The Light Inside Pennsylvania Station

A creative story about the destruction of Penn Station.

photograph by Peter Moore

Pip: Hurry, Pop, we must run.
Pop: Where do we run, Pip?
Pip: We run towards the light Pop.
Pop: The Fox is close Pip.
Pip: Yes, but we must continue to run.

I view time as a pure example of human construction. Any attempt to change the view of time will be met with wavering eyes and gasps of disbelief. Projects you work on throughout life will continuously change metaphysically. The fears of negativity or neglect will fade with time and be replaced with acceptance.

A tangible object is sitting in a white room that will never change. Weathering can occur, but an individual sets the object in a sealed room away from the world for this example. Within this object, a note written by the individual to their future self is hidden inside. Time passes, and the individual has lost all limbs and motor skills and is confined to a wheelchair. The individual imagines the space with their object and their note and finds comfort. The individual has changed physically, but the object remains the same. Time continues to pass, and the individual is lying in a bed dormant from reality. Lying in a state of unconsciousness, restless from their time apart from the object. The object calls for the individual screams for its message to be heard. Time continues to pass, and the individual attempts to reach the space, but time continues to pass. The individual has lost all identity, disconnected from their idea of time. The individual finds their object, but the note is gone. The note was a trick by the mind to connect to the space and create a link. Time continues to pass, and the space is no longer a space, and the object is lost. The world has consumed the idea, but the individual will never forget the comfort.

photograph by Peter Moore

Pip: Hurry, Pop, we must run.
Pop: I can see the light, Pip.
Pip: It is not far now. Pop: How far, Pip?
Pip: It does not matter.

Pennsylvania Station is a beacon of hope to the United States. I declare today that this monument must never be demolished. My name is Stanford White, and this is my formal declaration to the cries of “don’t demolish it, polish it.” I have seen this world change much from 1910 to now, but one singular concept has never faded into the dark. The idea I am speaking of is light that guides us all to prosperity. A light that holds our eyes hostage, a light that anchors our ideals to the ground, a light that is only visible to those who are willing to see it. Light comes in many forms in today’s modern world, but first, let me define what I believe modernism truly is.

I testify that modernism is a comical wave of ideas that borrows from the past then proceeds to forget it ever had its hands dirty with forgotten ideas. Wiping clean the weathered hands that cannot stand the test of time. Penn Station was under construction from 1901 to 1910; is that not a modern ideal? Carrying a process the length of nine years, carrying 27,000 tons of steel nine years, carrying 500,000 cubic feet of skylights for nine years, carrying 17 million bricks for nine years; is that not a marvel of modernism? I believe that the purest ideals carried out during the construction of Penn Station are indeed modernism lost in today’s world. The new era that we inhabit is washing over past architecture like a tsunami. The metropolitan age shaping our civic centers and public spaces is a welcome sight to me.

The intense thought process forming spaces between buildings as well as the structures themselves. Penn station uses creative ways of achieving this goal. It marries 19th-century romanticism and 20th-century technology. Exposed steel structure holding the coffered ceiling creates the glass umbrella framework that rests quietly superimposed upon it. Light enters the space of Penn Station, piercing with ferocity and then driven into its patrons. The front façade entablatures flanked by marble clocks resemble the time that is never ceasing. Penn Station was designed to hold New York’s commuter population for decades to come. Penn Stations’ heavy roman ties give it a grand presence in New York that is meant to inspire you. This magnificent structure will stand tall with you as you embrace the light captured within its walls. I plead with you to see the light in this building, the same light that has not been extinguished for over fifty years.

photograph by Peter Moore

Pip: Hurry, Pop, we must run. Pop: Where do we run, Pip?
Pip: We run towards the light Pop.
Pop: The Fox is close Pip.
Pip: Yes, but we must never look back.

Pennsylvania Station is a beacon of light to many people, but they appear not to see it. Grime encrusted walls and forgotten appreciation has blinded them. The Beaux-Arts Style that lives within Penn Station holds memories of the United States as she searched for her personal identity. Beaux-Arts architects saw New York as a brick city and left it as a city of marble walls and glass skylines. Clarity of function is being lost by modern ideas and are only shown when chosen by designers. The famous historian Vincent Scully wrote about the experience entering the old Penn Station quoting, “One entered the city like a God” today’s quote would read, “One scuttles in like a rat.” I implore you to understand why structures of this magnitude must be preserved. Neoclassical form such Penn Station has a bold statement to report to each individual who enters its arcade through doric columns. The sheer magnitude of Penn Station’s waiting room embraces the masses standing at one hundred and forty-seven feet tall. The coffered ceiling only adds to the marvel of this station. Memories are stored within its walls, from World War 2 soldiers returning home or a couple reuniting for the first time. These memories are what created the life essence of Penn Station. This life that has been breathing with the city of New York should not be silenced.

photograph by Peter Moore

Pip: Hurry, Pop, we must run.
Pop: The walls are falling down, Pip.
Pip: The walls always fall down, Pop.
Pop: What will take their place, Pip?
Pip: I fear it will be regret.

Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, dreamed of this building in May 1901 when he visited Gare D’Orsay station in Paris. On April 24, 1902, Cassatt commissioned Charles McKim and me to design this station to eclipse New York’s perception of the infinite possibilities. Summer 1904, construction began as workers started to dig seventy-five feet into Manhatten’s bedrock. In February 1908, the first East tunnel was completed, with workers running a toy train through the hollow passage. New York was forever marked by Penn Stations’ presence since the beginning of construction. The light that McKim and I formed within our workforce and you the people can never be extinguished. November 27, 1910, Pennsylvania Station was officially opened, and between Saturday night and Sunday morning, more than 100,000 spectators explored the station.

25,000 passengers rode the tunnels, and New York had its very own Beaux-Arts Station. Alexander Cassatt began this project and could never see his vision come true; he passed away on December 28, 1906. He dedicated his life to the exploration of human ingenuity and determination. Today, I stand here to implore you, the people, not to allow this demolition to take away a piece of your history. People are the light of this country; we shape our world every day, by our daily decisions, by our emotions, by our morals. Stand tall with me, and never let others take your light away from you. The world is full of foxes that will hunt you down and take what they believe is theirs. Foxes do not appear as dangerous and will often plead for your acceptance and negligence. Penn Station is a gift to the world and mostly a singular piece of New York’s History. I tell you today to stand together with fellow architects to never allow the demolition of this utopia that was created for you. Today is October 27, 1963, and let it mark the day that New York stood as one. Oppose the darkness that will never stop, that will never be satisfied, and that will never tire or require rest. Most importantly, this darkness is only vulnerable to your light.

Moore, P., Moore, B., Nash, E. P., & Diehl, L. B. (2000). The destruction of Penn Station. New York: D.A.P. Print.

I am pursuing my master’s degree in Urban Data Science and Informatics at New York University and working as an urban designer + web developer at KPF Architects

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