New York's Penn station rises again from the rubble

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The Independent Online
FEW acts of urban vandalism equalled the razing of Pennsylvania Station, a neo-classical masterpiece, in Manhattan 35 years ago. The city has been feeling the guilt ever since. Now, it is seizing a chance to make amends.

The old Penn Station is gone for good. Chunks still lie among the rushes in marshland across the Hudson River in New Jersey. What passes as Penn Station today is a low-ceilinged, subterranean warren beneath Madison Square Garden. It was to make way for the Garden that the old Penn was demolished.

Across Eighth Avenue from the Garden, however, is New York's General Post Office Building. A splendid structure of sweeping steps and marching columns, it evokes the Station that is no more. It should; both buildings were designed by the venerated architectural team of McKim, Meade and White. After years of prodding, the Post Office this week agreed to surrender a large part of its facility for - guess what - a new, and newly grandiose Pennsylvania Station. Construction will begin this summer.

What should emerge will be a fine terminus with restaurants and shops. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a prime mover behind the project, said the decision was "an epochal moment, a turning point" for the city.

President Bill Clinton is also impressed; he helped, by twisting the arm of the Post Office. What he saw was a "vision to build a new, beautiful railway station, worthy of the future, and worthy of New York City". It is budgeted to cost some $315m.

For the engineers, one detail is crucial. The lines coming into the existing Penn Station pass directly beneath the Post Office building. All that will be needed, therefore, will be escalators from the grand new lobby feeding down to the lines below.

Getting to this point has not been easy. For six years, the Post Office held out, arguing that it needed all of its space. Finally, it agreed to hand over about one-fifth of its floor area to the railways. Eventually the Post Office may be chased out altogether.