Last week, the New York Times penned a rather fascinating piece on New York’s Pennsylvania Station– no, not the architectural masterpiece that was once the city’s crown jewel, but the modernist hellhole that sits there now, buried under the bowels of Madison Square Garden. While the city has been trounced with guilt, grievances, and lamentations since the demolition of old Penn Station, a decades-long plan to evoke the neoclassical grandeur of Penn has been in the works for some time now.
The Moynihan plan, as it’s known, would convert the adjacent post office to a new rail terminal. Yet the plan is not without its drawbacks:
It’s true that the Moynihan plan will eventually improve a few access routes to subways and commuter trains. But it will add no new tracks and have limited effect on the congestion and misery of Penn Station. New tracks aside, the challenge is at the bare minimum to bring light and air into this underground purgatory and, beyond that, to create for millions of people a new space worthy of New York, a civic hub in the spirit of the great demolished one, more attuned to the city’s aspirations and democratic ideals.
More below the jump.
The article goes on to suggest a new proposal that would move Madison Square Garden away from Penn Station, largely since the vast majority of rail commuters would still continue to pass through Penn after the completion of Moynihan Station, only marginally benefiting from the plan improvements. As such, the labyrinthine dungeons of Penn’s cruddy modernist rail terminal would remain, providing little comfort for the hundreds of thousands of those who navigate it daily.
Back home in Seattle, we can consider ourselves lucky. Union Station’s restoration several years ago along with King Street Station’s ongoing rehabilitation are comforting reminders that leaders of years past had the foresight to avoid making the same decision that fated old Penn Station in New York. Yet despite the opulence that both stations offer today, only the occasional Amtrak rider ever gets to experience it, despite the tens of thousands of commuters that pass through the King Street hub daily.
Within the next fifty years or so, King Street Station’s restoration will be complete, better intercity rail will (hopefully) be online, and a makeover of International District Station will be due. East Link’s opening makes the latter even more important with the creation of a key transfer point between riders coming from points south and east. Our growing rail network will make the King Street hub one of the most important, if not the most important hub in Seattle, deserving nothing less than a full integration of multimodal commuters and a celebration of 20th century neoclassical architecture to boot.
With that, a much bolder plan considering both form and function is needed– one that doesn’t treat the King Street Hub as a makeup of three separate stations, but as one central interchange. Whether it’s as radical as constructing an underground walkway from station to station or building a new Beaux-Arts style concourse connecting International District Station to Union Station’s Great Hall, the plan would have to speak volumes to our commitment in restoring transit’s greatness. In so doing, great architecture would once again herald the gateway to the city.