th and 50th Streets in Manhattan, as well as two closely spaced terminals for the LIRR and PRR. This would allow passengers to travel between Long Island and New Jersey without having to switch trains.[9] In December 1901, the plans were modified so that the PRR would construct the North River Tunnels under the Hudson River, instead of a bridge over it.[10] The PRR cited costs and land value as a reason for constructing a tunnel rather than a bridge, since the cost of a tunnel would be one-third that of a bridge.[11]

The New York Tunnel Extension quickly gained opposition from the New York City Board of Rapid Transit Commissioners, who objected that they would not have jurisdiction over the new tunnels, as well as from the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which saw the New York Tunnel Extension as a potential competitor to its as-yet-incomplete rapid transit service.[12] The city had initially declined to give the PRR a franchise because city officials believed that the PRR needed to grant thirteen concessions to protect city interests; the PRR ultimately conceded nine of the city's requests. The project was approved by the New York City Board of Aldermen in December 1902, on a 41-36 vote. The North and East River Tunnels were to be built under the riverbed of their respective rivers. The PRR and LIRR lines would converge at what would become New York Penn Station, an "immense passenger station" on the east side of 8th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets in Manhattan. The entire project was expected to cost over $100 million.[13]

Cassatt's design for New York Penn Station was inspired by the Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts style station in Paris, though he planned for the new terminal to be twice as large.[14][15] He commissioned Charles McKim of the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to design the terminal.[14][16] McKim envisioned a space that would celebrate "the entrance to one of the great metropolitan cities of the world." He studied the role of public buildings in Ancient Rome, including the Baths of Diocletian. Cassatt and McKim collaborated closely to define the structure of the station.[14] Their original plan called for a structure measuring 1,500 feet (460 m) long by 500 feet (150 m) wide, with three floors open to passengers and 25 tracks.[15]

As part of the terminal's construction, the PRR proposed that the United States Postal Service construct a post office across from the station. on the west side of 8th Avenue. In February 1903, the U.S. government accepted the PRR's proposal and made plans to construct what would later become the Farley Post Office.[17] The PRR would also build a train storage yard in Queens east of Penn Station, to be used by both PRR trains from the west and LIRR trains from the east. The yard's purpose was to store passenger-train cars at the beginning or end of their trips, as well as to reverse the direction of the locomotives that pulled these train cars.[18]


Depiction of the excavation of the station foundation, from George Wesley Bellows
Depiction of the excavation of the station foundation, from Ernest Lawson

Land purchases for the station started in late 1901 or early 1902. The PRR purchased a site bounded by Seventh and Ninth Avenues between 31st and 33rd Streets. This site was chosen over other sites further east, such as Herald Square, because these parts of Manhattan were already congested. Penn Station proper would be located along the eastern part of the site between Seventh and Eighth Avenue. The northwestern block, bounded by Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue. 32nd Street, and 33rd Street, was not part of the original plan.[19] The condemnation of seventeen city-owned buildings on the terminal's future site, an area of four blocks, was commenced in June 1903.[20] All of the 304 parcels within the four-block area, which were collectively owned by 225 to 250 entities, had been purchased by November 1903.[19] The PRR purchased land west of Ninth Avenue in April 1904, such that it owned all the land between Seventh and Tenth Avenues from 31st to 33rd Street. This land would allow the PRR to build extra railroad switches for the tracks in Penn Station.[21] The PRR also made purchases along the north side of the future station between 33rd and 34th Streets so it could create a pedestrian walkway leading directly to 34th Street, a major crosstown thoroughfare.[22] The properties between 33rd and 34th Street that the PRR had purchased were transferred to PRR ownership in 1908.[23] Clearing the site entailed "displacing thousands of residents from the largely African-American community in what was once known as the Tenderloin district in Manhattan."[24]

