Saturday, December 02, 2006

rectify architectural war crimes

[digital composite: southeast corner farley post office, northwest corner farley post office, transit entrance, november 2006]

wonton destruction of the mckim, mead & white beaux-arts masterpiece pennsylvania station—taking three years between 1963 and 1966—was an architectural warm crime. period. end of story. until several years ago there was little way to rectify the horrible atrocity committed against new york and its people by business interests that obliterated our great temple—to erect a cheesy sports and entertainment complex that has never truly served the interests of our metropolitan area. built to last forever, our pennsylvania station, was usurped by a crass piece of plastic that has long showed its age.

our late senator, daniel patrick moynihan, spent over a decade trying to undo that damage. he pushed high and low for a modern pennsylvania station for new york city—using the landmark farley post office (also a mckim, mead & white gem) across eighth avenue from the current cheesy monstrosity. to that end, he lined up federal, state, and municipal monies—shepherding the initial architectural plan to rebuild the station in the gilded realm of the corinthian-columned post office across the street. but—as kent barwick, president of the municipal art society points out—more than eight years have passed since president clinton and governor pataki stood for their photo op with the senator on the post office’s monumental steps to announce that work on the new penn station would “start soon.” on march 4, 1998, clinton announced that an accord had been reached, federal funding had been secured, and plans to restore the james farley post office building were underway. we’re still waiting…

what is taking so long? why are new yorkers being denied our grand portal that unites—in the words of friends of moynihan station director maura moynihan—landmark preservation, infrastructure, urban planning, transportation policy, architecture, design and economic development in service to the common good. this proposed public works project would yield tangible benefits for our entire region. furthermore, it will revive a critical swath of midtown manhattan, for too long blighted by the destruction of the original penn station and the heinous edifice constructed in its place.

barwick states that the latest delay has been precipitated by developers who prefer to build a new madison square garden in the west end of the post office, demolish the current “garden” and construct a huge commercial office complex with an upgraded penn station underneath. the president of the municipal art society is asking some very important questions: who will guarantee us a grand new train station? what will prevent the garden from papering over mckim mead & white’s corinthian columns with jumbo advertising signs? will new york’s favorite post office become ticket windows for madonna? can a train hall be a lobby for the knicks? who will be in charge? where once, barwick notes, vanderbilts and the rockefellers risked their own money in pursuit of great public works—in this situation a lot of our tax dollars are at stake. “we have to see this is a contract with the future that cannot be compromised by a commercial real estate deal.” bravo, mr. barwick!

the dastardly decision to raze penn station was made behind closed doors and rubberstamped by the city planning commission. despite vigorous and eloquent protest, the commission ruled in favor of the strip center—a dear price of a great rail hub, civic space, and architectural masterpiece for which new yorkers still pay. boardroom decisions that consigned the doric columns, sculpted angels and jules muerin murals to a new jersey swamp cannot be allowed to do the same thing again. we in new york’s body politic must stand by the municipal art society in their bedrock principles for the station and hold our elected officials accountable for ensuring them:

• a modern rail station should be constructed within the walls of the james a. farley general post office on eighth avenue at 33rd street, and transportation should be the facility’s main purpose

• moynihan station should be a grand gateway to new york city, something the city lost with the destruction of pennsylvania station more than 40 years ago. design and construction should move forward quickly with full respect for the post office’s city landmark status

• expansion space should be reserved for transportation functions to grow over time so that the station can serve its role as an economic catalyst for manhattan’s newest business district and residential neighborhood, the far west side

• special attention should be devoted to public safety, with well-planned internal circulation patterns—from the curb to the platform—and with the placement of entry and egress on all sides of the station

• knit moynihan station into the fabric of the neighborhood, with visitors, commuters, and local pedestrians able to walk in enclosed passages from sixth avenue to ninth avenue (and perhaps beyond), and allowing easy access to subways, the jacob k. javits convention center, the high line, hudson river park, and future developments

this proposal will expand capacity in the most heavily used transit hub in the tri-state rail network and strengthen a critical link between new york city, long island and upstate. after years of delays and false starts, enough is enough! we cannot be complacent about this process that—without public vigilance—quickly returns to backroom deals. our elected officials must hold the development team of related companies and vornado realty trust (chosen by the empire state development corporation) accountable.

federal funds that are left too long unspent can be rescinded at any time. an out-of-control federal deficit (exacerbated by the costs of the iraq quagmire and hurricane katrina’s aftermath) put the “accord” and its funding in great jeopardy. we must heed the words of maura moynihan: “this is a chance for civic redemption that won’t come again. we lost penn station once before. let’s not lose it again.”

important & informative links:
friends of moynihan station
municipal art society

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