Monday, May 10, 2010

"Penn Station"

I remember Penn Station. It's where where my Uncles came back from WW2, and Korea. It's where my Mommy came to New York. It's where my cousin older Jimmy took me for hot dogs.

Funny what you remember. I clearly recall the amber glass vaults that seemed miles above me. They were amber because they hadn't been cleaned since the late 1930's. What with the Depression, and then the War window washing was put on long term hold.

My gawd it was big, and not just to the knee high lad I was. Look at the images. Good grief. Which brings me the the question of how anyone could knock all this majesty down to make room for a glorified basketball court.

I could now launch into a deranged rant about how Robert Moses should be brought back from the dead, and tried for crimes against the Emerald City. Okay, okay, he built a bunch of swell stuff. However he destroyed many of the wonders of the city.

Google the bastard.

However Penn Station oh my! Speaking of wonders. In ancient times it would have been considered one of the 'true' Wonders of the world. Up there with the Valley of the Kings!

I still see it in my minds eye, and I miss it. I miss the Twin Towers too, but I never loved them, one did. However those of an age 'all' loved Penn Station.

Thing is though both the Towers, and Penn Station were destroyed by fanatical, vain, heartless megalomaniacs. Only in the case of Penn Station that deranged loon had better lawyers.

I was reading a comic book, whose title, and author I forget. Anyway it dealt with lost monuments. It told the story that not only living beings, but objects have afterlives. In this other Heaven were all the great lost works of humanity.

The Library of Alexandria, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Twin Towers, and yes,...Penn Station among other lost treasures.

How about that.

Interesting, I like the idea that stuff, and not just folks have a happy hunting grounds to go to. Sort of like Dog Heaven if ya follow me.

The up side of this mayhem is that as soon as we lost it we realized what an atrocity blowing up Penn Station was. There are now limits, though weak, on what deranged powerful individuals, and run amok capital can destroy.

Stay tuned.


Bodmin said...

Here's a contest for you!
Guess what railway station these words were written about:

"Even by the bleak standards of Sixties architecture, ________ is one of the nastiest concrete boxes in ________: devoid of any decorative merit; seemingly concocted to induce maximum angst among passengers; and a blight on surrounding streets. The design should never have left the drawing-board — if, indeed, it was ever on a drawing-board. It gives the impression of having been scribbled on the back of a soiled paper bag by a thuggish android with a grudge against humanity and a vampiric loathing of sunlight"

The winner gets to come and see my model railway!

Sion said...

Easy - Euston (after they demolished my beloved Doric arch!!!)

Sion said...

That was one of Richard Morrison's more inspired outpourings.

God bless the IRA - in 1973 they tried to blow it up (I mean the new Euston station, not Richard Morrison).

Bodmin said...

Very good, Master Sion! Next time you are in the neighbourhood you can stop by and see my train set! Of course you have to agree to wear short pants and not object when I put my hand on your knee...

The parallels are interesting. Euston and Penn Station were both great classical buildings, were both torn down at about the same time, Morrison's observations are if anything even more apposite for the wholly subterranean abortion that replaced Penn Station, and both led to the founding of urban architectural conservation movements, which at least resulted in saving another fantastic station.

Sion said...


Do you have buffers and automatic couplings?

Zaek said...

It blows my mind that they tore that down.

Yeah, I've heard of that Robert Moses schmuck. Gore Vidal wrote that he caused the tunnels leading to the beach to be built too low for buses, so that the poor couldn't take public transit there.

Isn't it odd that a period with some of the greatest, most visionary pop culture ever, the sixties, puked out such abysmal productions in the fields of architecture and fine art? Something to do with establishment orthodoxy, maybe?

Lino said...

I remembered the old Penn from my Grandmothers trips to Atlanta in the early '60s.

Frankly it was old, dirty and suffered from half-assed attempts at modernization such as the huge "clam-shell" hung over the new electronic ticket area facing the main entrance.

This bizarre installation had dozens of CRT monitors at dozens of desks with workers scurrying about prepping tickets. There were modern lighted advertising kiosks all about the place and a lot of somewhat dingy shops as well.

My parents were sad and upset when demolition began in 1963, but you have to look at this in the context of the times.

The post-war era when America stood astride the world was a period of enormous pride and forward thinking.

A lot of people talk wistfully of that era but this sort of destruction was a byproduct of that "out with the old" mindset.

At 53 now, I recall seeing the Pan-Am building rise over southern Park Ave on a daily basis. It was rumored that Grand Central Station was to be the site of a twin...that finally spurred some outrage.

Even in my apt house built in the early '20s the lobby ceiling had been dropped to approx 10ft and recessed lighting installed back in 1955.

In 2005 I and the janitor popped out one of the lights and saw a huge space (well, 6-7ft) and a nice arched ceiling with moldings and two ancient chandeliers still intact. The board decided to restore this space but the question asked was "why would anyone do this sort of crude attempt at modernization" The answer is simple, back when it was a rental the landlord obviously thought it would be more desirable. As a measure of how little this old stuff was valued back then, they didn't even bother to remove those somewhat nondescript chandeliers.