A $5 million contract to excavate the site was awarded in June 1904, marking the start of the actual construction process.[25] Overall, some 500 buildings had to be demolished to make way for the station.[26] Even as excavation proceeded, the federal government was still deciding whether to build a post office next to the PRR station. The PRR planned to turn over the air rights to the blocks between Eighth and Ninth Avenues to the federal government once excavations were completed. However, the PRR would still own the land below the post office, and so some Congress members opposed the post office plan, as they believed that the government would only own "a chunk of space in the air" above the tracks.[27] The Postmaster of New York City, William Russell Willcox, ultimately approved the post office anyway.[28] McKim, Mead & White, which had designed Penn Station, was selected to design the post office in 1908. By this time, the excavations were near completion and the structural steel for the post office building were being laid.[29]

In June 1906, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad applied for and received a franchise to operate trains from the northeastern suburbs of New York City to New York Penn Station. The New Haven would be able to accomplish this by constructing a spur from the four-track New Haven Railroad and New York Central Railroad main line in the Bronx (these railroads are now respectively the modern-day New Haven Line and Harlem Line of the Metro-North Railroad). The spur, now the Port Morris Branch, would split north of Melrose station in the South Bronx, then merge with the Harlem River and Port Chester Railroad (HR&PC; now part of the Northeast Corridor) just north of the Harlem River. The HR&PC would pass from the Bronx to Queens via the Hell Gate Bridge, then continue south through Queens, eventually connecting to the East River Tunnels and Penn Station.[30]

The North River and East River Tunnels ran almost in a straight line between Queens and New Jersey, interrupted only by the proposed Pennsylvania Railroad station.[26] The technology for the tunnels connecting to Penn Station was so innovative that, in 1907, the PRR shipped an actual 23-foot (7.0 m) diameter section of the new East River Tunnels to the Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the nearby founding of the colony at Jamestown.[31] The same tube, with an inscription indicating that it had been displayed at the Exposition, was later installed under water and remains in use. Construction was completed on the Hudson River tunnels on October 9, 1906,[32] and on the East River tunnels on March 18, 1908.[33] Construction also progressed on Penn Station during this time. Workers began laying the stonework for the station in June 1908, and they had completed thirteen months later.[3]:75

New York Penn Station was officially declared complete on August 29, 1910.[34] A small portion of Penn Station was opened nearly two weeks later, on September 8, in conjunction with the opening of the East River Tunnels. As a result, LIRR riders gained direct railroad service to Manhattan. Prior to the opening of Penn Station, LIRR riders entered Manhattan via the 34th Street Ferry Terminal, where they could transfer to an elevated shuttle station.[35] The rest of the station opened on November 27, 1910.[36] One hundred thousand people visited the station during its first day of full service, excluding the 25,000 commuters and intercity riders.[37] With the station's full opening, the PRR became the only railroad to enter New York City from the south.[38]

At the station's completion, the total project cost to the Pennsylvania Railroad for the station and associated tunnels was $114 million (equivalent to $2.26 billion in 2018[39]), according to an Interstate Commerce Commission report.[40]:156–157[3]:29 The railroad paid tribute to Cassatt, who died in 1906, with a statue designed by Adolph Alexander Weinman in the station's grand arcade.[41] The statue, which was preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, was inscribed:

President, Pennsylvania Railroad Company 1899–1906
Whose Foresight, Courage and Ability achieved the extension of the Pennsylvania Railroad into New York City[5]


One of the early electric locomotives arrives at Penn Station, ca. 1910

When Penn Station first opened, it had a capacity of 144 trains per hour on its 21 tracks and 11 platforms. At the start of operations, there were 1,000 trains scheduled every weekday: of these, 600 were LIRR trains, while the other 400 were PRR trains.[42]:201 The commuting times of LIRR riders were cut by up to a half-hour. The station was so heavily used that the PRR soon added 51 trains to its daily schedule.[26] The station also served New Haven trains to Westchester County and Connecticut after the Hell Gate Bridge opened in 1917.[3]:30 During half a century of operation, many intercity passenger trains arrived and departed daily to Chicago and St. Louis, where passengers could make connection to other railroads. Along with Long Island Rail Road trains, Penn Station saw trains of the New Haven and the Lehigh Valley Railroads. A side effect of the tunneling project was to open the city up to the suburbs, and within 10 years of opening, two-thirds of the daily passengers coming through Penn Station were commuters.[14]

