Baby Steps

by Don Friedman on June 20, 2017


A new concourse has opened at Penn Station, running north-south on the west side of Eighth Avenue. This is the first completed piece of the Moynihan Station plan, to turn the James Farley General Post Office into the new Penn Station. That’s not as crazy as it sounds, since the tracks and platforms extend well under the post office from the original station location to the east.

I recently said that I’d prefer to new station to an attempt to recreate the McKim Mead & White building that was demolished in the 1960s. One of the ironies of the current plan is that the Farley Building was also designed by McKim Mead & White, although it is, at best, a pale imitation of the original station. The new concourse is in no danger of being mistaken for MMW’s classical revival style, which is good. What’s not as good is that it’s not a new station, but rather a small addition to the existing station that might, someday, be part of the new one.

The picture up top is the old station in 1911, when it was brand new. The two parts of the building that attract notice are the classical street facades – what if trains existed in ancient Rome? – and the high roof over the platform concourse, which had beautiful exposed-steel trussed arches. But take a look at the facades facing the interior light courts, visible just below the big arched windows in the high-roof area. They are plain, unornamented brick with plain rectangular double-hung windows. The architects understood that they could dress the building up in classical forms but that it was a modern steel-frame structure and they didn’t waste money by decorating facades that were invisible to the public. Common sense is a great addition to any project.

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