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Piece Of New York's Original Penn Station Hides In Plain Sight ... Inside Today's Penn Station

Sunday, August 05, 2012 - 09:11 PM

Entryway that is the only known piece of the old Penn Station to survive inside the current station. (photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At first, MTA spokesman Sal Arena insisted that no part of the architectural glory of the old Penn Station survived in the stripped down bunker of today's Penn Station. But the carved leaf pattern in a large steel entryway on the lower level seemed so at odds with the rest of the station's no-frills style that we asked him to re-check that.

Arena obliged. Then wrote back, "I stand corrected."

TN has learned that this entryway--part of the original Penn Station--was walled off in 1963, when the above-ground part of the station was razed. The destruction was decried by many as an act of "historical vandalism." (Public ire at the leveling of the 1910 building is credited with launching the modern preservationist movement.) Madison Square Garden and a blocky office tower replaced the formerly grand public space; the train hub was shunted into the corridors beneath them.

There the entryway lay hidden for 30 years.

Postcard image of the original Penn Station.

In the early 1990s, Penn Station underwent a major renovation, its first since the original building was demolished. That's when workers took down the wall and discovered the entryway. "It was found exactly where it is now," Arena said. "The contractor cleaned it, painted it and put in windows." It is now a deep umber color.

As far as we can tell, the entryway went back into service quietly--no announcement was made about the salvaged piece of history. It's safe to assume that a large part of the station's 600,000 weekday travelers pass by without an inkling of its provenance. In places, the paint on the entryway's columns is worn away from the hordes of commuters brushing past it, wanting only to leave Penn Station.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, called the discovery a "cool" but minor find. "It's the sort of thing that's a curiosity, an oddity, one of those pieces of history that you need a plaque to explain," he said.

He noted a remnant of the past that can also be found outside the present station: two stone eagles from the vanished building that flank an entrance at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Bankoff said they're handsome, if hard to see, and small consolation for the "interplay of space and light" that was lost when the original station was torn down and tossed into a trash heap in New Jersey.

Except for a pair of stone eagles and a strangely tenacious red entryway.

Detail of glass and steel entryway from the old Penn Station. (Photo by Jennifer Hsu / WNYC)

COMING SOON: A feature story about the some of the small conveniences in the present Penn Station that can make passing through it more bearable. We'll also be asking for your Penn Station tips.

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Comments [11]

Peter Muhr

Very good reporting job!! Actually, the restoration of this entryway was covered fairly extensively in the press way back when in the early 1990's. You can find articles in the NY Times and elsewhere from the period. For another interesting unrestored section, check out the south end downtown local subway exit into Penn. There's a walled off section of the original station right there, which was visible until a few years ago when it was walled off.

Mar. 15 2014 09:48 AM
nancy goldstein

I believe there is an original eagle in the Hicksville Station parking lot.

Nov. 29 2013 08:27 AM
Mike g

There are lots of original peices of penn station there.. Strange that guy said there were none. Many of the original stair cases are there. If you look at the ceiling tiles that are removed you will see the original glass floor blocks..

Jan. 27 2013 07:33 PM
Arthur Klein

Another of the stone eagles is at The Cooper Union on Astor Place.

Aug. 09 2012 10:12 PM
petey

iirc one story of the recovery of old penn station pieces is contained in the book 'meadowlands' by robt. sullivan

Aug. 09 2012 02:43 PM
bob

There have been articles tracking where all the eagles went. Also, in front of 2 Penn Plaza is the statue Samuel Rea (the engineer of the complex, then president of the RR) that was saved. I read somewhere that the one of A. Cassatt, the president of the RR responsible for making the project happen, was tossed in the meadows and then recovered; now in the poseesion of the RR Museum of Penn.

Aug. 08 2012 08:54 PM
John

There are actually a number of relics of the old NYP in plain site. If you exit the 7th Ave IRT at the southern end, go through the turnstiles, there's an old landing there (above Tracks restaurant, I believe) from the original Penn. Also, if you look up in the ceilings of the many businesses in the Exit Corridor, you can plainly see the old glass cube floors. Many original staircases also still exist down to the tracks.

Aug. 08 2012 04:37 PM
james post

for pnc bank nj commuters, the only pnc branch in nyc seems to be across the street from penn station on 7th ave and 30th st, but a secret pnc ATM is in the new stairway entrance to nj transit on 30th street. i live in brooklyn but thats still my bank from when i lived in jersey city.

Aug. 08 2012 04:33 PM
Nique

Lets smash it....just kidding, just kidding, relax.

Aug. 08 2012 04:13 PM
northway

Actually the LIRR did make an announcement about it when they dedicated the refurbished station. (It may be difficult to find since this happened in the dark ages before the internet)

Aug. 08 2012 01:19 PM
David

I've also wondered if the banister by the stairs leading to the downtown 7th Ave local off the Hilton Passageway was part of the original station. It looks too stylized to be from the late 1960s.

Aug. 08 2012 12:10 PM

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