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.

21 Replies to “Remembering A Bygone Era of Architectural Glory”

  1. We’d rather put Greyhound in KSS so that there will be constant impossible congestion around the entrance, and shady people lurking in the waiting room and restrooms. It may be ill-advised, but it is egalitarian.

    Seriously, an underground concourse wouldn’t be that difficult. You could have them come out through the west side off ID station, across the little patio area, and through the basement of Union Station, and then go underground from there, similar to the Sacramento station’s arrangement.

    1. Greyhound isn’t long for this earth in its present form.

      I suspect that its role of operating where trains cannot or won’t, will be slowly taken over by the local transit agencies, and by the Thruway operations and other operators such as Quick or Megabus.

      1. Actually, the modern trend in intercity buses is to have no stations at all, like Megabus. Just pick-up/drop-off stops on street corners just like the local transit…. In the long run, this will not only save bus companies money, it will eliminate the concentration of “undesirables” that bus stations are infamous for.

      2. It’ll just mean concentrations of “undesirables” standing on street corners, because at the level of service Megabus provides (“wait in the rain!”) only “undesirables” will take the bus.

    2. I see what you’re saying, but you would still need an underground cross-platform transfer to get from the east platform at IDS to the west. Plus, ST would have to agree to give up that offfice space and patio area. But you’d have the shelter of the area under 4th ave s after you came out of Union Station to put another tunnel in under the BNSF and up into the platforms at KSS

    3. King Street Station, thankfully, has two entrances; so buses can be in front of one and people can still walk in and out of the other.

  2. The King Street Station has a lot of potential but the connect to public transit has got to be improved, that needs to be a major priority.

    Arriving into Seattle on the Cascades and trying to connect to Link is far too painful, especially if you don’t know where to go. Increasing intercity rail depends on those good connections.

    My first arrival into Seattle taking the Cascades involved a lot of pain trying to make this simple connection and its not a good first impression for visitors.

    1. You talk about “pain” a lot. Did you get hit by a car or stuck in an elevator door? I understand that it’s not the quickest or easiest connection from King Street Station to the ID station, but walking up one stairway and crossing one street isn’t that that huge of a deal.

      1. If it were easy I wouldn’t have to give people directions every time I’m in KSS. It is a mess and it takes too long. I came in on the Cascades and the Sounder was sitting on the next track – I missed it. It takes 10 minutes to go from one track to the other. It takes longer to go to the Link. The worst part of it all is it’s not apparent to anyone arriving in KSS what you should do. I’ve found passengers standing on 2nd and King trying to figure out where the Link is.

      2. Actually “crossing one street” is a big deal—it really, really, really changes the feel of a connection. It’s obviously not the distance involved, but it sort of slaps you in the face and says “these are separate places, and the connection isn’t important enough to merit integration.”

    2. Dude. If your connection to Link seamed painful blame those “visionaries” back in the 60’s who put in the ugly dropped ceiling and closed off the so called “grand staircase” that went up to Jackson. Once they closed off that access point it was just that much harder to get up to the level of the 2nd Ave Ext and catch a bus (or Link).

      But rest assured, a new plaza and a re-opened “grand staircase” are part of the KSS remodel plans. When done it will be fairly simple: Go up to Jackson, walk over to the IDS, and catch a Link train.

      Ya, it’s not as convenient as a direct tunnel would be, but that will probably have to wait for the transfer numbers to increase a bit.

  3. I think it will be much easier once they open the grand staircase, or even better hope that the second floor of King Street Station becomes retail/public space so people can take an interior elevator to the plaza.

  4. Just out of curiosity – unless Union Station fulfills some transit function, where’s the value in a connection from IDS to Union Station?

    1. As things are, you’re right that Union Station doesn’t have any functional value, but it does happen to be right in between IDS and King Street Station. I’d imagine that as more Sounder easements are secured in the future (and hopefully, some all-day service), the connection will become vital, and some kind of walkway add-on incorporating Union Station’s Beaux-Arts opulence would be in order. Obviously, the technical challenges stretch beyond what my imagination can bear, but there are many creative ways to think about this.

  5. Two of the protestors in the middle of the clip are Jane Jacobs and architect Philip Johnson. It’s from New York, A Documentary Film Episode Seven: 1945-2000, The City and the World by Ric Burns (Ken Burns’ brother). Great series, available at SPL. The DVDs are actually a 2004 adaptation of a 1999-2003 PBS series which is available on Amazon Prime video: American Experience: New York.

    It turns

  6. I was in Penn Station a few times — going from Newark to Long Island and then back and forth from Long Island to New York.

    God, what a hell hole! No air conditioning in the terminals…a fetid sweatbox. And the styling and atmosphere was dense and claustrophobic…nowhere near what someone would expect from say, a modern airport terminal!

    1. Extremely claustrophobic. People waiting for hours to transfer to multi-day trains are camped out in the main concourse with baggage while commuters trip over them….

  7. The first time I went to NYC in 2000, I was walking from somewhere (Port Authority?) to Penn Station. At first I couldn’t tell where it was because none of the buildings looked like a “station”. But I reckoned the largest building must be the station, and when I went around the corner I saw “Pennsylvania Station” and knew I was right. Inside it just looked very large: long walkways, lots of platforms, people everywhere, little delis built into the walls — just as I’d expect a large city would have. I didn’t remember about the old Penn Station, which I may have heard about fleetingly years earlier. Overall, the inside looked efficient, the outside looked ugly, but having grown up in the US, I didn’t expect more than that.

    1. Unfortunately, the inside isn’t really very efficient. It was pretty efficient in 1968, but ridership has gone way up on pretty much every train running through the station, and it’s not efficient for the current situation. The LIRR side is efficient enough, but the NJT/Amtrak side isn’t, and in ways which can’t be fixed without significant construction.

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