Historic Structures

Building Description North Philadelphia Railroad Train Station, Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The Station Building is a 21/2 story, rectangular brick building with overall dimensions, as viewed from the south (front) elevation, approximating one hundred thirty-six feet and one inch wide by fifty feet five inches deep. The main block is approximately eighty-four feet five inches wide, by fifty-three feet three inches deep, by forty-seven six inches high - grade level to roof peak. Grade level to the line of the eave on the main block is approximately twenty-six feet one inch. The wing extensions each measure approximately fifty feet five inches deep, with the west extension twenty feet eight inches wide, and the east extension thirty-one feet wide.

The Station Building as completed in 1901 consisted of the seven-bay main block, with wings extending to the east in three bays, and to the west in two smaller bays. A deep shed roof extended from the cornice line of both the east and west wing sections.

The ground level (in 1901, the basement of the building) housed, from west to east, the boiler room and associated service rooms for that function, and the main vertical circulation element of the station. This stair in the north west corner allowed passengers access from the first floor to the ground floor tunnels leading to the platform, and to the waiting room located at the center of the ground level. Also in the center section were supporting service areas. To the east of this main block, still on the ground floor, were baggage rooms and a kitchen stores room with dumbwaiter. To the south of the main block were light wells admitting light to the lower floor from vault lights in the floor of the loggia immediately above.

The first floor, originally the entrance level to the station, contained, from west to east, men's smoking room and toilets and the stair in the north west corner; a massive stack extended up from the center of the west wing. At the center of this level, comprising the whole of the main block, was the main waiting room. To the east of this waiting room were a lunch cafe at the north east comer, a kitchen at the center with a soda fountain opening onto the main room, and women's toilets and 'retiring' room at the south east corner. Surrounding the building to the north and east were open promenades and, to the south, was a prominent loggia. Spaced along the floor of the promenade and loggia were vault lights admitting natural light to the ground floor.

A covered ramp extended west then south from the Station Building. The north portion of this ramp was open at the west corner, and met the west wing of the Station Building at the east corner. The western wall of the north-south portion of the covered ramp was running bond white brick while the east was open.

Some evidence exists that the main platform at the south end of the track started at the western-most end of the Station Building and extended west along the track to the 1870's vintage Signal Tower.

There appear to have been numerous renovations which altered the appearance of the Station Building; it was the first, however, that was the most significant. Within a short time of its completion, the new Germantown Junction was overcrowded and needed to be expanded. Plans were drawn up by the Pennsylvania Railroad's in-house architect William H. Cookman and a contract was awarded on June 22, 1912 for a one million dollar improvement. Four new tracks were constructed for passenger rails, the center tracks were to be dedicated to through-freight. Passenger facilities were to be improved with the addition of " ... two new waiting rooms ten feet wide and sixty feet long in the east-bound island platform, and one waiting room ten feet by eighty feet on the west bound island platform. Each platform will be long enough to accommodate a twelve-car train on each side." The most important change to the Station Building and its setting was made by lowering the grade at the south and east elevations by a full story to improve automobile access; the former basement became the primary access point for those arriving via taxi or private automobile.

The focal point of the internal alterations was the ground floor ticket lobby, creating public space from formerly closed service areas. This reorientation was achieved by rearranging ground floor spaces and finishing them as appropriate to the public nature of the new use. A large, single run staircase was installed, running east to west, and was placed to terminate on the central axis of the first floor waiting room. The ground floor waiting room was expanded and changed to function as a ticket lobby with a ticket office to the west end of this space. Behind the ticket office further to the west were employee locker rooms, toilets, and storage rooms. To the east of the ticket lobby were communications offices - telegraph and telephone - parcel and baggage handling rooms, a union transfer office, and the original kitchen supply room with the addition of an internal service stair to the kitchen above and new dumbwaiter. The floor of the ticket lobby was divided into sections with Pennsylvania green marble borders and terrazzo. Walls had marble wainscoting, marble door surrounds with dogears, plaster panels and cornice with bronze door sills. Plaster coffers decorated the classically detailed ceiling. While drawings do not exist for the stair, an unexecuted plan indicates that similar classical design elements were under consideration for the stair. Secondary rooms were not as high-style, reflecting their utilitarian uses; concrete floors and match-board wainscot with plaster above were enclosed with finished ceilings or the brick vaults were left exposed.

After the 1912-1915 alterations, the first floor waiting room remained largely intact with the exception of the new center staircase. Change to the men's rooms at the west end followed removal of the old boiler room stack. At the same time, the women's room lost space when the stair from the kitchen stores room was opened to the kitchen. To the main waiting room came the addition of a central stair to improve circulation.

