Before Penn Station, Bellows & old NYC

The awesome beauty of the hole dug for Pennsylvania Station

George Bellows, Pennsylvania Station Excavation, c. 1907–08, oil on canvas, 79.2 x 97.1 cm (Brooklyn Museum). Speakers: Margarita Karasoulas, Assistant Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Bellows, Pennsylvania Station

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Key points

  • George Bellows documents the construction site for the majestic Pennsylvania Station, part of a process of modernizing New York City through transportation networks in the early 20th century. This project also involved tunneling railway lines under the Hudson River, physically connecting New York to national transportation networks.
  • In Pennsylvania Station, Bellows does not celebrate the triumph of technology, but instead suggests the underside of the progress. This construction project displaced thousands of residents of the Tenderloin district, including African-American communities and recent immigrants.
  • Pennsylvania Station was demolished in 1963 to make way for a modern terminal and Madison Square Garden. Outrage over the destruction of this Beaux-Arts building helped to create the  New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which now registers and protects significant buildings and sites.

Go deeper

This painting at the Brooklyn Museum

Photos of Pennsylvania Station from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)

Explore lesson plans from the New York Transit Museum on the development of mass transit

Listen to an oral history about efforts to save Pennsylvania Station from demolition

The Rise and Fall of Penn Station at The American Experience, PBS

Explore an online exhibition about the construction of the tunnels under the Hudson River

Explore an online exhibition on the history of commuting and public transportation

Learn more about African-Americans in the Tenderloin district of New York City

Read a biography of George Bellows at the National Gallery of Art

Online exhibition of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri series of prints

More to think about

Compare Bellows’s Pennsylvania Station with this documentary photograph of the excavation project. What details are included in both images? What does Bellows add, or leave out, which suggests his more critical opinion of urban progress?

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.