In Pictures: Penn Station upgrade was decades in the making

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The Moynihan Train Hall’s ceiling is formed by 3,160 insulating glass panels, which rest on the building’s original steel trusses. The hall occupies the former mail-sorting facility in the James A. Farley Post Office, which was sold by the U.S. Postal Service to the state of New York in 2002.

Addisalem Zimbi has worked at a food kiosk in the Moynihan Train Hall every morning since it opened on Jan. 1. Three months later, she is still awed by its architecture. And she’s not the only one. Travelers emerge into the sun-filled atrium with surprised looks. “Some people didn’t even know about it. They are shocked and are like, ‘Where am I?’” says Ms. Zimbi, laughing.

The idea to transform the mail-sorting hall of the James A. Farley Post Office, originally designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1914, into an extension of the overcrowded Pennsylvania Station was first proposed by U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1990s. After years of wrangling, development began in 2016. It opened ahead of schedule, in the middle of a pandemic, to a subdued city.

The $1.6 billion hall, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, is a marvel of steel, glass, and marble, complete with art installations. A stained-glass triptych by Kehinde Wiley, which features break dancers leaping over the heads of unsuspecting passersby below, evokes Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.” “The Hive,” an upside-down cityscape by Elmgreen & Dragset, is equally arresting. A retro-style waiting area, with cozy curved booths, features nine reconstructed photographs of the original Penn Station (demolished in the 1960s) by Stan Douglas. And the centerpiece: the sun shining through a 92-foot-high vaulted skylight, glinting off century-old steel trusses.

Why We Wrote This

In New York’s new Moynihan Train Hall, travelers find splendor, whimsy, and even a bit of awe, adding credence to the idea that the journey can be as inspiring as the destination.

For all its splendor, the facility does not yet solve Penn Station’s overcrowding in normal times. For now, it serves only Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road passengers. 

Yourina Janvier, a security guard, appreciates the hall’s beauty, but hopes for more. “If they can do this here, then they can do it over there too,” she says, gesturing toward the busier side of Penn Station. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
New York's $1.6 billion public works project transformed the former post office building, originally designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1914, into an architectural marvel that serves Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road riders and will eventually serve other metro-area commuters.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
People ride a new escalator up to the street from Penn Station, some of whose tracks run below the Moynihan Train Hall.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Travelers exit from the underground train tracks into the Moynihan Train Hall.
A clock hangs from the ceiling of the new hall. The timepiece, designed by architect Peter Pennoyer, takes inspiration from the city’s art deco skyscrapers.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Kehinde Wiley created this back-lit, hand-painted, stained-glass art installation called “Go,” which is located in the 33rd Street entry.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Passengers sit on curved walnut benches in the waiting room.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
An art installation called “The Hive” by Elmgreen & Dragset, inspired by the iconic skyscrapers in New York, hangs like a set of stalactites above the 31st Street entrance.

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