Photographs From the '50s Show a Very Different Penn Station
Pass through Penn Station today and you'd be forgiven for not knowing that the site was once home to one of the country's most beautiful public spaces. Completely windowless and filled with fast food chains, travelers come and go, doing their best to ignore their dismal surroundings. But it wasn't always like that. Before the original structure was knocked down in 1963, the station was considered an architectural wonder, boasting columns, gorgeously high ceilings, and, most importantly, sunlight.
In 1957, photographer Louis Stettner immortalized a very different Penn Station than the one we know today. After capturing a young girl playing in the shadows cast from the building, the photographer was inspired to come back and document the people passing through the beautiful building. He referred to the grand structure as “a spacious and dramatic arena where people in the act of traveling went through a mixture of excitement, a silent patience of waiting, and an honest fatigue.”
The photographs taken by Stettner became known as the Penn Station Series. At the time, the images were considered wholly unremarkable, but as the years have passed, they've begun to draw interest. Now, the series is being published for the very first time in book form. Its pages depict weary travelers making their way through the stunning—and doomed—structure (the station was demolished a mere five years after the series was completed).
As The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik writes in the book's introduction:
“All of these echoes, however truly they ring in these pictures—echoes of a lost time, echoes of changing classes, the reverberation of the loss of great public architecture—can’t conceal the truest bell that sounds when we look at these photographs, and that is the bell of the one right person caught in the single telling moment… Stettner, working in his own precinct, searches instead for the delicate moment, the moment of maximum inwardness and deliberation, of inner delay."
You can pick up a copy of Penn Station, New York here.