Penn Station and the Rise of Historic Preservation

MCNY Blog: New York Stories

After reading Lauren Robinson’s fantastic blog post about the return of Mad Men, I found myself haunted by the destruction of the original Penn Station. And as I dug deeper, I discovered that this was a drama of almost mythic proportions; a classic tale of David and Goliath; big corporations against a rag-tag group of underdogs; and art versus profit.

But first, the backstory: the original Pennsylvania Station was designed by Charles F. McKim, of McKim, Mead & White fame, the preeminent East Coast architectural firm of the Gilded Age. McKim’s designs drew heavily on classical architecture like the Roman Baths of Caracalla and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin that elevated the mere activity of entering and leaving the city into a  momentous occasion.

Penn Station was opened on September 8th, 1910, and its sheer scale immediately evoked a sense of awe. At the time it was completed, it was the…

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