Transit Penn Station's history is hidden in plain sight By Craig Ruttle Special to amNewYork Updated September 1, 2017 8:09 PM Print Share fbShare Tweet gShare Email On any given Monday, thousands of passengers step off their trains and onto an underground platform in Manhattan, for a somewhat dimly lit, often warm and sticky walk to the upper levels of Penn Station, complete with low ceilings as well. It’s the same routine that for many ends Friday afternoon, hopefully with a sigh of relief. For commuters, the morning shuffle might include a chat about the “new” Penn Station and how the destruction of the former in the 1960s has, for decades, robbed riders of a more livable journey. The storied McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts masterpiece, completed in 1910 and torn down between 1963 and 1966 — The New York Times called the demolition a “monumental act of vandalism” — was a cathedral-like structure, seemingly honoring the thousands who passed under its towering arched granite and greenhouse glass roof. Those fortunate riders were bathed with natural light and warmed, in the early days, by pink-hued granite. These memories and scenes couldn’t outlast the wrecking ball, as the modern Penn Station was born, joined with the shiny glass and steel towers of Penn Plaza and Madison Square Garden above it in 1968. As regular service resumes Tuesday, a summer filled with delays, derailments and a three-plus month emergency repair by Amtrak (who controls the tracks at Penn), has put a laser focus on a train station that at times seems beyond capacity and in need of immediate attention — the lore of a once grand structure is at least part of the conversation of what went wrong. Some relief has arrived to tough commutes at the “new” Penn, with the completion of the LIRR’s West End Concourse, and the promise of a new Penn-Farley Moynihan Train Hall, slated to be ready in 2020. But for those who ride the trains every day, maybe small comfort can be taken in knowing that, even amid the hottest, most shoulder-to-shoulder commute, within reach is tangible evidence of what was once great, and perhaps inspiration for better things to come. Great appreciation to rail historians John Turkeli and David Morrison, who have deep knowledge of Penn Station and railroads, for their assistance in confirming the small details left over from a grand past. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle The statue of Samuel Rea, who helped lead the construction of Penn Station, stands today facing Seventh Avenue above Penn Station on the plaza in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Rea's statue, which once stood inside the grand arcade passenger area of Penn Station, is an element that connects today's commuters to the beloved McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts structure, torn down in 1963, that to this day is missed by commuters and visitors to the modern Penn Station. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle The color and light of modern signage is reflected in an image of the original Penn Station that graces a column in the Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station in Manhattan, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle Passengers disembark from an LIRR train as an original brass railing still graces the platform at Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Perhaps some passengers may not realize it, but many of the banisters and brass handrails leading to LIRR platforms were part of the original Penn Station that opened more than 100 years ago. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle Commuters at the main LIRR station area of Penn Station in Manhattan walk past the passenger seating room on Thursday, July 27, 2017. What many may not realize is this waiting room is framed by a large piece of the original Penn Station's history: within steps every day for those coming and going stands a 30-foot-wide, Tuscan red, cast-iron partition with beveled-glass windows that was incorporated into later renovations. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle Design details, part of the construction of the original Penn Station completed in 1910 (with the exception of a newer door) highlight a simple elegance along the north wall across from the track 21 platform at Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle Passengers ride escalators into the recently renovated New Jersey Transit entrance at Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. As renovations were made, the old Penn Station continued to inspire, with images of the train station clearly integrated into this modern design. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle At one of the underground eastern edges of Penn Station, an original brass railing still stands near stairs leading from the 1 train at 34th Street to Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. This subway station, opened after the 1910 opening of the original Penn Station, was eventually connected to the larger train station. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle One of the original 22 stone eagles that once adorned the original Penn Station stands today behind a fenced area facing Seventh Avenue on the street level at Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017, an element that connects today's commuters to the beloved McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts structure, torn down in 1963, that to this day is missed by commuters and visitors to the modern Penn Station. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle In a hallway at the far east edge of Penn Station in Manhattan, an old painted direction sign, partially covered by a light fixture, still points the proper direction to trains Thursday, July 27, 2017. The sign also, in part, refers to the Pennsylvania Rail Road, which has long since left the station. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle Steel structures along the Long Island Rail Road's Track 18, seen at Penn Station in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017, are a clear and solid remnant of the original McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts structure, torn down in 1963. Much of the underpinnings of the train station remain, a testament to the original design that is still functioning after more than 100 years. By Craig Ruttle Special to amNewYork Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.