Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Gimbels Passageway to Penn Station versus the Socony-Vacuum Passageway to Grand Central Station

This is relevant to past entries making the point that horizontal and vertical connections to, from, and around transit stations need to be better planned as part of station development projects and station area planning.

-- "Public improvement districts ought to be created as part of transit station development process: the east side of NoMA station as an example," 2016
-- "Revisiting creating Public Improvement Districts in transit station catchment areas," 2020
-- Urban Design Manhattan, 1969, Regional Plan Association

Gimbels Passageway and Penn Station, New York City.  When writing the previous piece which referenced the PATH transit system serving Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, I came across a mention of the Gimbels Passageway, which had provided a direct underground connection between Penn Station, the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station and the 33rd Street PATH Station, via a sub basement in the Gimbels Department Store.

Gimbels went out of business and eventually the building was redeveloped into the Manhattan Mall, with a food court on the bottom where the passageway was.

The passageway was closed in 1986 when the city was in decline.  Partly the dispute was over who should pay for improvement and maintenance, and who owned the property, MTA or the real estate developer, now Vornado.  

In any case, the passageway has been shuttered ever since, although in 2010 the owner, Vornado, claimed they would reopen it someday as part of an office project ("Remembering the Gimbels Tunnel," New York Post).

Missed connections between Penn Station, the Herald Square subway station and the 33rd Street PATH Station

Map of the PATH transit system

Lost opportunity with the Moynihan Station project.  I find it shocking that as part of the expansion of the Penn Station complex with the addition of the Moynihan Station train hall, that the opportunity to revive the passageway didn't come about, especially since Vornado is part of the consortium that created the Moynihan Station.  (Also see "PATH to Penn Station: Restoring an Underground Passage to Streamline NYC Transit," Stewart Mader.)

The station had its grand opening in January which opened in January, 

-- "New York’s new Moynihan Train Hall is dazzling but flawed. Philly should do better," Philadelphia Inquirer
-- "Moynihan Train Hall: It’s Stunning. And, a First Step.<" New York times

One Vanderbilt and Grand Central Station.  By contrast, the development of the One Vanderbilt Avenue project adjacent to Grand Central Station has resulted in a slew of improvements, including the restoration and reopening of the old underground passageway between the old Socony-Vacuum Building and Grand Central Station.

While I understand New York City subway's underground passageways tend to be simple in design, there is an opportunity for public art in some of these tunnels, such as the underground passageway light exhibit connecting to Essen Germany's main train station.

To get approval of the controversial One Vanderbilt project, the developer SL Green committed to funding and/or constructing $220 million worth of transit and mobility improvements, including the underground passageway ("Behind the rise of the 77-story One Vanderbilt," New York Post).

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