A PLAN TO CREATE A MODERN GATEWAY

IN NEW YORK'S HISTORIC GENERAL POST OFFICE

The Municipal Art Society

A NEW PENNSYLVANIA STATION
From Sleeping Giant to Vibrant Gateway

In 1963, the demolition of Pennsylvania Station sent shock waves through the hearts of Americans that still reverberate through our culture. Today, President Clinton has the opportunity to repair that egregious mistake and facilitate the creation of a world-class transportation hub in the underutilized landmark General Post Office Building in New York City. The Municipal Art Society of New York, a leading civic voice in historic preservation and urban planning, has a plan to do just that.

McKIM, MEAD & WHITE - Competition Winning Rendering - 1908 

The Municipal Art Society proposes a full conversion of the James A Farley Building into a new facility that will include a dramatically expanded Amtrak and commuter rail station, a terminal for the future rail links to John F Kennedy and Newark Airports and additional civic and commercial uses that befit this remarkable building. Inspired by the pioneering vision of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Municipal Art Society devised this plan under the direction of its chairman, Philip K Howard, and an ad hoc committee of trustees.

Built in 1914 and expanded in 1936 by the esteemed architectural partnership of McKim, Mead & White, the James A Farley Building was designed as a companion to the firm's ill-fated Pennsylvania Station across Eighth Avenue. The Farley Building has a monumental eight-acre footprint directly over the Northeast Rail Corridor in the heart of the Midtown South Business District. It is the only publicly-owned site into which Pennsyl- vania Station can expand its growing ridership and the only prospective site contiguous with the existing station facilities. With the expansion of New Jersey Transit (18% in the last two years) and increases in Long Island Railroad and long distance rail traffic, Amtrak is compelled to find a new facility to accommodate this growth.

Long ago, when mail distribution was primarily by rail, the James A Farley Building was the largest mail sorting facility in the United States. It is now used for storage, mailbox repair and bulk sorting operations that can be better accommodated elsewhere. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, at the physical heart of the Postal District, is ready, willing and able to accommodate these activities. Relocating these industrial operations will remove 1,000 trucks per day from Ninth Avenue and allow neighboring developments to access the station directly from the western facade.

MODEL - PROPOSED CONDITIONS

The MAS Plan proposes to use the entirety of the 1,600,000 square foot James A Farley Building for rail service and complementary civic and commercial uses that will fully utilize this exceptional structure and spur the renaissance of the now moribund surrounding commercial district.

The key program elements are as follows:

1 A spacious and naturally lit Great Hall will serve as the referential space for the entire facility. Equal in volume to Grand Central's main concourse, its primary use would be for ticketing and information, but it will also serve as a monumental vestibule for other building spaces.

2 Major pedestrian entrances and vehicular drop-offs on both 31st and 33rd Streets, in addition to a network of secondary pedestrian entrances.

3 Improvement of direct underground pedestrian connections to subway lines and commuter rail at the existing Pennsylvania Station.

4 An 8,000-seat state-of-the-art Metropolitan Hall, an EXPOSITION HALL and Conference Center as well as 325,000 square feet of destination retail.

5 Accommodation for a one-seat ‘train-to- the- plane’ connection to Kennedy Airport, including full ticketing, check-in and baggage services.

6 Retention of the Main Post Office retail window service at Eighth Avenue.

7 Creation of a Postal Museum on the con- course side of the Post Office's first floor retail space to give the Postal Service a major presence in the new facility.

By recapturing this remarkable asset, we will create a catalyst for the development of Manhattan's now dormant Midtown South Business District. The New Penn Station will be a major portal to the Jacob Javits Center and surrounding development sites. There is even the potential for the establishment of a direct light-rail link to the Jacob Javits Center through existing tunnels and tracks.

When high speed rail is established on the Northeast Corridor (completion is now scheduled for the year 2000), the New Penn Station will take its rightful place along side the magnificently restored Union Station in Washington, DC, once nearly abandoned, but now the most visited building in our nation’s capital.

This plan will rescue an illustrious landmark building in a prime location from warehouse use. It will enable New York to avert disastrous pedestrian gridlock at the existing Penn Station, which now serves 500,000 riders per day, already well beyond its current capacity. It will create a signature transportation gateway worthy of a world-class city. We must seize this once in a lifetime opportunity, not halfway, but at full steam.

The Municipal Art Society is honored to present this plan to President Clinton and the people of New York. Just as we battled to save Grand Cen- tral, a faded jewel now undergoing a long-awaited polishing, we will fight to see the James A Farley Building transformed into a transportation hub of unparalleled grandeur. MAS 21 January 1998

 

THE RESULT

In the late 1980’s, Amtrak began negotiations with the Postal Service to secure sufficient space within the Farley Building to solve its current and future space needs. Years of negotiations and millions of dollars spent on design work yielded a scheme that, if built, would have resulted in a lost opportunity almost as tragic as the destruction of the original station. The Postal Service, though only a steward and not the owner of the Farley Building, was unwilling to cede sufficient space within the building for a successful solution to the transportation problems confronting Amtrak. The ‘final’ agreement resulted in a design that would have been obsolete on opening day. The inadequacy of the solution was further compounded by the Postal Service’s determination to continue operating its bulk sorting and trucking facility in the balance of the building, thus exposing the expanded ridership, surrounding neighborhood and the building itself to this incompatible use long into the future.

The Municipal Art Society’s proposal was designed specifically to expose the weaknesses in the Postal Service’s position and demonstrate the benefits that could result from a reprogrammed, fully planned facility. As a result of this effort, the Postal Service has recently changed its negotiating position and now appears willing to cede the bulk of the building to the uses proposed in the MAS program, including a phased removal of its trucking, maintenance and repair facilities to other locations. It is expected that a public announcement of the details of this agreement will be made in October 1998.

AERIAL VIEW OF EAST FACADE - Looking West

 

VIEW OF THE GREAT HALL FROM CLERESTORY GALLERY

The Great Hall

THE GREAT HALL

THE GREAT HALL - CUTAWAY PERSPECTIVE

NORTH-SOUTH SECTION - Looking East

PROPOSED ENTRY LEVEL PLAN

Arriving at the New Pennsylvania Station

ARRIVING AT THE NEW PENNSYLVANIA STATION

PROPOSED CONDITION - Northeast Corner

Train Concourse

PROPOSED TRAIN CONCOURSE - Looking South

EXISTING COURTYARD - Looking South

NOTES ON STYLE

The Municipal Art Society’s scheme uses age-old architectural tools to build the solution: refined proportions, clarity in the use of materials, revelation of the wonders of natural and artificial light, layered transparency, and most importantly of all, the exaltation of the building’s users. This design is not an expression of the architect’s individuality, but rather one of our civic pride and the social contract. It argues that architectural modesty need not lead to architecturally modest results.

 

 

 

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