||[Oct. 16th, 2011|07:33 pm]
Midwesterner, Northwesterner, now New Yorker
Moving right along. After a brief stop at my apartment after touring the Four Freedoms Park, it was off to the previous home of the United States Post Office and the future home of the Moynihan Train station; a massive building occupying two city blocks, stretching between 8th and 9th Aves and between 31st and 33rd Streets. I've admired this building from afar a number of times and am ashamed to say I've never been in before. Just visiting the publicly open and still very much operating post office lobby in the front of the building is worth the trip (and I do want to go back and spend some time there as well as in the postal museum).
But the real amazement begins when you go behind the lobby and hear about and see the history of the building and then hear about and begin to imagine its future. Stunning in its scope, even more stunning in its emptiness, and a completely daunting task to transform it into what it is now into what it will be in 10 years.
As the tour commenced, our guides told us to stay close and not wander off the path because if we got lost, it would take them days to find us. No REALLY, it would take them DAYS to find us. And they weren't just kidding!
It's worth taking a look at a map of this before diving into the tour. The picture below is a basic google maps map of the building and surrounding area. The red circle is the building in question; what is now the James A. Farley Post Office Building but which will one day be the Moynihan Station. The blue rectangle in the map below is highlighting a courtyard in the building. Right now that courtyard is covered by a copper roof and the space underneath was once used as storage and other postal operations. And the black lines represent TRAIN TRACKS that run under the building and on into Penn Station. That sort of thing always stuns me about New York. This massive building is impressive enough, then to learn there are dozens of full sized train tracks that run underneath is even more impressive.
And this is the magnificent front of the current building. See what I mean about admiring it from afar? It really is a spectacular structure.
And the sign out front indicating the building's future use.
Now, these aren't super exciting but they'll help orient you to the rest of the photos (and also, I find it just fascinating to see what they're planning). These two architects / project managers that gave the tour were so obviously in love with this building and with what they're doing and so obviously excited about it that it was infectious. More than once during the tour I thought to myself “Why didn't I become an architect?! This is awesome!" heh.
This is a mural they had in the first room they bring us into. You can see the front of the building and a depiction of the trains that run underneath.
This is a model they had of the future station. The right side of the model is the front of the Post Office building, you can see the trains running underneath, and most importantly, you can see the courtyard. It is this courtyard that will be converted into the train terminal for Amtrak, which will move its operation from the currently over crowded Penn Station.
An artist rendering of what that courtyard will look like. Take special note of the brick walls with windows surrounding the upper portion of courtyard.
And here is our tour guide explaining to us exactly where we were standing. :)
Now, before I get to the pictures, some fascinating little tidbits regarding the modeling of the new train station:
- Right now they're doing Phase 1 of the construction, but that phase involves working in and around the currently operating train tracks – train tracks that absolutely positively cannot stop operating. So this gives them very little time each day to work, and they have to be exceedingly careful not to interrupt the power supply or damage the existing infrastructure. This makes it very slow going.
- The federal government (up to the second in charge in the Transportation Department), the State government, and the City Government all have a stake in this building and all have a say on how it will be used. This also, not surprisingly, slows things down.
- The Post Office lobby will be preserved and remain a working post office and in order to get the tax breaks, much of the interior of the building must also be preserved.
- When they designed this new station, they modeled four different kinds of pedestrians who would flow through it each day: 1) Amtrak riders. These people arrive at the station early, may have luggage, may stay in the station for lay overs, and walk at a slower pace than daily commuters (yes, they model down to that level). 2) Daily commuters that are using the LIRR and other commuter trains. These people don't have luggage, arrive at the station as close to departure time as possible, and move more quickly. 3) Subway riders from the A/C/E line. These people may be daily commuters using other rail lines or they may just be passing through the station. They also move quickly but have a different traffic flow than commuters. 4) Pedestrians simply trying to get from 7th Ave to 9th Ave underground in order to avoid inclement weather above. Can you even imagine the computer programming and modeling involved in this effort?! Amazing!
- They design for the passenger loads estimated for 2035
- In the future, they plan and imagine infrastructure linking this new station with JFK and Newark airports, such that you could CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE at the new station then travel to the airport. ZOWIE!
- Did I mention that several times I thought to myself I so wanted to be an architect??
Okay! Enough of about the details, how about some visual aides?
