The old Penn Station was a Beaux-Arts masterpiece by the preeminent architects of the day, McKim, Mead & White. Passengers emerged into a glass-roofed concourse similar to London's old Crystal Palace, which they followed to the main waiting room, a vast space modeled on the ancient Baths of Caracalla. Its coffered, vaulted ceiling rose 150 feet above floors of pink marble. From there, passengers walked down a vaulted shopping arcade to the vestibule. Taxis and trolleys awaited outside, in the shadow of a massive Doric colonnade two blocks long.
This transit palace was leveled to make way for Madison Square Garden, leaving only the decapitated underground portion. The station today is a maze of airless rooms and passages with all the charm of a salt mine.
However, just across Eighth Avenue is a near-twin of the vanished station, designed by the same architects: the 1913 General Post Office building. The Postal Service soon will move out of the spacious, two-square-block marble temple and Amtrak hopes to move in by 2002, creating a new Penn Station almost as elegant as the one the city lost.