Behind The Scenes

McKim, Mead & White’s Glorious Old Penn Station Turns 103

On September 8, 1910, the original Pennsylvania Station was completed after six years of construction. The building was designed by McKim, Mead & White, an architectural firm famous for their Gilded Age buildings in the Beaux-Arts style. Among the firm’s other Beaux-Arts projects are buildings at Columbia University, the New York Public Library, the Washington Square Arch, and various architectural features in Prospect Park.

Jules Crow, Pennsylvania Station Interior, 1906. Watercolor, Ink and Graphite on Paper. New-York Historical Society, Mckim, Mead & White Collection

Jules Crow, Pennsylvania Station Interior, 1906. Watercolor, Ink and Graphite on Paper. New-York Historical Society, PR042, Mckim, Mead & White Collection

The Beaux-Arts style is characterized by arched windows, classical details, and a hierarchy of spaces with grand entrances giving way to smaller rooms. The entrance to the original Penn Station was inspired by Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, and was the largest indoor space in New York City.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Railroad optioned the air rights for the station in the 1950s, which meant the above ground portions of the structure would be demolished to make room for an office and sports complex. Many New Yorkers and architecture fans were outraged, but in 1963 the building was demolished.  An op-ed in the New York Times on October 30, 1963 stated“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”

 

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1 Comment to McKim, Mead & White’s Glorious Old Penn Station Turns 103

  1. Erik Bootsma's Gravatar Erik Bootsma
    February 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    The New York Public Library (at least the main building) was by Carrere and Hastings. MM&W did a few branches.

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