The Destruction of Penn Station — “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

PODCAST Why did they knock down old Pennsylvania Station?

The original Penn Station, constructed in 1910 and designed by New York’s greatest Gilded Age architectural firm, was more than just a building. Since its destruction in the 1960s, the station has become something mythic, a sacrificial lamb to the cause of historic preservation.

Amplifying its loss is the condition of present Penn Station, a fairly unpleasant underground space that uses the original Pennsylvania Railroad’s tracks and tunnels. As Vincent Scully once said, “Through Pennsylvania Station one entered the city like a god. Perhaps it was really too much. One scuttles in now like a rat.”

In this show we rebuild the grand, original structure in our minds — the fourth largest building in the world when it was constructed — and marvel at an opulence now gone.

Why was Penn Station destroyed? If you answered MONEY!, you’re only partially right. This is the story of an architectural treasure endangered — and a city unprepared to save it. Should something so immense be saved because of its beauty even if its function has diminished or even vanished? Does the public have a say in a privately  owned property?

PLUS: We show you where you can still find remnants of old Penn Station by going on a walking tour with Untapped Cities tour guide Justin Rivers.


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Bain Collection/Library of Congress. Clean-up version courtesy Shorpy

The 32nd Street entrance in 1910


The corner of 31st Street and 7th Avenue, entrance to the south carriage entrance, 1914

Museum of the City of New York


1912- MCNY/Detroit Publishing Col

The Pennsylvania Station restaurant, found after one stepped through the arcade but before the waiting room.

MCNY/McKim Mead and White


The train concourse, 1911


1910 — Library of Congress/clean-up version Shorpy

Awaiting the arrival of preacher Billy Sunday. (Read more about the context of this extraordinary picture here.)

Library of Congress


1936 — MCNY/Wurts Brothers
MCNY/Berenice Abbott


NYPL/Berenice Abbott

The view of the concourse from the Grand Waiting Room, 1939

Museum of the City of New York

The loggia, leading to the grand staircase, 1939

Museum of the City of New York


New York Public Library

A 1955 bar menu from the Penn Station restaurant/bar


The AGBANY protesters including Philip Johnson and Jane Jacobs.


Madison Square Garden rose as old Penn Station was slowly demolished.

New York Daily News


Norman McGrath/New York Times



A couple eagles still flank the 7th Avenue side of the Madison Square Garden/Penn Station complex today.

Greg Young

The Samuel Rea statue that once greeted commuters from the original Penn Station loggia. In his hands are blueprints to the old Penn Station and a model of the station to his side.

Greg Young

Tom and Untapped Cities guide Justin Rivers walking down one of the original Penn Station departure staircases, still in operation.

Greg Young

An original arrivals staircase.

Greg Young

The Late Great Pennsylvania Station by Lorraine B. Diehl
Conquering Gotham: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels by Jill Jones
Old Penn Station by William Low
Pennsylvania Station: McKim, Mead and White by Steven Parissien


The Remnants of Penn Station, led by Justin Rivers for Untapped Cities


The story of Pennsylvania Station involves more than just nostalgia for the long-gone temple of transportation as designed by the great McKim, Meade and White. It’s a tale of incredible tunnels, political haggling and big visions.


Special thanks to Kieran Gannon for helping with editing this week’s show.

  • David Hancock

    very interesting, as usual.

  • Ed Miller

    Hi Greg and Tom, I’ve been in and out of Penn Station for over 30 years. After listening to your podcast I took the time to stop and look around. I assumed the old staircases on the LIRR level were original but I never took much notice. It was so cool to look up through the drop ceiling and the see the glass block floor. I wish it could be exposed again. My grandfather was head usher at Madison Square Garden when it opened on 33 St. I was about 5 years old and would visit his office. I loved those trips to the city as a young boy. I don’t know how he felt about the demolition. It would be interesting to know. I’m curious what happened to the statue of Cassett and the big clocks hanging over head. Do you know? I’m leaving NY for a year long road trip. I will take you with me so I don’t get home sick. I enjoy your podcast so much. I feel like I’m listening to a good friend who tells interesting stories.

  • Mark D Anderson

    We have four of the Penn Station eagles which were added to the Market Street Bridge here in Philadelphia. Thanks for another enjoyable podcast!