The Court Case to Restore Penn Station

By Phin Upham

1965 saw Penn Station demolished to make way for a new set of buildings that would become a part of New York’s skyline. The city was tear struck. A beloved landmark was being trashed to make way for something new, and New Yorkers pressured their Mayor Robert F. Wagner to pass a law that created the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission. That’s where the battle to restore Penn Station began.

Economically speaking, leveling Penn Station made a lot of sense. Railroad use saw its peak 40 years before the demolition, and many private railroad companies were put out of business.

Shortly after the destruction, New York and Pennsylvania railroads merged. They became a larger company with more money behind them, and they sought to revamp what was Penn Station. They submitted plans to build a tremendous skyscraper that would have been the tallest for its time, but each time they submitted plans they were rejected.

The first plan was rejected because it represented what the commission saw as an eyesore that blocked that view of Park Avenue South. The second plan was rejected on the grounds that it would strip one side of Grand Central in order to rebuild, which the commission felt defeated the purpose.

Penn Central fell into bankruptcy, and the company sued for the right to property value for Grand Central. On appeal, the courts found Penn Central did not adequately show ongoing financial deficit, and the sale was declined as a result. Nominally, Penn Central lost its case. However, its bankruptcy standing meant the Metropolitan Transportation Authority took it over. In the end, Penn Station was revamped at tax payer expense.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.