By Philip Newman
Sledgehammer-wielding officials demolished an intentionally fragile brick wall after rejoicing at the prospect of turning the Farley Post Office in Manhattan into a resplendent railroad station on Eighth Avenue named for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
The symbolic groundbreaking came Monday after elected officials and transit specialists exulted at the plan to replace Penn Station and praised those who have worked for years to make the Moynihan station a reality.
“More than perhaps anyone this man has sweated more bullets and jumped through more rings of fire over this project than anyone,” said Gov. David Paterson as he introduced U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“Now more than ever New York needs to embrace new projects so that the infrastructure grows as the city grows,” Schumer said.
As Schumer was speaking, a fire engine screamed by on Eighth Avenue.
“I come from Illinois,” said the next speaker, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “People there stop talking when a fire truck comes by and look to see what is happening. But apparently nothing can stop Chuck Schumer from talking.”
“This station will be a part of a future of high-speed rail service in our country,” LaHood said. “High-speed rail is coming not just here, but throughout our country This is good news for America.”
Speaking beneath the massive pillars of the Farley Post Office that fills the entire block between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, several officials invoked the original Pennsylvania Station, which opened 100 years ago on Nov. 27, 1910 and was destroyed by real estate developers in 1963.
It was Moynihan — the scholar, professor, diplomat and four-term senator — who conceived the idea of converting the Farley Post Office into an elegant rail terminal serving the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak.
Moynihan died in 2003. His widow, Elizabeth, and daughter, Maura, sat as honored guests with the officials at the ceremony.
The project, first proposed in 1992, has undergone several false starts in the ensuing years.
Work is expected to begin in the next few weeks on the first phase of the project, which is estimated to cost $267 million, including $83 million in federal money, with completion expected by 2016. No cost estimate or starting date has been set for the second phase.
Moynihan shined shoes as a youth in the original Pennsylvania Station, a gem of Beaux Arts architecture designed, as was the Farley Post Office, by the renowned firm of McKim, Mead and White.
The original station had 150-foot ceilings and was designed, in some degree, to resemble the Baths of Caracalla of Imperial Rome. The station’s destruction influenced a movement that resulted in the establishment of the city’s historic preservation movement.
The present Penn Station has come under criticism from many sectors, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who once called it “a gloomy subterranean failure.”
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 718-260-4536.