One of the last remnants of the old Penn Station

Looking at old photos of Penn Station can make any New Yorker weep.

The 1963 bulldozing of this pink granite emblem of the city has been described as a “monumental act of vandalism.”

The Doric columns fronting Seventh Avenue dismantled, the Roman Baths–inspired waiting room demolished, and interior touches from handrails to ticket booths mostly carted away to landfills.

Remnants do remain, though (like the Eagle statues outside the current station), with one critical piece of Penn Station still located across 31st Street, where it sits anonymous and forlorn.

It’s the Penn Station Service Building (above), which housed the power plant that fed electricity to the train engines that navigated the tunnels to and from the city.

In the top photo of Penn Station’s exterior, you can see it behind the building, belching smoke closer to the Eighth Avenue side.

“Research by the industrial archaeologist Thomas Flagg indicates that it was also used to supply heat, light, elevator hydraulics and refrigeration for the station as well as compressed air for braking and signaling,” wrote Christopher Gray in a 1989 New York Times article.

“It even incinerated the station’s garbage.” The smokestack, however, have been removed.

Constructed two years before Penn Station opened and designed by station architects McKim, Mead, and White, it has the same granite facade as Penn Station did, now gray with grime and soot in the shadow of Madison Square Garden.

It’s simple structure that’s still in use—but a ghost of its former glory. (That waiting room, sigh.)

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second and third photos: Ephemeral New York; fourth photo: LOC; fifth photo: Getty Images]

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11 Responses to “One of the last remnants of the old Penn Station”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    A terrible, irretrievable, horrific loss. Thank God for Jacqueline Onassis…..she saved Grand Central…..with many others. (just my opinion…..without her it would not have happened!)
    Penn Station…….I saw it once…..it took my breath away!
    Thank you for this lovely post!!!

    • Zoe Says:

      It’s tragic & incomprehensible. Even more so w/ what replaced it!

      I never knew that Grand Central was targeted for demolition. At what time did that occur?

  2. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    By the way, is Amster Yard still there???

  3. Timothy Grier Says:

    I remember the exact day that Penn Station demolition began – October 28, 1963 – my eighth birthday. A date that will live in infamy.

  4. Bob Says:

    Interior photos (and links to more) here: http://www.scoutingny.com/this-mysterious-building-on-west-31st-is-the-last-remnant-from-old-penn-station/

  5. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Vincent Scully summed it up well:

    “Through it one entered the city like a god. Perhaps it was really too much. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

    I never saw the original in person, but one there now has to be the most pathetic major entry point in the developed world. A perfect melding of ugliness and dysfunctionality.

  6. David H Lippman Says:

    My father said you used to enter New York by rail in triumphant glory. Now you scuttle in like a rat.

  7. Beth Says:

    Untapped Cities occasionally has a tour of Penn Station remnants and this building is included. Worth the price of admission. (I’m not associated with them, only attended a tour.)

  8. Old Penn Station’s women-only waiting room | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] This diagram of the original station shows the upper part of each single-sex waiting room. No word on when these were phased out, if ever, before the old station was torn down in 1963. […]

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