The station put the Pennsylvania Railroad at comparative advantage to its competitors offering service to the west and south. The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), Central of New Jersey (CNJ), Erie, and the Lackawanna railroads began their routes at terminals in New Jersey, requiring travelers bound for New York City to use ferries or the interstate Hudson Tubes to traverse the Hudson River.[46] During World War I and the early 1920s, the rival B&O passenger trains to Washington, D.C., Chicago, and St. Louis also used Penn Station, initially by order of the United States Railroad Administration, until the Pennsylvania Railroad terminated the B&O's access in 1926.[47] Atypically for a public building, Penn Station was well maintained during its heyday. Such was the station's status that whenever the President of the United States arrived in New York by rail, he would arrive and depart on tracks 11 and 12.[3]:78 Royalty and leaders of other countries also traveled via Penn Station.[26]

A train approaching the station from New Jersey, 1910

Over the next few decades, alterations were made to Penn Station in order to increase its capacity. The LIRR concourse, waiting room, and amenities were expanded; platforms were expanded; and connections were provided to the New York City Subway stations at Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue.[26] The electrification of Penn Station was initially 600 V DC third rail.[3]:29 It was later changed to 11,000 V AC overhead catenary when electrification of PRR's mainline was extended to Washington, D.C., in the early 1930s.[5] The expansion of electrification also allowed the PRR to begin running electric-powered commuter trains from Trenton via Newark starting in 1933; previously, steam-powered commuter trains continued to originate and terminate at Exchange Place.[48] By 1935, Penn Station had served over a billion passengers.[26]

A Greyhound Lines bus terminal was built to the north of Penn Station, facing 34th Street, in 1935. However, within a decade, the bus terminal had gone into decline, and was frequented by low-level criminals and the homeless. The Greyhound bus terminal soon saw competition from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, located seven blocks north of Penn Station, which opened in 1950. The dispute continued for almost a decade afterward, and by 1962, Greyhound had closed the Penn Station bus terminal and moved to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.[49]

The station was busiest during World War II: in 1945, more than 100 million passengers traveled through Penn Station.[14] The station's decline came soon afterward with the beginning of the Jet Age and the construction of the Interstate Highway System.[50] However, the station had already gone into decline as early as the 1930s, and by the 1950s its ornate pink granite exterior had become coated with grime.[24][51] The PRR recorded its first-ever annual operating losses in 1947,[52] and intercity rail passenger volumes continued to decline dramatically over the next decade.[50] A renovation in the late 1950s covered some of the grand columns with plastic and blocked off the spacious central hallway with the "Clamshell", a new ticket office designed by Lester C. Tichy.[50][53] Architectural critic Lewis Mumford wrote in The New Yorker in 1958 that "nothing further that could be done to the station could damage it".[50][54] Advertisements surrounded the station's Seventh Avenue concourse, while stores and restaurants were crammed around the Eighth Avenue side's mezzanine. A layer of dirt covered the interior and exterior of the structure, and the pink granite was stained with gray.[50] Another architectural critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, wrote in The New York Times in 1963: "The tragedy is that our own times not only could not produce such a building, but cannot even maintain it."[55]


Seen in 1962

The Pennsylvania Railroad optioned the air rights of New York Penn Station to real estate developer William Zeckendorf in 1954. Zeckendorf had previously suggested that the two-block site of the main building could be used for a "world trade center".[56][57][58] The option allowed for the demolition of the main building and train shed, which could be replaced by an office and sports complex. The underground platforms and tracks of the station would not be modified, but the station's mezzanines would be reconfigured.[56][16] A blueprint for a "Palace of Progress" was released in 1955[59] but was not acted upon.[60]

Plans for the new Madison Square Garden above Penn Station were announced in 1962 by Irving M. Felt, the president of Graham-Paige, the company that purchased the air rights to Penn Station. In exchange for the air rights, the Pennsylvania Railroad would get a brand-new, air-conditioned, smaller station completely below street level at no cost, and a 25 percent stake in the new Madison Square Garden Complex. A 28-story hotel and 34-story office building, now part of Penn Plaza, would be built on the eastern side of the block, facing Seventh Avenue. The arena proper would take up most of the block, facing Eighth Avenue to the west.[61]

