102 years ago today the Pennsylvania Railroad open the doors of its flagship station to the general public. In the 1880's Penn's fearless leader, Alexander Cassatt, brother of famous painter Mary, had envisioned a pathway into New York City that was previously considered to be impossible. Instead of taking ferries from all points West over the Hudson into NYC, the Pennsylvania Railroad would conquer the bedrock underground. It took them over a decade and an amazing force of manpower but their end result was amazing: a set of intricate tunnels allowing trains to run under the river. The terminal that crowned this achievement was like nothing ever before seen: Pennsylvania Station, "a depot of Gods" as it was called.
To commemorate the day, Life.com ran a great piece on a Walker Evans collection taken of the station in July of 1963. By then Evans and the general public knew that Penn Station would begin the long and painful process of demolition in less than 4 months. It was only 53 years old.
Here's an excerpt from the Life article in 1963 that ran with Evans's photos:
Above the scurry and tumult of travelers, clocks tick away the final hours of a grand and historic monument. New York’s Pennsylvania Station is doomed. Its herculean columns, its vast canopies of concrete and steel will soon be blasted into rubble to make way for a monstrous complex — sports arena [today's Madison Square Garden -- Ed.], bowling alley, hotel and office building. The disaster that has befallen Penn Station threatens thousands of other prized American buildings. From east to west, the wrecker’s ball and bulldozer are lords of the land. In the ruthless, if often well-intentioned, cause of progress, the nation’s heritage from colonial days onward is being ravaged indiscriminately — for highways, parking lots, new structures of modernized mediocrity.
Thankfully, Life's prediction wasn't all true. Because of Penn Station's demise, a swift response created a movement to save such treasured buildings from the same fate.