This whole talk of the courtyard and the open terminal, etc, etc.... well, right now *this* is what it looks like on the ground floor:
And *this* is what it looks like one floor below that (pretty much the same only darker!) What was stunning about all this was just how open and UNUSED it all was. The post office used to use it for storage (or some such) but right now this is prime real estate in the middle of NYC being unused. And remember, just below this are train tracks. Also, as was pointed out to us numerous times, all those columns will be removed; all they're holding up are the floors above them (which are all being removed). So this is going to be a huge wide open space of the terminal seen in the picture above. Hard to imagine, huh?
Here's some more. These pictures below is the copper roof that is currently covering the courtyard. This, too, will be removed and replaced with...well, they're not sure what it will be replaced with yet. Remember I said to note the brick walls with windows in the artist rendition above? Well, it's THESE brick walls and windows. However, what they're concerned about is that they aren't very pretty. When the building was designed, they were never meant to be seen by the general public; they were purely internal. So they were never given any decoration or made attractive in any way. So, they're trying to figure out how to make them more presentable and better fit in with the lofty airy modern terminal they are creating from them. Again, FASCINATING.
Oh, and this picture is also of the courtyard; I included it here only because you can see Madison Square Garden peaking up above the copper roof on the left side of the photo.
And that was just the FIRST phase of the building usage! From touring the areas that will become the new terminal, we were then taken through the bowels of the offices of the former Post Office. It's wild to imagine that it was just 20 or so years ago when all of these offices were filled with postal workers, inspectors, sorters, etc, etc, etc. How times have changed.
Now, they're not sure yet what they're going to do this office space as well as another area where the offices are smaller. There was thoughts of making it a hotel, but there's not individual pluming to the rooms—it was an office building, after all. And there's no central air; the building was built before such a thing. How about, then, another office building. Well, as the pictures will show, modern office buildings aren't built like this any more, and for reason. The hallways are SUPER wide, the offices SUPER huge. So, again, they haven't quite figured out what the space will be designated for yet.
And as we wandered through, it was really like a ruins. Office doors left open, carpets worn and ripped, paint pealing, ceilings in need of repair, names still on the nameplates outside the doors. But you could almost feel what it must have been like when it was busy; it almost transported you back to the 30s or 40s. It was great. I wanted to play hide and seek!
It really does have a beautiful interior. I mean, just look at some of this wood flooring...
And look at these stairs! This is an office building!
Speaking of stairs, loved this sing!
Yes, yes, this is a bathroom. But I'm including it because the stalls? MARBLE. (Though I did note to the architect that bathroom architecture hasn't really changed since 1913, lol. He agreed, just the materials have changed.)
But, then there's some of that disrepair...
Then we turned the corner down one of the hallways...and you can see what he was talking about when he said no offices are built like this any more: one central (WIDE) hall with doors off to each side. Yeah, they don't make them like they used to! Not sure if that's good or bad!
As we walked down this hall, it was just office after office after empty office. Once again stunning in it's emptiness. Below is just representative of what we saw over and over and over down the hall.
We went into one office and I loved this little portal. It's like the boss could have privacy or he could raise the blinds and peek in on you!
But this was the real reason we went into this office...LOOK AT THIS! All the way down the hall the offices have interior connecting doors. When I saw this I said this looked like something they could shoot a movie or TV show in. And our guide said that the TV show Unforgettable had just filmed there and more scouts were checking it out. Well, yeah!
Then, just when we thought there couldn't be any more open space, we were taken down to the truly massive former “sorting area". This is where most of the mail coming into and out of NYC went to to be sorted. A-MA-ZING. It was just this, well, city block sized empty space. You could put a football field down there, practically! Instead, it sits empty and idle.
This is another space they're not quite sure what they'll do with. In fact, at one point, our tour guide said that much of the building wasn't worth much; it was the airspace that went *with* the building that was worth so much. And they wouldn't even be in there if it hadn't been for that courtyard. If the building hadn't had a courtyard, they wouldn't have considered it for a train terminal. Without consideration for a train terminal, they wouldn't have wanted the building. So amazing to think that a decision 100 years ago to build that courtyard led to this project today. ... I want to be an architect. ;)
And, again, I'll end with a picture of me down in the sorting area. Hee.
Another spectacular, close to once in a lifetime kind of tour.