The Demolition of Penn Station
by Norman McGrath
New York's Pennsylvania Station (1910) by McKim, Mead & White was one of the great engineering and architectural feats of the early 20th century in the United States. The station remained a civic landmark until its demolition in the 1960s, during which a young photographer documented its demise. — Editor
Certain events stand out in the life of any great city. They take a variety of forms. Some are natural in origin — floods, heat waves, and snowstorms, for example. Others are social, more unpredictable, and at times more difficult to accept: the removal of Pennsylvania Station is clearly in this category.
I was born in London, a city of major railroad stations, exciting places that rivaled cathedrals for sheer size and grandeur. I remember massive, streamlined steam locomotives from before World War II and viewed railroad stations as a permanent component of the urban scene.
I came to New York City from Dublin in 1956, a structural engineer by profession, but a serious amateur photographer. In the early 1960s I found myself jobless and felt the timing was right to make a career change. I bought myself a 4x5 view camera and set out to teach myself its idiosyncrasies.
Two or three months later, I had a call from a former associate who had heard of my intended career switch and wondered if I was "interested in eating in the meantime." The upshot was that I went to work as an engineer for Wayman C. Wing on a part-time basis while I made the transition from one profession to another. My new office was in the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across from Penn Station as its demolition began. >>>
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This article is reprinted from New York's Pennsylvania Stations by Hilary Ballon. Copyright © 2002 by Hilary Ballon. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Pennsylvania Station by McKim, Mead & White in 1910.
Photo: Courtesy W.W. Norton
The train concourse facing the 33rd Street entrance as demolition begins. The steel frame of the new ceiling is beginning to encroach on the right.
Photo: © Norman McGrath
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