A NEW PENNSYLVANIA STATION
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.
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.
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:
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 nations 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 Municipal Art Societys proposal was designed specifically to expose the weaknesses in the Postal Services 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.
The Municipal Art Societys 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 buildings users. This design is not an expression of the architects individuality, but rather one of our civic pride and the social contract. It argues that architectural modesty need not lead to architecturally modest results.