At the time, one argument made in favor of the old Penn Station's demolition was that the cost of maintaining the structure had become prohibitive. Its grand scale made the PRR devote a "fortune" to its upkeep;[24] as mentioned above, the head house's exterior had become somewhat grimy.[51] Those who opposed demolition considered whether it made sense to preserve a building, intended to be a cost-effective and functional piece of the city's infrastructure, simply as a monument to the past. As a New York Times editorial critical of the demolition noted at the time, "any city gets what it wants, is willing to pay for, and ultimately deserves."[62] Modern architects rushed to save the ornate building, although it was contrary to their own styles. They called the station a treasure and chanted "Don't Amputate – Renovate" at rallies.[63] Despite the controversy generated over the demolition, Felt stated that he "believed that the gain from the new buildings and sports center would more than offset any aesthetic loss." He elaborated, "Fifty years from now, when it's time for [Madison Square Garden] to be torn down, there will be a new group of architects who will protest."[64] Despite large public opposition to Penn Station's demolition, the New York City Department of City Planning voted in January 1963 to start demolishing the station that summer.[55] Architects protested politely, but to no effect.[57]

Demolition of the station in 1966

Under the leadership of PRR president Stuart T. Saunders (who later headed Penn Central Transportation), demolition of the above-ground station house began on October 28, 1963.[65] A giant steel deck was placed above the tracks and platforms, allowing rail service to continue with only minor disruptions.[24] This was possible because most of the rail infrastructure, including the waiting room, concourses and platforms, was below street level. Around five hundred columns were sunk into the platforms, while passengers were routed around work areas surrounded by plywood.[3]:73 Madison Square Garden and two office towers were built above the extensively renovated concourses and waiting area.[66] The first girders for Madison Square Garden were placed in late 1965,[67] and by summer 1966, much of the station had been demolished except for the Seventh Avenue entrance.[68] By late 1966, much of the new station had been built. There were three new entrances: one from 31st Street and Eighth Avenue, another from 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, and a third from a driveway running midblock between Seventh and Eighth Avenues from 31st to 33rd Streets. Permanent electronic signs were being erected, shops were being renovated, new escalators were being installed, and platforms that were temporarily closed during renovations had been reopened.[69] A 1968 advertisement depicted architect Charles Luckman's model of the final plan for the Madison Square Garden Center complex.[70]


Although the demolition of the head house was justified as progressive at a time of declining rail passenger service, it also created international outrage.[71] As dismantling of the structure began, The New York Times' editorial board wrote, "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."[62] New York Times reporter Eddie Hausner's photograph of the sculpture "Day" by Adolph Alexander Weinman, lying in a landfill in the New Jersey Meadowlands, inspired New Jersey Conservation and Economic Development Commissioner Robert A. Roe to salvage some of the sculptures.[72] New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman compared the demolition of the head house unfavorably to that of Lenox Library, destroyed to make way for the Frick Collection, or the old Waldorf–Astoria, razed for the construction of the Empire State Building. He claimed that it broke a long tradition of New Yorkers accepting that "what replaced a beloved building would be as good or better."[24]

The controversy over the original head house's demolition is cited as a catalyst for the architectural preservation movement in the United States, particularly in New York City.[53][73] In 1965, two years after Penn Station's demolition commenced, the city passed a landmarks preservation act, thereby creating the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.[74][75] New York City's other major railroad station, Grand Central Terminal, was also proposed for demolition in 1968 by Grand Central's owner, Penn Central. Grand Central Terminal was ultimately preserved by the city's Landmarks Commission, despite an unsuccessful challenge from Penn Central in 1978.[76][77][57]

Present day[edit]

Amtrak concourse of the modern station

The current Penn Station is situated completely underground and is located underneath Madison Square Garden, 33rd Street, and Two Penn Plaza. The station spans three levels, with the concourses located on the upper two levels and the train platforms located on the lowest level. The two levels of concourses, while original to the 1910 station, were extensively renovated during the construction of Madison Square Garden, and expanded in subsequent decades.[66] The tracks and platforms are also largely original, except for newer track connections to the West Side Rail Yard and the Amtrak Empire Corridor serving Albany and Buffalo.[78][79] There are three areas of the station, arranged into separate concourses for Amtrak, NJ Transit (which operates the former PRR commuter lines from New Jersey), and the LIRR.[80]

