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'The Rise and Fall of Penn Station' review: Excellent

"American Experience" looks at the iconic Beaux Arts structure, which was demolished in 1963 to make way for the new Madison Square Garden. Pictured: Penn Station, 1962. Credit: Cervin Robinson/Library of Congress

THE DOCUMENTARY "The Rise and Fall of Penn Station" on "American Experience"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT An engineering marvel that was inspired by Paris' Gare D'Orsay and the Roman Baths of Caracalla, Pennsylvania Station was the most gorgeous public space in the United States on opening day, Nov. 27, 1910. But on Oct. 28, 1963, Penn Station would be demolished -- the dream of Pennsylvania Railroad president Alexander Cassatt reduced to rubble. Cassatt, brother of artist Mary Cassatt, never even lived to see it completed. He died in 1906, another in a long line of Penn presidents who died in office.

MY SAY Is it OK to get choked up over the death of a building, even 50 years later? Sure. Why not? There's no law. Plenty of people got emotional when the last brick of Yankee Stadium was carted away. Buildings, great buildings at least, take up permanent residence in our minds for all sorts of reasons, and the reasons a ghost memory of Penn Station remains seem self-evident. For Long Islanders who remember when Levittown was a field and "495" was just a number and not yet a long parking lot, glorious Penn was the end of the line, and the beginning of it, too.

Nostalgia, therefore, is a primary component of this pleasing memory. For film lovers who cherish "Spellbound" or "The Palm Beach Story" or "The Seven Year Itch" or "The Clock," Penn wasn't just a fleeting cameo but an enduring symbol of a great city. (There I go -- getting choked up and nostalgic again. Sorry.) By all means, watch this hugely interesting film about sandhogs and a railroad baron and engineers who created something that few thought could be accomplished. And by all means, wonder why it devotes less than five minutes to the story behind the "fall" (I did anyway).

But fair warning -- don't be surprised if you get a little emotional, too.

BOTTOM LINE Excellent, and way too short.



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