The original Penn Station, designed by McKim, Mead & White and completed in 1910, was 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. The hall’s majesty made for a striking contrast with the modern train concourse, whose glass vaults were intricately framed by steel arches. The original Penn Station was both a triumphant gateway into the city, and a shared democratic space.
The station’s demolition in 1963 is widely regarded as the greatest single catastrophe in American architectural history. That wrong is all the worse given the current station, which is cramped, dismal, and difficult to navigate. As the architectural historian Vincent Scully said about McKim’s station, “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.” Rebuilding will undo that wrong.
Reconstructing Penn Station will not just dramatically improve the experience of travelers and visitors. Ranking with Grand Central Terminal and other great national landmarks, a rebuilt Penn Station will have a significant direct economic impact on the Midtown West/Hudson Yards/Upper Highline area.
While the reconstruction we propose will rigorously respect our architectural heritage, we seek to improve upon the original station, providing not just a transportation facility but a civic focal point with amenities that will invite the public to visit and linger.
Combining the best of new and old, the rebuild design also will entail conversion of the station from a bottlenecked terminus for commuter rail into a through-running station. This will allow the station’s platforms to be both reduced in number and widened, making it possible for more escalators to access the tracks. Passengers will also be able to board trains on one side, while arriving passengers disembark on the other. Such changes will vastly improve passenger circulation and eliminate the current ingress and egress choke points.
The rebuilt Penn Station will serve as the crown jewel of a transportation masterplan for the region created by ReThinkNYC. This plan connects the station to new intermodal rail transit hubs in Secaucus, New Jersey; Sunnyside, Queens; and Port Morris, the Bronx. Converting Penn Station into a through-running station also will allow it to accommodate the projected increase in train traffic to be generated by the new Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River, whose construction is anticipated during the next decade.
Rebuilding Penn Station will be an enormous undertaking, but now is the time to return the station to its former grandeur.