Historic Structures

Building Description Pennsylvania Train Station, Newark New Jersey

Pennsylvania Station in Newark is a major intermodal transportation facility which was constructed on a new site as a replacement for the city's older, smaller station. Designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, the building was constructed between 1932 and 1937 as a post-classical building with strong Art Deco detailing. The Station is located in a semi-developed area between two districts of Newark: The CBD and the Ironbound District, an area of mixed commercial, industrial, and residential uses. The entire Station environment, including most of the buildings surrounding the station on the West, was built as part of a major urban redevelopment scheme. The building of Pennsylvania Station, the investment in new electrified trains and in the world's largest threetrack railroad lift bridge, and the construction of McCarter Highway paralleling the elevated tracks symbolized the public belief in big city railways terminals and post-depression high hopes for business recovery.

Composed of a two-story rectangular Waiting Room with concourses and an attached train shed, Pennsylvania Station was originally built at a cost of $42,000,000. The Station is near the major highways serving the greater Northern New Jersey area, but functions especially as an important multi-modal transit link between Newark and points north (New York) and south for commuters.

The building as originally constructed has a station house 302 feet long, 79 feet deep, whose floor is at street level, and a train shed which passes over the eastern threefourths of the station house and extends beyond it 300 north and 600 feet south. Penn Station was initially designed as a multi-modal building, with axes through the building transversely beneath the train shed forming the Main Concourse on the south and the Rapid Transit Concourse (now called the North Concourse) on the north. Three longitudinal axes intersect the two transverse concourses, one being contained longitudinally within the main Waiting Room, and the other two being the West Corridor (originally called the North Corridor) and the East Corridor (originally called the South Corridor). Since the train shed is actually a series of bridges and the tracks therefore are elevated above the station house, access to and from the various transportation modes is gained by stairways, ramps, escalators, and elevators. Additonal elements on the Station's north and south sides as originally designed are the City Bus Terminal and the Taxi area respectively.

The train shed of Pennsylvania Station was built as a series of five bridges or viaducts of steel surrounded by granite. The Waiting Room and concourse level is located under the elevated bridge platforms. Supporting the column foundations of the Station, caissons carry the load down to bedrock, roughly eighty feet below grade.

To prevent the transmission of track and road vibrations to the Station itself/ the footings of the track slabs, the expressways, and other roads are tectonically independent of the structure supporting the deck. For the same purpose, all column bases of the Station rest on anti-vibration pads of lead, asbestops, and steel.

The Station was first opened in 1935, at which time the main Station building, two platforms, three tracks, and the first of two new lift bridges over the Passaic River were in operation. In conjunction with the building of the Station, a Post Office facility (long since converted to a warehouse) was built with an interconnecting tunnel to the Station; also constructed at this time were three new boulevards: McCarter Highway, Raymond Boulevard north of the Station, and Raymond Boulevard west (now Raymond Plaza West). This last street was built over the new City Subway located in the bed of the Morris Canal and which made a terminus loop under Pennsylvania Station.

The exterior architectural treatment is characterized by a semi-classical structure embellished with Art Deco decoration. The western, principal facade of the station house contains a definite base, body, and cap conforming to the classical tradition of pedestal, colunm, and entablature. The entablature is continuous throughout the facade which is symmetrically divided in five parts in an a b c b a rhythm. The base is of rubbed pink granite while the body and cap are faced in grey Indiana limestone over non-bearing masonry. The two dominant parts, the "b" elements, are the~entrance bays which each consist of a high stilted arched opening of rubbed pink granite rising without an articulated spring from street level to entablature. Both the arched head and jamb of the opening have identical semi-circular profiles. The spandrels of these arches are of granite decorated with abstracted and stylized carvings. In addition, two stylized pediments above the entablature over both entrance bays further define their importance. These pediments and the architrave and frieze of the entablature each contain carvings in the Art Deco style. The cast aluminum window mullions and marquee fascia contain decorative motifs in the same spirit. Above one entrance bay (now dominated by the Gateway bridge) is an astrological design, approximating the interior globe light fixtures. The other entrance bay's design includes a traditional clock.