Different times.

Will Decker said...

OMG! Sidney, I just listened to your WBAI radio show "Carrier Wave". Your voice . Your voice . Your voice: Wonderful.

I am reminded of my man when I was a boy. R.. was a radio man also. When he was a University Student in the 1940's he got his degree in Vocal Music. Had a voice much like yours. One time he sang the National Anthem for WGN Radio ... opening a Cubs game.

I now will become a regular listener of "Carrier Wave".

Anonymous said...

Lino said:
"...demolition began in 1963, but you have to look at this in the context of the times. The post-war era when America stood astride the world was a period of enormous pride and forward thinking."

You mean to say that America took great pride in having lost the Korean War? Or that they took "enormous pride" in being up to their necks in the Vietnam war by 1963? Or maybe the failed CIA directed invasion of Cuba in 1961? Or the pride Americans felt when the CIA overthrew democracy in Iran and installed their puppet the Shah in 1953? Or do you mean the CIA coup in Iraq in 1963 to put Saddam Hussein in power? Is that the context you mean Lino? Pray tell!

Curious dude you are Lino, "forward thinker" that you are and all!

Uncle 2012 said...

Comrade Anon think again.

I think you're judging the mid-20th century with early 21st century radical left conclusions.

Much of what you say happened, but was generally unknown the U.S. mainstream public.

The Korean War was universally seen as a military Draw/Victory.

In that the N.Koreans were blasted, fried, and generally shredded to hell, and pushed back behind their borders,..them, 'and' the Chinese "volunteers".

It was 'no' Viet-Nam,..we're still there,..hello?

Indeed in the early 1960's 'Nam was hardly a defeat. Indeed we were being told we were winning, and would leave soon. We believed it.

Heck even the Bay of Pigs was played as a moral victory. We bought it too.

It would be long painful years before we clearly knew different.

As for all the other mayhem by the CIA. Nobody knew what they were doing.

I was there then. I was a kid, but still had faith in my country.

What was really going on was 'not' common knowledge.

Sure there were a few progressives, mostly in Europe that were sounding alarm bells about it.

But here it was unknown, and frankly no one would believe you if you told them their government was committing crimes around the world.

This was the late 1950's early 60's. The era of general mistrust of our government was decades away.

It didn't really get started till a few years after The Kennedy hit.

Still more years would pass till Watergate, and the latter part of Veit-Nam made regular folks wonder what the hell was going on.

Lino is 'correct' in his assessment of America as triumphant in the era we're concerned about.

Indeed it was this sense of National Victory that made the destruction of so many great monuments of our past to be thoughtlessly destroyed.

When considering post-war America think Rome triumphant under Caesar Augustus.

It doesn't matter if this was true or not. It's what 'we', with very few as in almost 'no' exceptions believed.

Whereas now after a conga line of grossly incompetent, and vicious of Caligula's Here we are.

The fuck'n Vandals, and their pals are banging at the gate.

The Empire is in twilight, and we all know it.

Uncle 2012 said...

Hi Will,

Thanks for the kind words. Also thank you for your comment here. I'm really happy with the comment threads that have been coming in.

Anyway thanks again for reading the blogs, and listening to the shows!


Anonymous said...

You must have been pretty sheltered during the early 60s Sidney. Jane Jacobs *The Death and Life of Great American Cities* was published in 1961. I guess you missed that, but bright people didn't have their heads in the sand. In fact, most of the radicalism of the 60s germinated in the mid to late 50s.
All of the radical American writers grew out of the 50s.
Henry Miller's *The Air-Conditioned Nightmare* was published in 1945. And you accuse me of looking at the mid 20th century from the our own time? Are you kidding me Sidney?
Lino is a fucking ass and if we were to take him seriously we would be living in an era akin to the period of the Spanish Inquisition.

Uncle 2012 said...

Comrade what I was trying to say is that most folks 50 years ago believed what they were told.

Most people in any society almost 'never' look outside of their insular cultures. Rarely do people question their born into systems.

In that context we were Augustan Rome, and many aging boomers remember us as having been that.

Indeed in many ways we were.

As for being sheltered yes for a black kid in America I was relatively protected.

Protected, loved, given an education, and Hope.

I guess this is why I'm not dead or in prison.

Lino said...

Some "anon" writes: "Lino is a fucking ass and if we were to take him seriously we would be living in an era akin to the period of the Spanish Inquisition."

Have we met?....We must have..oh must have been that thread concerning adult degenerates have sex with young I close?

I won't try to explain my other remarks about post-war America and New York..Sydney did that perfectly.

What I'll will piggishly point out is something known as hypocrisy in some comments here.

It seems that a few writers would trade all the advances we have made in social tolerance for just one more shot at -their- vision of youth and getting a B-J in some public restroom.

Sorry ol' girls...go back to that stool over in the corner of the wrinkle room.