Penn Station

From “The Aesthete”

Note: the following is one of a series of meditations, each based on a photograph from a calendar.  This one was inspired by the photograph for November in the 2006 calendar, “New York: A Collection of Vintage Photographs.”


2006:  “New York: A Collection of Vintage Photographs.”  For November, a black-and-white photograph of the main room of the Pennsylvania Station, about 1946, the light streaming in from the great window at the top like the rings of Saturn.  The people below, though they do not notice it, are gently caressed by tips of light, which end on the shoulders of their coats and the tops of their hats.  Everyone is dressed correctly – topcoats and so on – and the women are wearing dresses under their coats.  On the sides, tremendous Corinthian columns, recreating the Baths of Caracalla, hold up the architraves as if it were nothing at all.  A few people have luggage; a man stands reading a newspaper; here, a man and two women converse comfortably.  One thinks of the particle theory of light; Ruskin’s views on architecture; manners; and the virtues of symmetry.  It all seems so long ago and far away.


Though one of the greatest indoor spaces in the world, this building was torn down at some point in the 1970’s (I think it was), with only a bubble of protest, as the consequence of a decision made in something called “business,” a mystery of which the present writer admits to having not the slightest understanding.  Many years later, however, the whole city suddenly realized what it had done, and the mourning has continued to the present day.  But life is change, they say; the old must give way to the new.  Babylon, Rome, Constantinople, New York, Q, X, and Z.

Et où sont les neiges d’antan?


By Theodore Schroetter