Then And Now: America’s Busiest, Ugliest Train Station Used To Be Gorgeous

Published February 17, 2016
Updated April 3, 2019
Published February 17, 2016
Updated April 3, 2019

This gorgeous of old Penn Station photo reveals why it was once American's most beloved rail station, and why its modern replacement is so hated.

Vintage Penn Station

Penn Station’s main waiting room in 1911. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Before New York City’s Pennsylvania Station became the busiest transit hub in the country — and the most hated train station in America — it was a classic example of beautiful Beaux-Arts architecture and the fourth largest building in the world.

The original Penn Station was built in 1910 and was modeled off of the Roman Baths of Caracalla, complete with 150-foot-tall marble ceilings. The head of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Alexander Cassatt, commissioned the project, making it possible to cross the Hudson River by something other than a ferry for the first time in history. It was one of the greatest engineering feats of its day.

Sadly, however, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company just couldn’t afford to maintain its architectural masterpiece. Passenger trains declined in popularity after WWII, and the Pennsylvania Railroad Company knew they could make big money by selling the air rights above the station.

Just 53 years after it was created, Penn Station was demolished, despite great public outcry, to make room for Madison Square Garden, and the station underneath took on the drab, windowless, commercialized air it’s known for today:

Penn Station Today

Penn Station’s main concourse in 2013. Image Source: Flickr

Nickolaus Hines
Nickolaus Hines is a freelance writer in New York City. He graduated from Auburn University, and his recent bylines can be found at Men's Journal, Inverse, and Grape Collective.