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From The New York Times:

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The railroad station at Westchester Avenue was designed by Cass Gilbert and is considered endangered. Credit Left, Library of Congress; Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Built in 1908 and designed by Cass Gilbert, those that have not been demolished are near collapse, like the Westchester Avenue station. It is a sublime glazed terra-cotta temple, its little tragedy now exposed on all four sides with the opening of the new Concrete Plant Park.

A dozen stations were projected in 1904, when the railroad began upgrading the Harlem River Branch from the southern Bronx up to New Rochelle. But not all were built and, in addition to Westchester Avenue, three survive today: Morris Park, Hunts Point Avenue and City Island, which is a ruined shell. (The historian Joseph Brennan has closely investigated the stations and has posted his research at columbia.edu/~brennan.)

Gilbert, newly minted as a starchitect with the 1899 commission for the United States Custom House at Bowling Green, got the job of designing the stations, and gave them widely different styles.

The Morris Park station was chunky and low, with arched windows framed by brightly colored terra-cotta bands that also ran under the eaves. Oddly shaped iron torchiers gave it something of the feel of the Secession style as practiced contemporaneously in Austria, although Gilbert was anything but adventurous.

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The Morris Park station as it appeared in 1915 and today. Credit Top, Library of Congress; Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

That said, his Westchester Avenue and Hunts Point Avenue stations are particularly striking. At Westchester Avenue the station projects out over the tracks, and so floats on a frame of steel. At street level, high above the rails, the main tower is a little display case of glazed terra cotta, cream-colored panels set off by colored floral medallions, lozenges and crisscross bands in gold, azure and dark red.

It is hard to decipher from old photographs and present conditions, but the portion over the tracks looks as if the terra-cotta panels were framed in iron straps. These must have been painted, but are now pure rust, giving the building a strange, skeletal aspect.

The Hunts Point Avenue station, just visible from the northbound Bruckner Expressway, bridges the tracks from one side to the other, along the avenue. French Renaissance in style, it might have been the royal stable of a French king. The delicate copper roof cresting had spikes big enough to impale an ox, and below run lines of little scalloped dormers.

In 1909, The Real Estate Record and Guide noted the “marked architectural beauty” of the new stations. John A. Droege, in his 1916 book “Passenger Terminals and Trains” (McGraw-Hill) noted that “the ordinary wayside passenger station is not the proper field for the architect who wishes to rival the designer of the Paris opera house.” But he reviewed Gilbert’s stations in depth, apparently with approval.…

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Original Pennsylvania Station-Interior-Tracks-Demolished-NYC

“A key catalyst to the formation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963. The new body made it its mission to protect New York City’s architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites by granting them landmark or historic district status, and regulating them once they were designated.” (from Untapped Cities: 3/14/2016, “10 Controversial NYC Historical Buildings that were Demolished Or Redeveloped”.)

Pennsylvania Station, although looking much older, was only 53 years old when its demolition commenced in 1963. The glass ceiling had been painted over for safety during World War II and was never undone, lending to the perception of a station in decline. Penn Station’s demolition was precipitated by the bankrupting of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who was forced to sell its air rights. Top Ten Secrets of the Original Pennsylvania Station in New York (from Untapped Cities). Remnants of the original Penn Station abound in the replacement Penn StationThere used to be an underground passageway to Herald Square: “The Hilton Passageway gave access for commuters between Penn Station and the N/R/Q and B/D/F/M trains until the 1970s, when it was closed off due to security reasons. It was reputedly narrow and in a state of disrepair. Today, it is simply blocked off by bricks – you can see the original opening by the change in white bricks along the wall. ” (Untapped Cities). The original coal-fired power plant for the original Penn Station still exists hidden in plain sight: “The original coal-fired power plant of the station, built as a mirror image using the same Tennessee granite as the lost Stanford White masterpiece, still exists on 31st Street. Today, the power plant is a significant state of disrepair, with broken windows. As of 2003, it was reported by The New York Times that the building was used for “storage and backup systems.” While preservationists may fear for is survival, it shares the same block as the Capuchin Monastery of the Church of St. John and may have been one of the main reasons this block was left out of the proposal for the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC). “That’s one of the reasons why we rejected that block,” said David Widawsky, project lead for ARC. “It’s an historic church, and the only piece of Penn Station that’s still standing.”” (Untapped Cities).

How the original Penn Station looked from the outside, courtesy of www.stuffnobodycaresabout.com, picture postcard image from Library of Congress:

Pennsylvania Station hresPennsylvania Station – Entire block Seventh to Eighth Avenues and 31st to 33rd Streets. Architects, McKim, Mead & White, 1901 – 1910. McKim’s masterpiece and the most significant single loss of a public building. Its destruction brought about the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Demolished 1963-65. Replaced by the hideous mouse maze called Penn Station beneath the Penn Plaza office complex and Madison Square Garden.

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