This Mysterious Building on West 31st Is The Last Remnant Of Old Penn Station

This past week, I was heading to a show at Madison Square Garden when I happened to notice a building on West 31st Street that has always intrigued me…

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The granite behemoth at 242 West 31st:

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When you first see it, you might assume it to be just an old bank building, or perhaps a post office.

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But look a little closer, and you’ll start to notice a few things that are decidedly…off.

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For one, the windows, mysteriously covered in iron bars, are all blacked out.

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Some are cracked…

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…and one in particular has a DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE sign affixed to it:

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Meanwhile, the main doorway is clearly industrial, with several warning signs.

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Finally, this strange metal box extends from its eastern side:

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I decided to finally look into it, and was amazed to learn that this is the last remaining structure from the original Pennsylvania Station.

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Known as the Penn Station Service Building, it actually predates old Penn Station by two years. Built in 1908 and designed by Charles McKim and William Symmes Richardson, it provided coal-generated electricity for trains, along with heat, refrigeration and a variety of other functions.

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When Penn Station was finally torn down in 1963, the Service Building was still in use, and no consideration was given to its demise.
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As time passed, much of its functionality was transferred off-site, and as of 2008, the building was largely vacant save for an operations control room, according to this article by the Municipal Art Society of New York.

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These pictures were taking in recent years (no date listed) as part of an Historic American Buildings Survey, and reveal much of the now abandoned portions of the Service Building…

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…including equipment that hasn’t been used for decades…

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…delving deep into the bowels of Manhattan:

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While I was looking around, I noticed numerous workmen entering and exiting the building. According to the MASNY article, the station is on track to be renovated for use in the new Moynihan Station project.

While the loss of Penn Station will always remain New York City’s greatest architectural tragedy…

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…I guess it’s nice to know that at least one ghost of the past continues to haunt midtown.

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-SCOUT

PS – According to this NY Times Streetscapes article on the building, you can actually see the structure in photographs of Penn Station’s construction. I couldn’t find any – if you’re able to, please let me know!

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7 comments

  1. Maybe? It certainly matches the “gleaming white building” description: http://theeternalspaceplay.tumblr.com/post/49855790225/the-contruction

  2. Penn Station’s platforms are mostly original.

  3. Hey Scout, this night time photo of old Penn Station features a great view of the power station on the right side of frame: http://1.mshcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/pennstation-3.jpg

    Photo is from this Mashable article (http://mashable.com/2015/07/20/original-penn-station/) I read last week. I remembered thinking “Huh, I wonder why they had a power plant next to a glass-roofed station?” when I saw that photo. Question answered, thanks!

    -Nathan

  4. I wonder if it’s being included in the Hudson Yards plans at all. What a fabulous building to bring back to life!

    • It appears to be between 8th and 7th Avenues, which seems a bit far east to be included in any part of the plans for Hudson Yards.

  5. Is there any way to get a higher res photo of that control room? That wall is unmitigated joy.

  6. You can see a corner of the building slightly left of center here

    http://1.mshcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/pennstation-12.jpg

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