Throwback Thursday: NYC’s Original Pennsylvania Station Opens in 1910

This image of  entrance of Penn Station  is viewable on 7th Avenue and 32nd Street on the Membit app.  Membit is a new augmented reality app that gives you a way to share the past with the present and a way to share the present with the future. It’s so new it isn’t even in the App Store yet, it’s in beta. If you would like to try it out before everyone else, click here.

penn_main_waiting_roomThe main waiting room of Pennsylvania Station circa 1910 designed to look like the Roman Baths of Caracalla. Photo Source: University of Pennsylvania. 

On the heels of a successful Summit for the Future of Penn Station and the continuing popularity of our Remnants of Penn Station tours, we would be remiss not to commemorate another Penn Station milestone on this Throwback Thursday: its opening back in November of 1910.

penn-station-dig-siteThe Penn Station dig site called “The Pennsylvania Hole” taken in 1908. The steel framework of the station rises in the top right corner. Photo Source: The collection of Ron Ziel.   

The station was the master plan of Pennsylvania Railroad President Alexander Cassatt (brother of painter Mary Cassatt). Up until its opening the railroad had to deposit travelers in Jersey City where they were they boarded ferries to cross the Hudson. This frustrated Cassatt greatly because his main competitors, the New York Central Railroad, had a depot in Manhattan on 42nd Street. In response he and Vice President Samuel Rae along with turn-of-the-century starchitect’s Charles McKim, William Mead and Stanford White designed and built the station and the accompanying Hudson Tunnel in nine years.

first-lirr-commuters-penn-stationA picture of the first LIRR commuters to come into Penn Station on September 8, 1910. Photo source: The collection of Ron Ziel. 

Unknown to most, the original Penn Station had a soft opening early in the fall of 1910 when it welcomed its first Long Island Railroad commuters. On September 8th, a select group of Long Islanders purchased a special ticket that booked passage to Long Island City. They they boarded the first electric train for its 12 minute maiden voyage under the East River took its twelve minute maiden voyage to the brand new Pennsylvania Station. Passengers were given a special two hour inspection tour where the station was theirs to freely roam before the general public was admitted. From that day, the Long Island Railroad, located downstairs exactly where it is today, was opened to regional commuters

pennsylvania-station-aerial-view-1910sPennsylvania Station right around the time of its opening. This is a view from 7th Avenue looking toward 8th. Note there is no Post Office or Hotel Pennsylvania yet. Source Wikipedia Commons. 

Two months later on November 27th, the Pennsylvania Railroad officially opened their crown jewel station to long distance rail service. Over 100,000 people flooded the station to marvel at a Beaux-Arts structure that occupied 8 acres, three city blocks and ran from 7th to 8th Avenues. It was double the size of the second Grand Central Terminal across town which wouldn’t be completed for another three years.

Lorraine Diehl wrote in her book The Late Great Pennsylvania Station:

“Like the Brooklyn Bridge, Pennsylvania Station was much more than an accommodation for travelers. It was a monumental gateway… When the doors of the great building opened, there were 2000 people waiting to come inside. What they saw did not disappoint them.”

pennsylvania_station_1910_opening-day_-advertAn ad that ran in the New York Times the day before Pennsylvania Station opened. Source Wikipedia Commons.

The New York Times wrote about the first day:

“A little man ran through first and, running all the way, reached the first ticket booth to be opened and bought a ticket to Elizabeth, NJ and return. He has the distinction of being the first person to buy a ticket in the new station for a station not on Long Island…. As the crowd passed through the doors into the vast concourse on every hand were heard exclamations of wonder, for none had any idea of the architectural beauty of the new structure. From end to end the station was ablaze with lights.”

The first long distance train to leave the station was the 8:04AM Chicago Special with the second being the famed Pennsylvania Special also Chicago bound at 10:56AM. According to Diehl, 89 trains left on the first day 43 to Long Island and 46 to points west throughout America.

penn_demo_waiting_room_mcgrath-4The Main Waiting Room being demolished in 1964. Photo by Norman McGrath.

The station, built to last for generations, would stand for only 53 years before being demolished by a bankrupt Pennsylvania Railroad in 1963.

Join us for an upcoming tour of the Remnants of Penn Station:

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station

Next, read about the Top 10 Secrets of the Original Penn Station and 10 Fun Facts about the Current Penn Station.

 penn station, Throwback Thursday, vintage photos

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