Buildings of New York that should still be standing

I’ve posted about the tragedy that is the loss of the original Penn Station before. The most recent episode of one of my favourite podcasts 99% Invisible by Roman Mars dug deep into that story:

Though Penn Station is [now] a drab, low-ceilinged rat maze of a station, it used to be the opposite. It was vast, light-filled, and gorgeous.

The building was the fourth largest building in the world when it was finished.

The original Penn Station in New York City opened in 1910.  It was majestic. Travelers would enter through an exterior façade of massive Doric columns. Inside was a grand staircase into a waiting room not unlike a Roman temple. It was a Parthenon for trains.

The old Penn Station was the brainchild of Alexander Cassatt, head of the Pennsylvania Railroad. For Cassatt, Penn Station would fix a problem that had plagued New York for years—getting between Manhattan from New Jersey. At the time, passengers could only get across the Hudson River via ferry. Cassatt built the first ever train tunnel to run underneath the Hudson River, which was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.

The grandeur of Penn Station would thus crown his monumental achievement.

Newspapers called Penn Station the 8th wonder of the world. Everyone loved it.

Everyone, that is, except for one other railroad family that owned another station across town.

The Vanderbilt family owned Grand Central Station, which was not anywhere near as “grand” as it is now. Not wanting to be outdone by the beauty and grandiosity of Penn Station, the Vanderbilts tore down their Grand Central and built a newer, shiner, Beaux Arts-style Grand Central Terminal. This is the one we know today.

Penn Station was only 40 years old at this point, but already its days were already numbered. After World War II, passenger trains just weren’t as popular anymore. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company couldn’t afford the upkeep of Penn Station’s grandeur. Its glory gave way to grime.

And so it goes. Listen and read more about the story here. As the episode says, Penn Station is the only building in New York that should have been saved from the wrecking ball. Here are a few of the others.

The Singer Building, demolished in 1967
Metropolitan Opera House (39th Street), razed in 1967
Inside the “Old Met” as the Metropolitan Opera House was known
Radio Row, demolised in 1961
Buildings of New York that should still be standing

The mysterious numbers stations

Another gem from 99% Invisible:

If you tune around on a shortwave radio, you might stumble across a voice reciting an endless stream of numbers. Just numbers, all day, everyday. These so-called “numbers stations,” say nothing about where they are transmitting from or who they are trying to reach, but they can be heard in Spanish, English, German, Russian, Chinese, and any number of other languages from around the world.

Listen to the episode here, and if you’re intrigued see this Wikipedia entry.

The mysterious numbers stations

Illegal walking costs more than illegal parking in LA

From the Atlantic Cities:

The city of Los Angeles is cracking down on pedestrians who sneak across streets when the traffic signal says “don’t walk.” But when you put a price on bad behavior, like being in a public street illegally, you see clearly what a city values.

The cheapest parking ticket in Los Angeles (pdf) is $58, and the one most commonly issued for parking in a prohibited zone is $73. Jaywalking—the term of art for a pedestrian crossing against the light—will cost you $197.

Reading this reminded me of the brilliant episode of the always awesome radio show 99% Invisible by Roman Mars, The Modern Moloch. You can listen to the episode here:

Automotive interests banded together under the name Motordom. One of Motordom’s public relations gurus was a man named E. B. Lefferts, who put forth a radical idea: don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness. Lefferts and Motordom sought to exonerate the machine by placing the blame with individuals.

And it wasn’t just drivers who could be reckless—pedestrians could be reckless, too. Children could be reckless.

This subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t. Part of this re-imagining had to do with changing the way people thought of their relationship to the street. Motordom didn’t want people just strolling in.

So they coined a new term: “Jay Walking.”

In the early 20th Century, “jay” was a derogatory term for someone from the countryside. Therefore, a “jaywalker” is someone who walks around the city like a jay, gawking at all the big buildings, and who is oblivious to traffic around him. The term was originally used to disparage those who got in the way of other pedestrians, but Motordom rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time.

Illegal walking costs more than illegal parking in LA

How a Kansas City undertaker changed modern communications

It’s no secret I love 99% Invisible. The latest episode starts with this:

If you are an undertaker in 1878 Kansas City, and you learn that your competitor’s wife works as a telephone switchboard operator and has been diverting business calls meant for you to her husband, you have three potential courses of action:

(1) Contact the telephone company and try to get the operator fired.

(2) Take the operator and her husband to civil court and try to sue for damages.

(3) Revolutionize the entire telephone system by inventing an automatic telephone switching system that allows people to dial each other directly, thereby eliminating any need for a telephone switchboard operator.

Almon Brown Strowger went with (3).

Listen to it all here.

How a Kansas City undertaker changed modern communications