Tempus Fugit Slowly

The New York General Post Office used to be located at the south end of City Hall Park, when most of the business district of the city was south of there. Around 1900, when Penn Station was planned as the first direct rail connection between Manhattan and the west, plans were made to move the GPO to near the Penn Station tracks, to ease mail delivery.

The new GPO opened in 1914, across Eighth Avenue from the new station, directly over the tracks, and designed by McKim Mead & White to match their station. (The photo on the left here shows the a view similar to my shot, past the GPO to Penn Station.) If we’re honest, the post office was always a somewhat boring and paint-by-numbers version of Penn Station’s in-your-face classicism. The best thing about the GPO is that its frieze is so big (the front facade is over 400 feet wide) that they could fit the entire inscription “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” on one line. The already large building was doubled in size in the 1930s by being extended west to Ninth Avenue, making the building some 420 feet by 800 feet in plan.

The picture above shows the aftermath of the demolition of the Penn Station headhouse (and the conversion to an underground station) in the 1960s: the GPO is on the left, the snare drum is Madison Square Garden, and the vertically-striped building past MSG is Two Penn Plaza. MSG and Two Penn are on the old station site.

The current Penn Station, a 1990s renovation of the 1960s monstrosity of an overgrown subway station that is indescribably bad to spend time in, is scheduled to be replaced, at least in part, by the conversion of part of the GPO to a new headhouse. The construction you can see in my picture is part of that effort.

So we’ve gone from the GPO moving next to a new railroad station, to the station being demolished, to the station being reopened in the GPO, in just over 100 years. Reuse and recycle, indeed.

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