The end elevations of the station house block which project beyond the train shed are of identical size and similar composition, but have differing decorative schemes. Each continues the basic organization of the main facade with granite base, limestone clad upper elements, and the same entablature. The south elevation contains a window glazed with translucent alabaster marble atop the south door of the Waiting Room. The window enframement is decorated with additonal unrelated carved reliefs in the same stylistic vein as the main elevation. The window mullions and marquee fascia contained decoration identical to that on the main elevation. The north elevation contains only a window which is glazed with standard glass. Five decorative case aluminum grilles which mask air intake vents are prominent in the upper part of this elevation.

The 1,200 foot long elevated train shed is divided into structural bays of varying size depending on the limitations imposed by the curving, non-parallel track configurations and the location of the vehicular streets and drives below the train shed. The bays generally range from 30 to 40 feet except for the wider bridge structures which span Raymond Boulevard and Market Street. The east and west longitudinal elevations are faced in buff brick with the window surrounds and coping panel finished in limestone. Between the window bays at the column lines are unadorned green terra cotta panels with grey limestone frames identical to the window surrounds. The cresting is cast aluminum in an authenian motif. The chief decorative elements of the train shed exterior are the identical motifs that surround the vehicular and pedestrian passages that carry the train over Raymond Boulevard and Market Street. These vehicular ways are emphasized by the segmental curve of the bridge and the similarily curved lower facing of the terra cotta panels above. The two street passages are also emphasized by the pairs of pink granite clad columns on either side of each arch. The fluted and banded columns are each topped by a stylized granite eagle in nearly full relief.

The interior architectural treatment is dominated by the elevations and fixtures of the main Waiting Room. The elevations of this space are organized around a classically inspired ordering of elements which reflects the corresponding exterior bays at the west and south elevations. Each interior elevation is symmetrically organized around a doorway. The east and west doorways are each flanked by four bays, and the north and south each by one bay. On the west elevation the bays contain full height windows. Above the high travertine wainscote on the other walls, the bays are articulated by blank bordered panels set off by pilaster strips and each enframing a cast plaster medallion. The medallions illustrate different historical and contemporary modes of transportation and were either partially or fully polychromed.

The doorways were each individually designed. The two leading directly to the exterior have vestibules projecting slightly into the Waiting Room. They and the north doorway as well are highly embellished with cast aluminum grille worke. The east doorway, leading into the Main Concourse, is enframed by a high stilted arch. Its flanking fluted pilasters and paneled spandrels are of travertine. The size and profile of the arch are similar to those on the main exterior elevation and the curved profile of each suggests their primary inflow nature. Located atop each of the north and south doorways of the Waiting Room is a clock.

Originally, a total of eight ticket windows were located on the north side of the doorway leading to the Main Concourse. Four spherical light fixtures of white bronze ("whiter" because of a larger proportion of tin than normal bronze) and opal glass based on an astrological/planetary theme were suspended from the segmentally arched ceiling. (Only two of these fixtures remain in the Waiting Room.) The ceiling is finished in acoustical tile painted blue with banding of gold leaf. The floor is reddish terrazzo, and the cove base at the walls and benches are red marble. The benches are of walnut inlaid with aluminum.

The decorative scheme in the rest of the Station interior follows the priority of functional spaces. The Waiting Room dominates the Station in terms of both use and decoration, while the remainder of the interior is generally of a subdued richness and lower density. The walls of the concourses framing the entrances of the various service areas and concessions are ordered by a system of fluted pilasters of grey Napoleon granite topped by an entablaturelike running device of decorative aluminum or aluminum and stucco. This was the backboard for a descriptive or directional aluminum signage system. The convex PRR ticket windows in the West Corridor and the concave H&M RR ticket windows are each paneled with cast aluminum. The ceiling in the concourses is plaster and is articulated in the Main Concourse by the slight camber of the transverse projecting elements, and the hemispherical lighting fixture lenses in the North Concourse.

The train shed also contains some noteworthy interior elements. The most important are the two bell shaped longitudinal skylights located over platforms B and D. Since this Station contains the unusual feature of tracks crossing above the station house, a roofless platfrom area has the potential of causing water damage in the station house below. With electrification, it was thought that it no longer was necessary to have an open, smoke venting shed and, thus, it could be enclosed. Skylights were felt to be necessary both for light and to visually relieve a relatively low, dark box type of interior.

