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James A. recommends Conquering Gotham by Jill Jonnes.
Review: The dream of Alexander J. Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad (1899-1906) was to bring the railroad across the Hudson into New York (or “Gotham”-Washington Irving first called New York this in his Salmagundi 1807) to link the main line with New England and provide a more convenient transportation to NYC-bound passengers (who up until Penn Station was built, had to take a time consuming ferry ride.) Author Jill Jonnes escorts the reader through the complex events, the colourful and able personages, there several construction related accidents and the incredible engineering, technical, political and financial difficulties that had to be me in order that the Doric Temple-styled artist’s delight could stand on august 1, 1910 where a blighted and seedy “Tenderloin” District had stood before– and area covering seven and a half acres. This new edifice was not only the world’s largest train station but was the world’s fourth largest building, bested only by St. Peter’s in Vatican city, the Tuileries in Paris, and the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It was not only functional,but a class act.
It was the advent of the automobile and Feral and State government’s support of private transportation (tax-payer funded tunnels, bridges and interstate highways) that precipitated the downfall of the rail industry and brought about the 1961 demolition of Penn Station and the ascendance of an artless Madison Square Garden and an office tower. The LIRR now carries the greatest numbers (as compared to Grand Central Station) but instead of entering the city “like a god.” Wrote architect Vincent Scully, “one scuttles in now like a rat.” (p.315)
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– posted by Susan, Readers’ Services