Comparing the new and the old Penn Station, Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully once wrote, "One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat."[53][81] Despite having undergone improvements since the 1960s, Penn Station is criticized as a low-ceilinged "catacomb" lacking charm, especially when compared to the larger and more ornate Grand Central Terminal.[71] The New York Times, in a November 2007 editorial supporting development of an enlarged railroad terminal, said that "Amtrak's beleaguered customers ... now scurry through underground rooms bereft of light or character."[82] Times transit reporter Michael M. Grynbaum wrote that Penn Station was "the ugly stepchild of the city's two great rail terminals."[51] Along similar lines, Kimmelman wrote in 2019 that while downsizing Penn Station and moving it underground may have made a modicum of sense at the time, in hindsight it was a sign that New York was "disdainful of its gloried architectural past." He also claimed that the remodeled station is not commensurate with its status as the main rail gateway to New York.[24]

In the early 1990s, U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan began to champion a plan to rebuild a replica of the historic Penn Station; he'd shined shoes in the original station during the Great Depression.[83] He proposed building it in the nearby Farley Post Office building.[84] In 1999 Senator Charles Schumer sponsored and passed legislation formally naming the yet-to-be-constructed facility "Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station" in his honor.[85] The project, since renamed "Moynihan Train Hall," was split off into two phases. The first phase, the West End Concourse, opened in the eastern part of the former post office in June 2017.[86] The second phase, which consists of expanding Penn Station's facilities into parts of the post office itself,[87] is expected to open in 2022.[88][89]

Architecture and design[edit]

Sketch of Pennsylvania Station, Office of McKim, Mead and White

Occupying two city blocks from Seventh Avenue to Eighth Avenue and from 31st to 33rd Streets, the original Pennsylvania Station building had frontages of 788 feet (240 m) along the side streets and 432 feet (132 m) long along the main avenues. It covered an area of 8 acres (3.2 ha).[42]:200[40]:151 Over 3,000,000 cubic yards (2,300,000 m3) of dirt had been excavated during construction. The original structure was made of 490,000 cubic feet (14,000 m3) of pink granite, 60,000 cubic feet (1,700 m3) of interior stone, 27,000 short tons (24,107 long tons; 24,494 t) of steel, 48,000 short tons (42,857 long tons; 43,545 t) of brick, and 30,000 light bulbs.[90]:398–399[3]:74, 76 At the time of Penn Station's completion, The New York Times called it "the largest building in the world ever built at one time".[34]


The exterior of Penn Station was marked by an imposing, sober colonnade of Roman unfluted columns based on the classical Greek Doric order. These columns, in turn, were modeled after landmarks such as the Acropolis of Athens. The rest of the facade was modeled from St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, as well as from the Bank of England headquarters.[16][91] The colonnades embodied the sophisticated integration of multiple functions and circulation of people and goods. McKim, Mead & White's design combined glass-and-steel train sheds and a magnificently proportioned concourse with a monumental entrance to New York City.[42]:200 The station itself had entrances from all four sides.[42]:200 Twin 63-foot-wide (19 m) carriageways from the streets, modeled after Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, led to the two railroads the station served. One carriageway led from the north side of the building, serving LIRR trains, while the other led from the south side, serving PRR trains. Above each carriageway entrance was a 230-foot-wide (70 m) colonnade.[34]

Entrance arcade[edit]

Main Waiting Room, c. 1911, with bronze statue of PRR President Alexander Johnston Cassatt, in niche on left

The main entrance was from a shopping arcade that led westward from the intersection of 7th Avenue and 32nd Street.[34][92] Two plaques were placed at the Seventh Avenue entrance of the station. On one plaque were inscribed the names of individuals who had led the New York Tunnel Extension project. The other plaque contained franchise dates and the names of contractors.[34][93] Cassatt wanted to give passengers a cultural experience upon their arrival in New York. He modeled the arcade after those in Milan and Naples, filling it with high-end boutiques and shops.[92] The arcade measured 45 feet (14 m) wide, a width similar to that of 32nd Street, and was 225 feet (69 m) long. The entrance to this arcade was considered to be the grandest of Penn Station's entrances. The colonnade above this entrance was 35 feet (11 m) above the ground level, and the Doric columns supporting it had diameters of 4.5 feet (1.4 m).[42]:200