The skylights evoke the modernistic imagery of the period with their bell form steel bents flared at the bottom for a smooth transition into the concrete roof slabs. The bents consist of paired columns joining the bell shaped top chord at mid-height and horizontally intersecting the bottom chord. The top chord flairs at its base to meet the slightly arching bottom chord with continues into the plane of the relatively flat roof. All bent members are connected longitudinally by a steel purlin atop each column and curving braces. Between the flared bottom and curved peak of each bent, the top chord is straight to form a flat plane for the glass opening between the adjoining curved concrete roof slabs. The framing of these skylights is similar to those designed earlier by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White for Chicago Union Station and the suburban platforms at Philadelphia 30th Street Station.

The skylight glazing was one of the more elegant uses of corrugated wire glass during its history of use, primarily as an industrial galzing material. The wave form of the corrugated glass and the rafterless connections between panes create a continuous unbroken undulating surface which both repeats the larger curves of the framing bents and reflects the linear character of the tracks and trains served. The skylights reiterate the Art Deco inspired curves found throughout the building. Also of interest are the waiting enclosures on each platform which are constructed completely of aluminum panels.

The physical changes to the structure have been surprisingly few for a building of this complexity, the first modification was the closing and abandonment of the ticket windows at the end of the North Concourse by the Old Hudson and Manhattan Tube system. This change predated the 1962 acquisition of the H&M by the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation (PATH). At present, the old windows are maintained, but PATH operates an automatic fare collection system on the platform.

In the early 1950s, the Waiting Room for the City Bus Terminal, which was located in the central portion of the Station's north side, was eliminated. A second mezzanine had been included in the original plans, over the Bus Terminal, but was never built. Part of the ramp leading to this second mezzanine was built, but it was modified when a concession (a candy store) moved into the Waiting Room Space. The Waiting Room's elevation fronting on the North Concourse was disharmoniously remodeled to its existing condition. Amtrak has its offices curently in this space.

Chronologically, the next change was the placement of large billboards on the train shed roof directly over the west portals of Raymond Boulevard and Market Street. Although they have not caused any physical alternation to the building, their presence adversely affects both the appearance of the portals and the character of their fine Art Deco detailing.

In the Station's main Waiting Room, two of the original globe light fixtures were removed in 1957. Also at this time, two of the original free standing benches and a section of wall were removed to make space for a Railway Express office built into the Waiting Room's northwest corner* In addition, a doorway was cut through the travertine wainscote on the room's north elevation to provide access to this office. Although the encroachment to the Waiting Room of the new room has been removed under Title X, the doorway remains and the two benches and light fixtures are still missing.

The storefront area defined by the intersection of the Main Concourse with the West Corridor has experienced a series of concession changes and reconfigurations of the interior spaces. In 1957 or '58, the interior large barber shop was eliminated, and approximately five concessions were put on the West Corridor and Main Concourse. These walls were entirely reconfigured with the introduction of the new storefronts.

In 1957-58, a major modification to the original circulation plans was caused by the elimination of the West Corridor entrance to the Station from the City Bus Terminal. This doorway was closed as a result of the shutting of the large dining room/lunch room in the building's northwest corner and its relocation as a large restaurant directly on this West Corridor axis. The new restaurant also incorporates the space once used by two concessions and the kitchen area from another restaurant. The Greyhound Bus facility replaced the original dining space. The Greyhound buses have always loaded on Raymond Plaza West and do not share use of the City Bus Terminal.

Another alteration to the main Waiting Room occurred in 1963 when a bank concession took over the space on the room's southeastern side formerly occupied by a series of concessions, telephones, and a public service facility. A result of this was that the bank's new storefront changed the east wall of the Waiting Room so that it was no longer symmetrically organized.

A major alteration to the Station structure was brought about in 1972 by the introduction of an elevated enclosed walkway linking the station house to the Gateway 1 project directly across Raymond Plaza West. The elevated walkway extends into the west elevation through the upper part of the north entrance archway, to meet the original landing where the escalators and stairs from the PATH arrival platform switchback to link with the concourse system on the main floor. This interior extension of the bridge has eliminated the upper half of the original two-story lobby that directly links the present Greyhound station, main Waiting Room, North Concourse, and north entrance of the main elevation.

Also in 1972, the access to and from the City Bus Terminal was modified even more. The existent elevated bus mezzanine was closed and the ramp to it was sealed where it joined the North Concourse as a crime preventing safety precaution. The ramp down to the sidewalk at lane 1 was left open. But the stairs leading from the bus mezzanine down to islands 2, 3, and 4 between the bus lanes were also closed.