Photo from Library of Congress

October 28, 2015 marks the 52nd anniversary of the sound of jackhammers demolishing New York City’s original Pennsylvania Station. The off-Broadway play The Eternal Space examines an unlikely friendship forged during the demolition, and we’ve asked its playwright Justin Rivers (also the tour guide for our popular Remnants of Penn Station tour) to share the top 10 secrets of the original Penn Station, including some never-before-published photographs from the show.

Also make sure to join our Remnants of Penn Station tour, lead by Justin himself:

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station

10. The Last Building Standing in Original Penn Station Complex Was a Pub

Penn Station Demolition-Construction-NYCPhoto from Library of Congress

The Pennsylvania Railroad had to demolish 500 buildings and displace roughly 6,000 people to build Penn Station. The last building kept standing and operating was a pub so the construction workers had somewhere to drink. The company did not pay relocation expenses.

9. Before Penn Station Opened, Rail Passengers Had to Cross the Hudson River by Ferry

New Jersey ferry boat, 1900-1910. Photo from Library of Congress

Before Pennsylvania Station opened in 1910, those on the Pennsylvania Railroad coming from points west were not able to cross the Hudson River. All passengers had to disembark their trains in Jersey City and board ferries to get to Manhattan.

8. The Original Penn Station Was the Largest Indoor Public Space in the World When Built

Penn Station-Ron Ziel-Photoshop-Then and Now-NYCImage by Ron Ziel

The former Penn Station covered two city blocks and 8 acres of land making the largest indoor public space in the world when it opened.

7.  Penn Station Was the First To Have Separate Concourses for Arrivals and Departures

Photo from Library of Congress

The former Penn Station was the first train station to allocate separate concourses for arriving and departing passengers.

6. The Original Penn Station Was Just One Piece of a Larger Construction Project

Photo from Library of Congress

Pennsylvania Station was really just one piece of a larger $114 million (approximately $2.5 billion in today’s money) puzzle that included a new right-of-way from Newark to Manhattan, bridges, tunnels underneath the Hudson and East Rivers, and a new rail yard in Queens. At its peak of operation in the 1920s, Pennsylvania Railroad boasted 28,000 miles of track and 279,000 employees. At the same time, it was running 6,700 trains a day transporting fully 10 percent of all freight in America, and 20 percent of all passengers.

Still the scope of Penn Station is staggering: roughly 550,000 cubic feet of stone, 27,000 tons of steel, and 15 million bricks were used during construction of Penn Station

5. Pennsylvania Station Was Only 53 years old When Demolished Started

Penn Station Demolition-Photo-Norman McGrath-2One of the original eagles of Penn Station. Find out where they are now. Photograph by Norman McGrath

Pennsylvania Station, although looking much older, was only 53 years old when its demolition commenced in 1963. The glass ceiling had been painted over for safety during World War II and was never undone, lending to the perception of a station in decline. Penn Station’s demolition was precipitated by the bankrupting of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who was forced to sell its air rights.

4. Not One Day of Train Travel Was Disrupted for Demolition of Penn Station

Demolition Penn Station-Photography-Norman McGrath-The Eternal Space-Kickstarter-NYC-004Photograph by Norman McGrath

Passengers continued to weave in and out of Penn Station even during its demolition and not one day of travel was disrupted during this phase. Partially because of this, various structural and non-structural pieces remained as demolition proceeded which leads us to the next secret…

3. Remnants of Original Penn Station Abound in the Existing Station

Staircases, handrails, a stunning cast-iron partition, glass bricks that once formed the floor and ceiling of the original station, two eagles (of the many that have found new homes around the country) and many more remnants of the original Penn Station are still located in the subterranean replacement. Take the Untapped Cities tour, the Remnants of Penn Station, to track them down:

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station

2. There Used to be an Underground Passageway to Herald Square

Penn Station Hilton Corridor

The Hilton Passageway gave access for commuters between Penn Station and the N/R/Q and B/D/F/M trains until the 1970s, when it was closed off due to security reasons. It was reputedly narrow and in a state of disrepair. Today, it is simply blocked off by bricks – you can see the original opening by the change in white bricks along the wall.

1. The Original Coal-Fired Power Plant Still Exists Hidden in Plain Sight

Pennsylvania Station-Coal-Fire Power Plant-31st Street-NYC The original coal-fired power plant of the station, built as a mirror image using the same Tennessee granite as the lost Stanford White masterpiece, still exists on 31st Street. Today, the power plant is a significant state of disrepair, with broken windows. As of 2003, it was reported by The New York Times that the building was used for “storage and backup systems.” While preservationists may fear for is survival, it shares the same block as the Capuchin Monastery of the Church of St. John and may have been one of the main reasons this block was left out of the proposal for the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC). “That’s one of the reasons why we rejected that block,” said David Widawsky, project lead for ARC. “It’s an historic church, and the only piece of Penn Station that’s still standing.”

Bonus: There Was Once an Airplane in Penn Station

Pennsylvaina Station-Airplane-1929-Amelia Earhart-Air Rail service-NYC-LAFrom the collection of Ron Ziel, photo by Bettina Winston from Trans World Airlines. Shared by Justin Rivers, The Eternal Space

In 1929, an air-rail service was launched between New York City and Los Angeles, whereby passengers could take a train to Columbus, Ohio, fly from there to Waynoka, Oklahoma, train to Clovis, New Mexico, and fly from there to Los Angeles.

The Pennsylvania Railroad partnered with the Santa Fe railroad and Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc. to offer this passenger service and enlisted a number of celebrities to inaugurate it, including Charles Lindbergh, Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford. According to Lorraine Diehl in The Late Great Pennsylvania Station, in New York City, Amelia Earhart broke a bottle of champagne on the propeller of a Ford trimotor airplane displayed in the main waiting room of Pennsylvania Station. She led the first 19 passengers to the train for the first leg of their cross country journey. It has been said that the plane couldn’t fit in the entrances so it had to be disassembled and then reassembled inside the waiting room.

Next, see more photos of the demolition of Penn Station, photos of the station in its heyday and find out where the 22 eagles of the original Penn Station ended up. Also read about the Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central.