Brett McS sent this to me a little while ago and I never got around to it (ah, remodeling), and then I found it somewhere else and thought, ah hah! So anyway, here it is:
In 1963, America learned a painful lesson when Pennsylvania Station, an architectural treasure that Senator Daniel Moynihan described as “the best thing in our city,” was torn down and replaced with a dreary complex that includes an office building and Madison Square Garden. The rail station, to this day the nation’s busiest, was moved underground into a claustrophobic warren of artificially lit passageways and bleak waiting rooms. While there has been an active campaign since the 1990’s to rectify the mistake by creating a new and worthy station a block away, the $1 billion-plus project remains stuck in political gridlock.
But the sad saga of Penn was by no means an isolated incident. Almost like a rite of passage, cities across the country embraced the era of Interstates, Big Macs, and suburban sprawl by tearing down their train depots. (Frequently, they just did the Joni Mitchell thing and put up a parking lot.) But time and experience are showing that train stations are vital organs in a healthy city, and removing them deadens the entire organism. The lesson is especially stark at the moment, as cities around the country face the challenge of rebuilding the infrastructure for regional high speed rail networks. Chicago–once abundantly blessed with grand stations–is today bouncing around ideas for a new high speed rail depot.
One lesson of this legacy is that what replaces a well designed and centrally located rail depot is rarely of equal worth to the city. Following is a tour of 10 great depots that were lost to demolition orders–plus one more that might be still–and what stands on those sites today.
Philly (home of 30th Street Station!) has this place called Reading (“redding”) Terminal Market, which used to be Reading Terminal Station, whose headhouse, according to Wiki, “the Italian Renaissance style,” and whose trainshed “was one of the largest single-span arched-roof structures in the world” and is “now the world’s oldest such structure and the only one left in the United States.” It was also declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Presumably this was carried forward on the shoulders of the bicentennial (ahh, Philly), but it’s just 13 years after some idiot in New York decided it would be a swell idea to tear down Penn Station. Incredible.