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M II A II R II K Jun 20, 2012 3:44 PM

Development during the prewar era was as much about redevelopment as greenfields
Before the landmarks…

June 20th, 2012

By Stephen Smith

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Grand Central Depot opened in 1871 and was built in the neo-Renaissance style that was popular back then (as opposed to the final, neoclassical incarnation), and stood for less than 30 years. It was partly torn down and reconstructed in 1899, and then totally demolished “in phases” between 1903 and 1913 to make way for today’s Grand Central Terminal.

- Like nearly every big old building in New York, it was of course not the first building to stand there – development in cities during the prewar era was as much about redevelopment as it was about building in greenfield sites. It was a given that building would come down and new ones would be built – a city that’s been disrupted in most American downtowns. (Midtown Manhattan is of course one of the few places in the U.S. where this still happens – the Drake Hotel was of course torn down a few years ago by Harry Macklowe, on the site of what is now 432 Park Ave., and the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Penn Station will likely be replaced with an office tower once the market comes back.)

- After extensive investigation, a site for Pennsylvania Station was chosen on the West Side, spanning Seventh to Tenth Avenues and 31st to 33rd Streets. The area was known as the Tenderloin, an infamous neighborhood with brothels, sloons, casinos and dancehalls. Social reformers referred to the area as Satan’s Circus and hoped for a new, affluent neighborhood. The excavation from the station and yards began in 1903, following years of negotiating burdensome New York City bureaucracy. Six city blocks were razed, and an enormous 58′ deep hope was excavated to lay tracks. A small gauge railroad carted away tons of fill. Scaffolding propped up the Ninth Avenue elevated railway, and a viaduct was created to bridge Eighth Avenue across the “cut.” Observers likened the project to the creation of the Panama Canal. Construction on the great station began in 1906.


Here’s a piece of newspaper propaganda in favor of slum clearance for Penn Station

1880 photograph of Grand Central Depot, from Wikipedia

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