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Neither snow nor rain nor expanded train service
October 5, 2010 1:23 PM   Subscribe

The stately James Farley Post Office on 8th Ave in Manhattan is being converted into the long-awaited Moynihan Train Station. Almost the entire block-long building has been emptied to prepare for the conversion and Mefi's own nycscout (previously, previously, previously) was there to take pictures. [via mefi projects]
posted by The Whelk (45 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Looked at this this afternoon on Projects and sent it around. Truly some amazing work here.
posted by josher71 at 1:24 PM on October 5, 2010


Amazing how the government can leave acres of office space vacant in the middle of Manhattan. Millions of dollars per year, I imagine.
posted by smackfu at 1:31 PM on October 5, 2010


Yeah, all that space is essentially priceless. Of course, to turn it into an office building would mean that the whole thing gets torn down and replaced by yet another stupid skyscraper. They almost did the same thing to Grand Central way back when.

For me, I'd personally rather see it turned into the train station. Penn Station has got to be the worst, most depressing thing in a city filled with utterly depressing transit architecture.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2010


That's why you live in CT.
posted by smackfu at 1:38 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I never would have guessed that that building was mostly empty. I've never had occasion to go in, but I always just figured it was like the Grand Central Station of post offices, with a huge, high-ceilinged and echoey lobby filled with people going about their parcel- and letter-related business.
posted by invitapriore at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2010


That's a little too close to Ground Zero for my taste.
posted by Ratio at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


Plump, stately James Farley Post Office prepped for conversion, retaining only the walls and existing trusses, which lay crossed. A clear glass ceiling, unobstructed, was sustained gently above him by the gentle bustle of the mid-morning commute. His stancheons held aloft and intoned:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ah, I guess it was actively used until 2002, and that the USPS only moved out after the train station plans were agreed to. I had thought the train station was a bit more up in the air then that after that date, what with all the talk about moving MSG over there a few years ago.
posted by smackfu at 1:45 PM on October 5, 2010


That picture series is pretty awesome.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:46 PM on October 5, 2010


Ahh so much better than Penn Station. The detail on the ceiling is lovely - reminds me of the work on the ceiling at the Phila. High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, a building that looks to have been built in the same era.
posted by Mister_A at 1:50 PM on October 5, 2010


That floor level arched window looks familiar. Was a similar one in Ironsides' office?
posted by Cranberry at 1:50 PM on October 5, 2010


Plump, stately James Farley Post Office

Sure and you meant "Stately, plump..."
posted by dersins at 1:53 PM on October 5, 2010


Lovely stuff.
posted by Artw at 2:01 PM on October 5, 2010


They almost did the same thing to Grand Central way back when.

They did the same thing to Penn Station, which spurred the modern preservation movement, and saved most of Grand Central.

Can't say that the current structure is any improvement over the old one. But, hey, it brings in more rents for the owners.

In related news, the ARC tunnel (which will provide a desperately-needed capacity expansion in and out of NYP) has (probably) been cancelled.

Also, I'm not sure that the 2006 renderings with the expansive courtyard shown in NYCScout's post reflect the current plans. There have been more plans for the Farley Post Office than there have for Ground Zero (and we all know how well that's gone). There's been a lot of debate over what to do with the central courtyard, how much retail to include, whether or not to have a euro-style open trainshed, etc.

Also. Can I have nyscout's job?

posted by schmod at 2:03 PM on October 5, 2010


Also. Can I have nyscout's job?

Oh, no. I already called next.
posted by grubi at 2:06 PM on October 5, 2010


I think this is actually a public tour, for the Open House NY project. Unfortunately, all the interesting tours are already booked up.
posted by smackfu at 2:15 PM on October 5, 2010


Won't anybody stick up for Penn Station? It's part of my childhood -- one more piece of old New York I'll miss when it's gone. Thankfully, it looks like Amtrak is sticking around; so it won't be demolished, just a lot emptier.
posted by escabeche at 2:17 PM on October 5, 2010




Won't anybody stick up for Penn Station?



