The beauty of New York City is that it is always evolving.
But as new construction changes the city’s character, the charm of the past is erased in the process. Gentrification, financial crisis, and lack of space all contributed to some of New York’s most aesthetically pleasing landmarks tragically becoming a part of the past. While decades pass, many have forgotten the grandeur of old New York architecture, as unveiled below.
Pennsylvania Station (1910-1963)
Everyone who’s ever been to the present day Penn Station will tell you that it is dirty, cramped, and suffocating. Being such a significant train station in NYC, one would think the design should compare to the elegant Grand Central Terminal across town.
What if I told you it once did! The original Pennsylvania Station, as seen above, was the epitome of Beaux-Arts architecture with its corinthian columns and glass ceilings; rivaling even the greatest European stations. The interior halls were modeled after ancient Roman baths and luxurious marble was prevalent. By 1963 the large station wasn’t being used like before, causing the owners to sell the space for the construction of Madison Square Garden: moving the station underground. Brave New Yorkers set out to protest the demolition of the building, but it was too late. The devastating loss of old Penn Station did however create The Landmarks Preservation Commission which would save other New York gems (like Grand Central) in the years to come.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II House (1883-1926)
While 5th avenue is now lined with high-end stores and five-star hotels, it used to house America’s wealthiest families and their mansions. The Cornelius Vanderbilt II House that once stood on fifth avenue and E 58th street was an urban fortress, said to have been the largest NYC home during its reign. Enclosed by European-imported iron gates, it was gloriously built in the neo-Gothic French chateau-style. By 1926, the neighborhood was commercializing, with many abandoning their mansions to move into new, popular high rise buildings. The House was sold to and demolished by luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman to build the store that stands in its place today. Traces of the mansion can still be found, with the decorative front gate now an entrance to 105th street Central Park and the fireplace located at the MET.
City Hall Station (1904-1945)
It seems that they just don’t build train stations like they used to! The City Hall Station was the southern terminal to the first line of New York’s subway system. Constructed in Romanesque Revival architecture, the station featured barrel vaults with skylights overhead, colored patterned tiles, and chandeliers (I wish all subway stations looked like this!). As the subway system complexified, the station became outdated. New Yorkers can spot the abandoned station in passing on the 6 train, or by taking a tour with the New York Transit Museum.
Overall, past New York construction was built with a timeless style in mind, adding to the charm of the city. While many landmarks have mournfully been dismantled, it’s important that we appreciate the architectural masterpieces that remain among us: protecting NYC from generic glass buildings overrunning its ravishing history.