21.8.06

UNDOING THE SHAMEFUL ACT? The redevelopment of the Farley Post Office into additional passenger facilities for New York's Pennsylvania Station faces yet another complication.

Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker, who controls the State Board together with Gov. George E. Pataki and Joseph L. Bruno, the State Senate Majority leader, said yesterday that there are still too many unresolved questions.

In addition, he said, there is also a new, more comprehensive proposal to modernize and expand Penn Station on both sides of Eighth Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, by moving Madison Square Garden a block west to the back of the post office building that was to be converted into Moynihan Station.

If memory serves, there was once a Pennsylvania Railroad plan to build something called a World Trade Center on that west side site, which is now air rights over the Long Island Rail Road coach yard. But if the Garden goes, look what's envisioned to take its place.
Aside from the political sparring, the nub of the issue today is that the developers subsequently put together what some are calling Plan B: the complete renovation of Penn Station, which sits below Madison Square Garden, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The current Garden would be demolished to make way for office towers, a soaring glass canopy and a commercial complex. Across Eighth Avenue, the post office would be converted to an adjunct train station.
I suppose it would be too much to ask that the "soaring glass canopy" bring to mind London's Crystal Palace and that the office tower have a lobby reminiscent of a Roman bath. (The Michigan Central station and office tower in Detroit carried the lobby off more effectively than Pennsylvania Station did, but Michigan Central had the misfortune to build that office tower in a market where additional office space has not commanded a premium in years.)

Let us praise Plan B, starting with James Lileks's riposte to the designers who promised "the world's finest railroad station."
No, I hate Penn Station. I’d like to go back in time, drag the architects into the present, and ask them: what, you thought we would all be wearing George Jetson jumpsuits, queuing patiently for the Atomic Express? The reality is a waiting room with insufficient signage, a great hall that isn’t, and a Hudson News thronged with balding guys, ties askew, furtively paging through battered porn mags.
Quite. Now turn to page 28 of The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station, where Garden president Irving Felt predicts, "Fifty years from now, when it's time for our Center to be torn down, there will be a new group of architects who will protest." Doubtful. Bring on Plan B.

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