Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter Soft Cover 1996
Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter Soft Cover 1996
Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter Soft Cover 1996

Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter Soft Cover 1996

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Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter Soft Cover 1996
Great American Railroad Stations Janet Greenstein Potter    570 pages Soft Cover Copyright 1996.  570 pages indexed.

Foreword By Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
In 1963, New York City's Pennsylvania Station was torn down and dumped in the Jersey Meadows- without apology, without protest. Herbert Muschamp, the archicritic of the New York Times, has written, with good reason, that this "was one of the greatest traumas New York City ever suffered." Some good came of it: The Landmarks Preservation Commission was set up, and the preservation movement took on a forward-looking cast-less nostalgia and more finding new uses for old treasures. Yet, Mr. Muschamp continued, "though the loss of the old Penn Station shocked the City to its senses, the idea persists that the shock may have come too late to save it." The City, that is. More than a building is at stake here.

In Washington D.C., Union Station almost met the same fate, but we saved it. In 1981, I could see from my office in the Senate a tree growing in the roof-the building had liter"gone to seed." We managed to pass legislation; and, through the good offices of then Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth H. Dole, the station became a roaring intermodal suc, a nexus of intercity rail lines. subway service, taxis, buses, private cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, and (a Washington exclusive) tourmobiles. And all this with some of the best shopping and dining in the city.

We had learned something in Washington, and we applied it to the next transportation bill. Congress passed and President Bush signed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (mercifully known by its acronym, ISTEA). Robert A. Roe of New Jersey was the bill's manager in the House; "Intermodal" is his word. I was the Senate man-ager; "Efficiency" is mine. The long title was our way of saying that the long era of buildthe Interstate Highway System-the idea began at the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-was over. The time had come for integrating transport systems and paying attention to costs. The late W. Graham Claytor, Jr., president of Amtrak, spotted it right away. Moments after ISTEA became law, he wrote to ask if I would like to see a model of his concept for a new Pennsylvania Station.

For years, Amtrak had been struggling with what to do with the original Pennsylvania Station's replacement "facility," a hole in the ground with Madison Square Garden on top.  

It had never worked even before it started to stink. Yet on any weekday, half a million peopopulation of Wyoming-grope their way through it. The facility also handles the commuter lines and the subway lines, and ridership on all modes is increasing, leading to the prediction of pedestrian gridlock within a decade. Then the U.S. Postal Service went high-tech, and Mr. Claytor saw an opportunity.  The original Pennsylvania Station, modeled on the Baths of Caracalla, opened in 1910. It is a Beaux Arts masterpiece by McKim, Mead, and White. Eight years later, substantially the same building, designed by the same firm, of the same materials and the same dimen, and substantially the same purpose, in this case moving the mail by rail, opened across Eighth Avenue. Known as the James A. Farley Post Office, it is a National Historic Landmark, so designated in 1965 as a direct result of the preservation law born of the destruction of its sibling. Pennsylvania Station. And because it had acquired a new high- tech facility several blocks away, the Postal Service was vacating. Mr. Claytor developed a brilliant plan to refurbish the building and to move Amtrak into its central court, newly glazed and once again a magnificent gateway to New York City. Once again a decent railroad station.

With the passage of ISTEA, there were funds available; after all, this was the quintes-sential intermodal project. President Clinton came on board, making room for $100 million in his budget. Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki put up another $100 million, and on September 1, 1995, the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corporation was formed to raise the remaining $115 million through private means. There is money to be made in cre-ating a great train station.
On the Northeast Corridor, first Philadelphia, then Washington, and now Boston came up against the same problems and solved them with brilliantly refurbished structures, such as Daniel Bumham's gateway to the city of Washington. Only New York remained diminished. Now enter a time machine, turn back the clock, re-create Pennsylvania Station in the great Farley Post Office atop the same tracks, athwart the same transportation systems- intercity and suburban rail, subway, bus, taxi, sidewalks of old. All anew!  David Reisman once remarked that America is the land of the second chance. By God, here is one.

When I was a little girl living in Wilmington, Del., my father traveled once a week to his company's office in New York City. Every Wednesday about 5 p.m., he phoned my mother to tell us whether to meet him at the "Pennsy" or the "B&O" station. In those days, right after World War II, there were two railroads carrying passenbetween Washington and New York with varying routes and schedules. Both of their Wilmington depots were designed by renowned Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.  Greeting my father at the station glows as one of the brightest memories of my childif his choice that day was the Baltimore & Ohio station on Delaware Avenue. The tracks were elevated as they came through town; and for that reason Furness split the building vertically between street and track level, and then linked both parts with a great, sloping roof. My mother and I climbed the wide covered stairway outside the stato reach the platform. Slowed by my short-legged two-step, we struggled to reach the top before the train thundered into the station. At track level, I watched eagerly as trainlifted the trap doors and exposed the steps descending from each coach; from my child's vantage point, I strained to spot my father among the other double-breasted suits and fedoras getting off the train. Being lifted into the air, I felt not only the safe haven of my father's arms, but also the drama of a railroad station-a precious moment surely influenced by the role setting plays in life's journey of memories.

Years later, I discovered this same depot had once borne witness to the arrival of my styldressed, but frazzled, maternal grandmother and her six children. The B&O station was the final stop on their 1908 emigration from Russia. The connecting link between family and depot stretched back longer than I realized. Yet my children will never know the B&O station, a building that embodied so much collective memory. In 1960, Furness's baroque, skylit gem was obliterated-sacrificed to become the parking lot of a supermarket.

The other Wilmington depot, Pennsylvania Station, is still standing, renovated in 1984 by Amtrak. At least I can visit 50 percent of my childhood images in a tangible way. But for most communities in the United States, not even one depot remains where a percan go home again.

To my mind, railroad stations are the most fanciful class of buildings in America. Preparing for this guide, I examined hundreds of books and photograph collections, as I sought early pictures of tiny depots and huge terminals. I often gasped, turning the page in wonderment at the intricacies of imagination that designers applied to the practical needs of a railroad station. My eyes scanned the captions looking for that ugly word "demolished," which unfortunately appeared below painfully breathtaking designs. Even when the word was absent, I could not be sure the building was still standing. Hundreds are lost each year, victims of wrecking balls or that most cowardly form of aggression-arson.
We do not go into art museums, take the paintings off the wall, throw them to the ground, and stomp on them, or invite a hack artist to paint over the canvas. Yet society so often allows masterpieces of architecture-compact and charming or grand and inspiring-to be destroyed or altered as though real estate ownership supersedes any other value system. What is worse, once we raze them, our line old buildings can no longer be replaced with others of equal or superior majesty. The best railroad stations were conceived in the dreams of architects and civil engineers, and then brought to life by talented craftspeople. In the last 50 years, we have lost the ability to duplicate such architecture, whether because of cost, forgotten skills, or a bent toward soulless functionalism. This guidebook is a tribute not only to those who built these stations, but also to the railroaders who worked within the depot and on the platform-advising travelers, loading freight and baggage, and directing the safe passage of trains. Besides celebrating the depots that people have rescued against difficult odds, my selections also highlight many stations that still need salvation. At every depot we visit, whether a train stops there or not, we honor our own memories and those of the generations before us, whose comings and goings nearly always included a train.

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