Preservation unbound: Is a plan to re-build the original Penn Station a viable option?

Posted On Mon, November 20, 2017 By

Posted On Mon, November 20, 2017 By In Architecture, Midtown West, Transportation, Urban Design

Drawing of the original Penn Station, re-created. Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

In August 6sqft reported that major work was underway in the $1.6 billion transformation of Penn Station’s James A. Farley Building into a state-of-the-art, 225,000-square-foot “world-class 21st century transportation hub” called Moynihan Train Hall. That hasn’t stopped the flow of suggestions for how to best make use of New Yorkers’ un-favorite transport hub, which have included Practice for Architecture and Urbanism founder Vishaan Chakrabarti’s proposal to repurpose, then move the old building to create a neighborhood gathering spot and a plan by Columbia University’s DeathLab  to turn the the station into a landscaped cemetery. Among those voices-with-a-vision is Rebuild Penn Station, a group of architects and preservationists whose intent is to recreate the original McKim, Mead and White-designed Penn Station, and a new ad campaign aims to get commuters on board (h/t Curbed).


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

Rebuild Penn Station is a project of the National Civic Art Society, spearheaded by Richard W. Cameron, principal designer at Atelier & Co., and an original founder of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Sam Turvey, chair of the Rebuild Penn Station Steering Committee said “Today Penn Station is an ugly, cramped, and ineffective transit facility that is an embarrassment to the city and indeed all Americans. We propose rebuilding the station to bring back an architectural masterpiece, while simultaneously improving and updating the station’s functionality.” The group calls the original McKim, Mead & White-designed Penn Station, completed in 1910, “one of the finest buildings ever constructed. Its vast, travertine-clad main hall was cherished for the breathtaking scale of its Corinthian columns, semicircular Roman windows, and vaulted coffered ceiling.”


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station


Credit: Jeff Stikeman for Rebuild Penn Station

According to Rebuild Penn Station’s website FAQ, rebuilding the station would cost an estimated $3 billion to $3.5 billion, but, “Given its overwhelming attractiveness as a place to use and visit, the rebuilt station will pay for itself through the dramatic positive economic impact it will have on the neighborhood, city, and tri-state area. It will be a catalyst for economic development, and will make the region a more desirable place to live, work, and travel to.”


Ad for the Rebuild Penn Station campaign via Curbed.

With the new ad campaign, riders arriving by New Jersey Transit are now greeted at Penn Station with illustrations by Jeff Stikeman featuring drawings of the old Penn Station. And a leafletting campaign reaches out to Amtrak and LIRR riders asking them to dream of “Spaces to inspire,” and “Civilized arrivals.”

In making the case for resurrecting a design from a past era, the group says the original Penn Station was built “not just for its time, but for all time. Like other great works of art such as Van Gogh’s The Starry Night or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, it was a masterpiece of its kind that cannot be surpassed,” and that “Rebuilding it will right a historic wrong” citing a preservation precedent in Europe that has reconstructed monumental historic buildings like the 19th-century Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, which was torn down by Stalin.

Read more about the Rebuild Penn Station Master Plan here.

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Neighborhoods : Midtown West

  • Peter Mandzych

    Look …it’s understood what a tragedy it was to tear down the original Penn Station in the 1960’s and replace it with MSG…but good things came about. The creation of the Landmarks Preservation was brought about and because of it, Grand Central Station exists today and so do other buildings. Current case in point…they are building a supertall in downtown Brooklyn that will incorporate the old Dime Savings Bank Building and that had to go through the approval of Landmarks and a great building will be built there. You can never rebuild the old Penn…the politics isn’t there…The Governor and the State of New York are full in with the creation of Moynihan Station and when completed in 2020 will be a direct opposite of what Penn Station is today. Madison Square Garden invested 1 billion dollars into their renovation and plans by the State of New York are in place to renovate the inside and outside of Penn. People…NOBODY’S MOVING…..Don’t you think it’s time to move on…Yes our public transportation in this area is terrible but finally it looks like that will be corrected over the next few years…It’s all water under the bridge. The future is now !!!!!

    • Cezar Nicolescu

      Moynihan Station is for Amtrak only, which services a small fraction of Penn Station’s commuters. The vast majority of passengers using NJ Transit and LIRR will still occupy the same loathsome space.

      • Peter Mandzych

        I believe that the LIRR is also a part of the Moynihan plan too.

        • urban_wanderer

          But for NJ Transit commuters, there’s only the current station. However, the NJT platforms are closer to 7th ave, so it’s more convenient

  • urban_wanderer

    Buildings in European cities were recreated like this after the bombing of WWII and the result is beautiful. I’m all in favor of rebuilding Penn Station in it’s most majestic form.

    • chris_becket

      MSG isn’t going anywhere.

  • wright gregson

    may be go to New Jersey and resurrect the many pieces of the old station that at scattered across the landscape. Where was most?

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