The original building, the Pennsylvania Station of legend, was a pink-granite complex, an integrated exercise in a gigantic and sober colonaded Doric order that combined glass-and-steel train sheds and concourse with a breath-taking monumental entrance to New York City, immortalized in films (see link below). Twin carriageways, modelled after Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, led to the two railroads that the building served, the Pennsylvania and the Long Island Rail Road. The main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, approximated the scale of St. Peter's nave in Rome, a steel framework clad in travertine. Built in 1905 - 1910, Pennsylvania Station was the outstanding masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.
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There could have been no Penn Station in New York City until the Pennsylvania Railroad's rails reached Manhattan. The 19th Century PRR did not. The self-proclaimed "Standard Railroad of the World" terminated across the Hudson River in Jersey City, in the descriptively named Exchange Place. Here, PRR passengers bound for Manhattan disembarked their trains to board ferries to convey them over the final stretch of their journey. Meanwhile, the New York Central Railroad's rails ran down Manhattan from the north, ending in its Grand Central Station right in the heart of midtown.
The Pennsylvania Railroad had long considered bridging the Hudson or tunneling under it, but the length of bridge span required would have cost prohibitively much, and the length of unventilated tunnel would have been impossible to work with steam locomotives. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the electric locomotive and electrified railroad was a practical proposition, and these could carry passengers through a long tunnel under the river without problems.
On December 12, 1901, PRR president Alexander Cassatt announced the railroad's plan to enter New York City, to tunnel under the Hudson and to build a grand station on the West Side of Manhattan, south of Thirty-Fourth Street. The PRR had been secretly buying up the land in Manhattan and New Jersey that it needed for some time.
Two single-track tunnels were bored from the New Jersey side, and in addition four single-track tunnels were bored under the East River from Queens to Manhattan, linking the Long Island Rail Road, now under PRR control, to the new station. Sunnyside Yard in Queens would be the place where trains were maintained and assembled.
The above-ground components of this structure (the platforms are below street level) were demolished in 1964, without disrupting the essential day-to-day operations, to make way for present-day Madison Square Garden. The demolition of such a well-known landmark and its replacement by a mediocre slab of real estate was widely deplored and is often cited as a catalyst for the architectural preservation movement in the United States, and for laws restricting such demolition. Immediately after the demolition of this original Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal was declared a monument and protected by law.
Across 8th Avenue from Penn Station sits the New York's General post Office, the James Farley Post Office. Under pressure from Sen.Daniel Patrick Moynihan, plans were publicized in 1999 to move the entrances and concourse of Penn Station into this building's outer shell. The process has not yet been started, however, and it remains unclear whether this will actually take place.