Jessica's Reviews > The Destruction of Penn Station: Photographs by Peter Moore

The Destruction of Penn Station by Peter        Moore
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's review
May 17, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: here-is-new-york, kind-of-depressing
Recommended for: ruers, mourners, and wistful decriers

There was an ineffable quality to the way light filtered, aquarium-like, through the lofty trelliswork of the concourse, something irreplaceable for which a generation of New Yorkers too young to have experienced can only yearn. Moore's photographs capture the transcendent quality of the light in the station; in one image from 10 August 1963 and another from 24 November 1963, we can almost touch the shafts of light streaming in through the windows. (Nash, p. 21)

The loss of Penn Station obviously can't be equated with human suffering and death, or with irreversible environmental damage. But the visceral grief I feel while looking at these pictures doesn't feel too many orders removed from my response to more objectively serious tragedies. Photographs of Penn Station's interior space knock the emotional wind out of me. I almost can't breathe when I let myself feel what it is to know that this building existed, then was destroyed by greed and some apparent sixties-era mass psychosis, and replaced by the hands-down most hideous public space in New York City.

When I can't stand to think anymore about humanity's cruelty to itself and to the planet, I seek refuge in cultural achievements such as great books, music, or hey, sometimes architecture. I really do believe that art in its broad sense is what justifies our existence, or at least makes it bearable. In light of this, the mythic story of Penn Station is almost unbearably poignant and tragic. Peter Moore's photographs (I don't know why Eric Peter Nash is listed as the author here; he just has an essay, and there's an introduction by Moore's wife Barbara) documents the dismantling of the station between the years 1963 and 1966. Apparently Moore is best known for his pictures of avant-garde performances, but he lived near Penn Station while they were knocking it down, and hung around taking pictures which were published fairly recently, after his death. I don't know a thing about photography, but they seem like pretty good pictures to me, giving a sense of the station's breathtaking SPACE and grandeur, and showing its ugly, ruthless killing, which invites all sorts of the most unforgivably melodramatic metaphors: beautiful woman ravaged by disease, &c.... ugh.

I'm moving away from New York this summer after having lived here for the past eight years. When I start feeling nostalgic about leaving, I remind myself that some of the most vital parts of the city were gone already, long before I got here. I'm a ridiculously nostalgic person and Luddite who's pathetically resistant to change, but obviously I know that time passes, things change, and it's not only impractical but impossible to keep everything just 'cause it looks cool. Still, some things are unquestionably worth saving. I'm glad that losing Penn Station helped people to see this and led to stronger interest in and will for preservation in the future, but the fact that we had to lose this to get there provokes a sense of loss so intense that it resembles physical pain.
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Reading Progress

May 17, 2011 – Started Reading
May 17, 2011 – Shelved
May 17, 2011 – Shelved as: kind-of-depressing
May 17, 2011 – Shelved as: here-is-new-york
Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Monica (new)

Monica I was real young when this happened- a real travesty. Jackie O saved Grand Central. Just saw dozens of incredible mansions on 150th and Amsterdam Ave. They just don't make them like they used to. It took a course called Art In American Life at the University of Michigan for me to TRULY appreciate NYC. If you haven't already, check out Lost New York by Nathan Silver.

message 2: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Holley (Sparrow) Where are you moving?! Are you coming back here?!

Jessica No, Miami!

message 4: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Holley (Sparrow) Whoa! You will have lived in the corners! That sounds fun. I hope you like it! Will you be doing the same kind of work?

Jessica (Where I imagine they don't have any Beaux-Artes architecture to ruin....)

Jessica NO, I will NOT be doing the same kind of work, praise the Lord.

message 7: by Meredith (new)

Meredith Holley (Sparrow) That's probably good. You've put in your time. Have you been to Key West?! I love it there. I hope you get to go if you haven't been. I don't know if it's changed a lot because of BP, but I hope it's still awesome.

message 8: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Florida is depressing in all the ways New York isn't, but probably in none of the ways it is. I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

message 9: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Huge congrats on finding a warm/hot location!

I'm not familiar with building regulations and code, but I think there are more protections for those beautiful old structures now. It does make things difficult when funds are low, if something isn't pretty or distinctive enough to have a committee attached to it, attempting to raise funds, making political noise.

message 10: by Monica (new)

Monica Miami is FANTASTIC!

Jessica At least the grand old NYPL is still there, and celebrating its happy 100th birthday!

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