St. Pancras Station is to London what Penn Station was to New York: the finest architectural icon of the Age of Steam. At the time, British poet John Betjeman called the 1868 structure, with its gargoyles and Gothic Revival towers, "too beautiful and too romantic to survive." He was almost right. In the 1960’s, both landmarks were threatened with demolition and became the subject of the first rallying cries of modern preservationists. Penn Station fell; St. Pancras fell into neglect. But this month, St. Pancras International Station will reign again as London’s most dazzling entry point, when Eurostar trains begin arriving through the new high-speed link into its enormous vaulted train shed—once the largest single-span roof in the world—which has been repainted in the original sky blue. The adjacent Midland Grand Hotel, among the nation’s best before it closed its doors, more than 70 years ago, is also being rescued from years of disuse and will reopen in 2009 as the 244-room St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. George Gilbert-Scott’s brick façade looms over Kings Cross like a fairy-tale castle; archways shelter stone figures depicting not saints or sprites but railroad breakers and other workers. If you can, sneak a look at the ornate staircase, with its mix of Industrial Age ironwork and medieval motifs. Soaring from the first floor to the fourth, it’s a nostalgia-inducing feat of engineering whose grandeur and sophistication no elevator bank could ever hope to match.
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