NO
posted by The Whelk at 2:19 PM on October 5, 2010 [8 favorites]


I love love love old post offices (and all old government buildings, really). I love the care and pride that was lavished on them. It was a good place for a good service for the people. I often mail things on my lunch break from work, which takes me to the Salem, MA post office, and I really don't mind waiting in line, because I can stare at the high bright windows, the dentil molding, the cornices and medallions, the granite-topped counters with the brass pen-holders, and wish they made stuff this nice now.
posted by Miko at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2010


A lot of those hallways, stenciling, and bathrooms remind me powerfully of the halls of MIT, particularly bldgs 2-4-6 where most of math recitations are held.
posted by maryr at 2:26 PM on October 5, 2010


Wait a minute--I thought Penn Station was just a basement of Madison Square Garden? I'm missing something here.
posted by Melismata at 2:27 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Won't anybody stick up for Penn Station?

If for nothing other than giving Louis Kahn his ignominious end, it has to go.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:32 PM on October 5, 2010


Wait a minute--I thought Penn Station was just a basement of Madison Square Garden? I'm missing something here.

It is....sort of. There was a big huge train station where MSG and 1 Penn Plaza now stand. The original station was demolished, although the platforms and tracks remained in place with a low roof placed over them, and a ticketing and waiting concourse constructed in the basement of the new structure. There are various weird remnants of the original station lying around the modern station. From what I remember, most of the railings on the stairwells down to the platforms are still original.

And isn't MSG lovely?
posted by schmod at 2:32 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now where am I supposed to go for late night postal service?
posted by cazoo at 2:33 PM on October 5, 2010


I thought Penn Station was just a basement of Madison Square Garden?

No, no. It's a hell dimension. Like the the basement in House of Leaves, only harder to navigate.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:33 PM on October 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


Schmod, that's a really cool link, thanks!
posted by Melismata at 2:35 PM on October 5, 2010


I'll stick up for the original Penn Station.
posted by kmz at 2:36 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aw crap, thread perusal fail.
posted by kmz at 2:41 PM on October 5, 2010


Vive La Poste

Q. In the ceiling of the lobby of the main post office on Eighth Avenue in Midtown, there is a huge pair of letters, “RF,” in the mosaic. Who, or what, is RF?

A. République Française!

The ornate ceiling design in the 1913 General Post Office, now the James A. Farley Post Office — designed by the firm McKim, Mead & White — is divided into sections. In the center of each section is a seal of one of the first nations in the Universal Postal Union, the organization, created in 1874 in Switzerland, that standardized the rules and rates for delivering mail across national borders. There are 10 seals.

The reader, of course, has been looking at the seal for France. Those initials often appear on early French postage stamps.

posted by zarq at 2:51 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've worked near the Farley Post Office for the seven years. I always enjoyed the fact that it was opened 24/7/365 (until recently). There is something enchanting about the place, and more so at 11pm on Christmas eve. I'm a little bit in love with it, and happy that it will be renewed and restored as Moynihan Station. It's like an apology of sorts.

I feel like these photos are a bookend to the ones that Peter Moore took in the 1960's of the original Penn Station as it was being torn down to make way for Madison Square Garden. His photos (examples 1, 2, 3) are collected in a book called "The Destruction of Penn Station". Moore was a colleague of my father-in-law. Around our house, replacing the old Penn Station with the monstrosity that is MSG is considered the biggest architectural sin that was ever committed in NYC.

As the New York Times opined:

Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.

- "Farewell to Penn Station," New York Times editorial, October 30, 1963
posted by kimdog at 2:58 PM on October 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


Won't anybody stick up for Penn Station?