At the western end of the arcade, a statue of Alexander Johnston Cassatt stood in a niche on the northern wall, where 40-foot-wide (12 m) stairs descended to a waiting room where passengers could wait for their trains.[42]:200[92] There was also a statue of PRR president Samuel Rea directly across from Cassatt's statue, on the southern wall, which was installed in 1930.[94][26]


Floor Plan

The expansive waiting room, which spanned Penn Station's entire length from 31st to 33rd Streets, contained traveler amenities such as long benches, men's and women's smoking lounges, newspaper stands, telephone and telegraph booths, and baggage windows.[92] The main waiting room, inspired by the Baths of Diocleziano and other Roman structures,[3]:74 approximated the scale of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, expressed in a steel framework clad in plaster that imitated the lower wall portions of travertine.[42]:200[16] The room measured 314 feet 4 inches (95.81 m) long, 108 feet 8 inches (33.12 m) wide, and 150 feet (46 m) tall.[42]:200 There were three semicircular windows on top of each of the waiting room's walls; the windows each had radii of 38 feet 4 inches (11.68 m).[34] With these dimensions Penn Station was the largest indoor space in New York City and one of the largest public spaces in the world. The Baltimore Sun said in April 2007 that the station was "as grand a corporate statement in stone, glass and sculpture as one could imagine."[71] Historian Jill Jonnes called the original edifice a "great Doric temple to transportation".[95]

The large clock under the glass dome in the exit concourse

Penn Station was one of the first rail terminals to separate arriving from departing passengers on two concourses.[40]:151 Directly adjoining the waiting room was an exit-only concourse area for arriving passengers. The floor area of the exit concourse was larger: it was 314 feet 4 inches (95.81 m) long by 200 feet (61 m) wide.[42]:200[92] This exit concourse was covered by a series of glass domes that were held up by plain steel framework.[3]:77 LIRR trains had exclusive use of the station's northernmost four tracks, while the PRR was exclusively assigned the southernmost tracks; the two railroads shared the center tracks as necessary. LIRR commuters could also use an entrance on the northern side, along 33rd Street. There was an additional mezzanine level below the main concourse and waiting room, and it contained two smaller concourses, one for each railroad. The smaller northern mezzanine, used by the LIRR, connected to the LIRR platforms via short stairs and to the 33rd Street entrance via escalators. The smaller southern mezzanine, used by the PRR, contained stairs and elevators between the PRR platforms and the level of the main exit concourse and waiting room.[92]

At platform level, there were 21 tracks serving 11 platforms, and the station could accommodate up to 144 trains per hour. An estimated 4 miles (6.4 km) of storage tracks in and around the station could store up to 386 train carriages. The station contained 25 elevators for baggage and passenger use.[42]:201 The storage yards were located between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in a cut that was later covered and built over.[3]:75 The structure above it was supported by 650 steel columns, each supporting a weight of up to 1,658 short tons (1,480 long tons; 1,504 t).[42]:200 East of the station, tracks 5–21 merged into two 3-track tunnels, which then merge into the East River Tunnels' four tracks. West of the station, at approximately Ninth Avenue, all 21 tracks merged into the North River Tunnels' two tracks. Tracks 1–4, the station's southernmost tracks, terminated at bumper blocks at the east end of the station, so they could only be used by trains from New Jersey.[90]:399[3]:76[96] Four switch towers, lettered from A to D, controlled train movements around the station. The main switch tower was Tower A, located between Eighth and Ninth Avenues; it still exists, although it is now located below the Farley Post Office.[3]:76


The artist Jules Guérin was commissioned to create six murals for Penn Station; each of his works were over 100 feet (30 m) tall.[97] The station contained four pairs of sculptures designed by Adolph Weinman, titled Day and Night. These sculpture pairs flanked large clocks on the top of each side of the building.[72][3]:76 The Day and Night sculptures were accompanied by small stone eagles.[98] There were also 22 larger, freestanding stone eagles placed on Penn Station's exterior.[99]

