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New Year…New Entrance to New York

There were lots of people exploring Moynihan Train Hall last Saturday morning. Taking pictures. Pointing. Staring at the sky through the elaborate glass skylight. Showing the upside-down skyscraper sculpture to their children. With the exception of train announcements, it was pretty quiet. Almost reverent. I was probably the only one crying.

Moynihan Train Hall – expansion of Pennsylvania Station into the adjacent James A. Farley Building, the City’s former main post office building.

I didn’t expect to be. I had frequent tours of the construction through the years. But as soon as walked into the elegant, finished Hall, I burst into tears. I thought fondly of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan–a preservation giant–and the exception to the rule that no one is irreplaceable. And I was very sad that Michael Evans, who joyfully led the project for several years until his untimely death last March, wasn’t here to enjoy the accolades he’s received.

The massive steel trusses and the expansive skylight really distinguish the space. In the early years, there was a debate over removing the trusses. Our longtime trustee Frank Sciame helped save them by convincing everyone they could be raised, if necessary, depending on the final design. In the end, they stayed in place.

The Conservancy was on board for this project from the day we stood in what was then the abandoned sorting hall of the Farley Post Office almost 30 years ago, listening to President Clinton, Governor Pataki, and the Senator, proudly announce a train hall worthy of New York.

We helped form a friends group to promote the project; lobbied in Washington for funding; belonged to the first committee tasked with bringing public art to the station; supported Governor Pataki’s attempt to start developing the station and worrying about what could be built in the rest of Farley later, and we vigorously opposed moving Madison Square Garden into the back of Farley.

The initial design for that showed a glass blob rising up and over the walls of the Farley annex. The Garden couldn’t fit within the landmark. A giant wall highlighting Garden events would have dominated the Train Hall. The lovely Post Office would have been turned into the Garden ticketing. Finally, State studies showed that construction would virtually stop train traffic, and bracing Farley’s walls to support the Garden weight would be prohibitively expensive.

Senator Moynihan would not be surprised at how long this took. He understood the vagaries of politics and bureaucracy all too well. But I think he would be pleased with the results and the warm public reception. No, this doesn’t solve all the transit woes. And it doesn’t match the original Penn Station. But it is wonderful. And it is the proper entrance to the City the Senator envisioned.

Governor Cuomo deserves enormous credit for pushing Moynihan to completion and understanding that great public space is a gift to New Yorkers. That’s why we hope he will use his ingenuity to find a way to improve Penn Station and abandon his current plan to level six and a half blocks around Penn and promote a giant complex of new buildings that would be larger than Hudson Yards. It would be the antithesis of what he’s achieved at Moynihan.

If you haven’t visited the Train Hall, go. It will lift your spirits. In one building, you will be reminded of the grandeur of old New York …and what New York can be again.

With best wishes from all of us for your health and safety,

Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy

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