Penn Station is one of the most unsettling places I've ever walked through. My main experience there is going from the NJ Transit train from Newark Airport to the 1. There's something about the combination of the ever-present grime, the low ceilings, and the sheer mass of the structure that just bothers me. The air is stale and the quality of lighting is terrifying. Looking around, you can tell nobody wants to be there. No other place in the city does that to me--not even that tunnel between 7th and 8th at 42nd street.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Plump, stately James Farley Post Office

Usually when I think of plump things to the west of Manhattan, Chris Christie is the first that comes to mind.
posted by wcfields at 3:37 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The marble columns and other structural material from the demolition of the old Penn Station were vaguely missing for years - until writer Robert Sullivan tracked them down, buried in the Meadowlands. You can read about the search in his book, The Meadowlands, or an excerpt here. Another NYT article talks about Peter Moore and the fate of other station fragments.
posted by Miko at 3:39 PM on October 5, 2010


What happened to the Penn Station Eagles?

The Cooper Union Eagle now sits on the school's new private rooftop garden ..and I heard of a housewarming party thrown by a socialite - whom was once described as "Lex Luthor in 8-inch heels" - where she unveiled her latest conquest, one of the previously thought lost Penn Station Eagles. It overlooks her bed.
posted by The Whelk at 3:59 PM on October 5, 2010


During the years I lived in NYC, I had occasion to use the 8th Ave post office maybe 2 or 3 times. That was one amazing building, damn. I think it's fantastic they're turning it into a train station. Seems perfect.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:18 PM on October 5, 2010


I used to send in my tax return from that post office because it was open when the others had closed. How could we let them build a mosque there!
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:29 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to send in my tax return from that post office because it was open when the others had closed.

Yes! That's the reason I was there on at least 2 occasions! You've jogged my memory!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:37 PM on October 5, 2010


How could we let them build a mosque there!

I wonder if we could get a bunch of Muslims together to collectively proclaim their disdain for high-speed rail on national TV. We'd have bullet trains running down the Northeast Corridor the next week.
posted by schmod at 5:57 PM on October 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Lead us not into Penn Station.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:23 PM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


They almost did the same thing to Grand Central way back when.

Technically, no. Grand Central Terminal was originally designed so that an office block could be built on top of it. And had the later Pei plan been used (it was from 1956!) skyscraper design in the US might have advanced a decade or two sooner than it did from the glass block.

Looking around, you can tell nobody wants to be there. No other place in the city does that to me--not even that tunnel between 7th and 8th at 42nd street.

Heh -- my feeling exactly, and I haven't been there in 20 years. That tunnel, btw (if I'm correct), is where a friend of mine was mugged while in NYC for 24 hours for a job interview.
posted by dhartung at 11:39 PM on October 5, 2010


I used the Farley post office many a time during my three years in NYC, mostly to mail things to the professor for whom I was a research assistant and who lived in Scotland half the year. Once I was bringing a particularly large package to mail when I noticed that the entire building and its environs were packed with people. I was really confused, until I realized that it was April 15th, and idiot me had picked Tax Day to visit the flagship post office. Neat to see the building beyond that one (huge) area.

Penn Station is full of memories for me, and I spent way too much time in it (hooray, NJTransit), but I don't think I could mourn its passing beyond those memories. I was touring Grand Central Station once, and the guide was pointing out how incredibly well its architecture was designed; low ceilings in the areas right where the trains let out subconsciously direct you to move quickly in clean lines out into the huge open centre space. Grand Central wants to move you out of the way of the banal transit experience to witness the wonders of the city. Penn Station, with its dirt and low ceilings, just wants you out, with no welcome whatsoever.
posted by ilana at 2:09 AM on October 6, 2010


Plump, stately James Farley Post Office

as opposed to the obese, goofy Chris Farley Post Office
posted by fungible at 5:31 AM on October 6, 2010


Grand Central wants to move you out of the way of the banal transit experience to witness the wonders of the city.

OTOH, the platforms are so crowded that you can't do that nearly as fast as you want. The columns and trash containers really cut down on the flow, and they really should have made the ramps the same width as the platforms.
posted by smackfu at 5:50 AM on October 6, 2010


as opposed to the obese, goofy Chris Farley Post Office

That one's down by the river, as opposed to this one which is three blocks away.
posted by Evilspork at 5:09 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Paul Krugman on the ARC tunnel. He reports that it's still in play.
posted by vhsiv at 8:52 PM on October 7, 2010


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