Surviving elements[edit]

Original eagle by Adolph Weinman now at Skylands in Ringwood, New Jersey
Weinman's Night in the Brooklyn Museum

Following the demolition of the original Penn Station, many of its architectural elements were lost or buried in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Some elements were salvaged and relocated. Additional architectural elements remain in the present-day station: some were covered over, while others remain visible throughout the current station.[98]

Ornaments and art[edit]

Of the 22 large freestanding eagles from the station exterior, fourteen still exist.[99] Three are known to remain in New York City: two in front of the Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden complex, and one at The Cooper Union, Adolph Weinman's alma mater. Cooper's eagle had been located in the courtyard of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering at 51 Astor Place,[100] but was relocated in the summer of 2009, along with the engineering school, to a new academic building at 41 Cooper Square. This eagle is no longer visible from the street, as it is located on the building's roof.[101] Three are on Long Island: two at the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point,[102] and one at the LIRR station in Hicksville, New York.[103] Four reside on the Market Street Bridge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, across from that city's 30th Street Station.[102] There are also individual eagles at four locations. One is positioned near the end zone at the football field of Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville, Virginia. Another is located on the grounds of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.. The other individual eagles are located in Vinalhaven, Maine, as well as at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.[102]

One of the four Day and Night sculptures, whose figures were based on model Audrey Munson, still survives as the Eagle Scout Memorial Fountain in Kansas City, Missouri.[99] Another pair of Day and Night sculptures was found in 1998 at the Con-Agg Recycling Corporation plant in the Bronx; the two damaged sculptures had been stored at the recycling plant since at least the mid-1990s.[98] The Night sculpture was moved to the sculpture garden at the Brooklyn Museum,[104][99] The two other pairs of Day and Night sculptures were thought to have been discarded in the Meadowlands.[104] One of these sculptures, recovered by Robert A. Roe, was stored at Ringwood State Park in Passaic County, New Jersey. In the late 1990s, NJ Transit wanted to install the sculptures on Newark Penn Station's facade.[72] However, this did not happen, and a writer for the website Untapped Cities found the sculpture pair in a Newark parking lot in summer 2017.[104] There were also eight smaller eagles that surrounded the four pairs of Day and Night sculptures.[105] The whereabouts of four of these eagles were later accounted for. The family of Albert Fritsch, a PRR mechanic, owns a fragment of another eagle.[106][105]

The Brooklyn Museum also owns part of one of the station's Ionic columns as well as some plaques from the station. The largest piece of the station that was known to had been salvaged, a 35-foot (11 m) Doric column, was transported upstate to Woodridge, New York, circa 1963. The Doric column had been intended for an unbuilt college in Woodridge, the Verrazano College. However, the column remained in Woodridge once plans for the college were canceled, since it was very unwieldy to bring the column back downstate.[98] In addition, eighteen of the station's 84 columns were supposed to be placed in Battery Park in Lower Manhattan.[107] However, the columns were dumped in a landfill in New Jersey instead.[108]

The statue of Samuel Rea still exists and is located outside the modern Penn Station entrance on Seventh Avenue.[109][110]

Layout features[edit]

Original vault light panels buried under the modern concourse flooring, from below, on the track level
An original staircase between tracks 3 and 4

Other small architectural details remain in the station. Some of the original staircases to platform level, with brass and iron handrails, still exist, though others have been replaced with escalators.[110][109] An original cast iron partition was uncovered during renovations, now separating a Long Island Rail Road waiting area from the hallway on the lower concourse. Original granite becomes exposed every so often in heavily trafficked corridors where modern flooring has worn, and the modern waiting areas and ticket booths occupy roughly the same spaces as the original 1910 configuration. Vestiges of the northern entrance carriageway also exist.[110] The modern station still maintains the structural underpinnings of the original station.[109] From platform level, glass vault lights can still be seen embedded within the ceiling (the floor of the lower concourse) that once let light pass through the concourse from the glass ceilings of the original train shed.[110]



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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]