Four new tracks were installed, and platforms stood as islands to serve passenger trains on each side. Required with the platforms were the attendant wa~ting houses, stair enclosures, and freight elevator houses. Cast-in-place reinforced concrete footing piers supported cast-in-place reinforced concrete platforms, each exceeding nine hundred and forty feet. Cast iron columns spaced at twenty feet on-center with internal drain pipes supported new canopies constructed of riveted rolled steel plate-and-beam trusses and lattice girder frames. A single eighty-foot waiting house was constructed on the west-bound platform with two sixty-foot waiting houses on the east bound platform. Waiting houses were wood frame with six sections of glazing and panelling between each column. Each section was formed by a single panel finished with cement concrete, two fixed lights of polished plate glass, then a panel of cold rolled copper which sheathed the lattice girders running the length of the canopy. At each end of the waiting houses were double-leaf swinging doors, each leaf two panels with a single light and bronze handle bars; additional sets of identical doors were on the track sides of the waiting houses, the number dependant on the length of the house. Skylights, one in each column-to-column span of the waiting house, were located in the roofs. Each skylight was gabled with seven lights on each roof plane; gable ends held circular louvered vents. Stair enclosures were constructed in similar fashion to the waiting houses with the top of the stair closed by doors identical to the waiting houses.

Freight elevator houses were also similar to the waiting houses in their design below the line of the canopy roof; the housing was wood frame while framing for the mechanical equipment was steel. Mechanical lifting equipment sat atop the elevator housing, sheathed with 16-ounce cold rolled pressed-panel copper siding with a copper dentilled cornice wrapped the eave. The hipped roofs of the elevator houses were glazed with large plates laid perpendicular to the ridge line.

In relation to this different platform configuration and revised internal circulation plan, the north elevation of the Station Building changed. Added to the west wing were three additional bays, bringing the north elevation to a total of fifteen bays. Between the piers of the extended arcade were added terracotta balustrades similar to the ones added to the rest of the building, disallowing direct platform access from the covered ramp. Independent of the platform configuration were changes to many other details of the Station Building exterior. To the east of the main block, a promenade was constructed to cover the baggage collection area. All of the newly exposed footings under the loggia and newly constructed promenade columns were sheathed in terra-cotta, while the load bearing exterior walls of the basement (set back from the screen of ground-level columns) were sheathed with Kittanning brick facing with a bluestone base course laid. Around this new promenade and to the east of the Station Building, along the covered ramp, terracotta balustrades echoed the one circumscribing the roof of the loggia.

A marquee protecting passengers entering or exiting cars extended the full seven bays of the south elevation and delineated the primary entrance. The loggia was fitted with French Beaux Arts style cast iron balustrades between each pier and the stack at the center of the west exterior wall was demolished, the boiler room moved to the west of the Station Building. Cast iron light posts and lights, a keystone motif at the base, were installed throughout the site to provide curbside lighting.

Another marquee, this one more ornate, supported by four fluted tapering cast iron columns with polished granite plinths, extended thirteen feet eleven inches from the north elevation of the entrance structure to the main passenger tunnel, north of the tracks. Structural steel beams were covered with copper, and the roof of the marquee was glazed with one hundred and eight panels. Glass globes, nine inches in diameter, with electric lights were set above each column and a cast iron frame supported polished plate glass spangles, alternating scallop and square butted. This element of the entrance structure is not extant; evidence of this structure comes from a drawing housed at the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

Beyond this major revision of the functional operation and appearance of the Station Building, there have been numerous less substantial changes typically related more to repair and maintenance than to substantive upgrading of the facility. One possible exception is an alteration completed by 1942. By this date, the women's room for the main waiting room had been moved from the east side to the western end of the Station Building. This change sealed the stair access of the north west corner in place from the original construction of the building; the west wing was expanded a single bay west and two bays south to accommodate this expanded women's facility. The kitchen was expanded into the former women's room, and a dining room with a screen partition was placed in the main waiting room of the first floor, assuming approximately one-third of the floor space. The lunch cafe area was probably altered in this period for heating and ventilation ducts and equipment. A small vestibule was built as ante-room by the central doors off of the loggia. The old soda fountain was removed by this time, and telephones were placed by the former women's room entrance in the south east corner. Finishes from this alteration are in the lunch cafe and bathrooms.

Other alterations were made in the 1950's; escalators were planned in 1955 after public pressure was exerted through the Philadelphia city council, and the drop ceiling in the first floor waiting room dates from this era. Further improvements - fences, lighting, pavement and parking lots - were reported underway in March of 1968. A fire in March of 1976 damaged the south portion of the waiting room and severely damaged the loggia area. Approximately a year later, Amtrak officials approved three hundred and fourteen thousand dollars for station improvements. These plans called for " ... rebuilding the roof and portico, painting the inside and outside of the building, installing new washrooms and repairing the platform and waiting room." In 1977 two of the three dormers were removed because of fire damage, along with the terra-cotta roof coping and finials; new square-butt slate roofing was laid. The loggia, windows and ground floor openings were filled with concrete masonry units, and brick was used as infill for the balustrades. The pipe railing at the covered ramp was replaced with a concrete wall.

In 1991, after rehabilitation plans with a private developer were not realized, Amtrak constructed the small concrete and glass block station building clad in tile immediately north of the north passenger tunnel entrance, used as the ticket office. The new station was designed by Bower Lewis Thrower Architects of Philadelphia and built by KazDal Construction Company of Collingswood, New Jersey.