The recent renovations at Penn Station have led to many parts of the station being boarded up, but at the same time, many parts of the original 1910 building have been uncovered. One exciting piece of the station to be unveiled is part of a passageway which once led from the LIRR concourse to IRT or the 1,2, and 3 trains as they are known today. Boarded up in the 1980s, the passageway features Guastavino tile and several blocked entranceways. Jason Abrams, an Amtrak spokesperson confirmed for us this vaulted ceiling is located “in the former 32nd Street connection from the downtown 7th Avenue subway into Penn Station on the B Level.”

Another doorway you can see to the left of the photo above we believe would have led into the Baggage and Parcel Carousel Office, where commuters could store their luggage. This space was used as office space for the bar Tracks. The point of view from which our photos were taken is where the tunnel would connect to the 1/2/3 subway, a branch of the IRT line, built around the same time as the original Penn Station. Untapped New York was able to peek into the hallway through a gap in the construction fencing, at the top of the staircase to the downtown 1 train.

The hallway entrance has been blocked off since the 1980s and the tunnel is usually dark. For some reason, likely so that the MTA can use the tunnel for access during construction, lights have been installed and turned on to illuminate the hallway, revealing the arches and tile work which have been obscured to passersby. The top of the passageway features Guastavino vaulted ceilings, an architectural feature that was  common in the original Penn Station designed by McKim, Mead and White. In the original station there were giant Guastavino arches in the glass filled main concourse. According to Maggie Redfern and John Ochsendorf, authors of A Guide to Guastavino in New York City, this is the last example of Guastavino tile work in the entire station. Our Chief Experience Office Justin Rivers, who checked out the tunnel after we got a tip that the lights were on, says the vaulted ceiling probably provides a similar acoustic effect as the whispering gallery in Grand Central Terminal.

Turning around from this viewpoint into the Guastavino arches, you can see the former lettering that marked the entrance to the IRT platform, as well as the original handrails and guardrails from the station. Abrams, the Amtrak spokesperson, tells us “we are looking at options for potential restoration” for the tunnel and Guastavino arches.

You can see a former entrance to this passageway from another part of the station. Through the door you can see towards the back of these photos, you may notice a bricked up wall. You can see the other side of that wall peeking out behind Andrew Leicester’s Day and Night terra-cotta relief sculpture. The sculpture if part of his Ghost Series which encompasses five different relief sculptures throughout the station which harken back to the architecture of the original McKim, Mead and White sculpture.

It is exciting to see the old pieces of Penn Station peeking through as new renovations are being made, and always fun to find a secret passageway. If you want to learn more about the ever evolving station, and see more pieces of the original structure, join our Chief Experience Officer Justin Rivers for an upcoming Remnants of Penn Station walking tour!

Tour of the Remnants of Penn Station

Next, check out Renovation in Penn Station Reveals Elements from Demolished 1910 Station and Inside the Beautiful Gimbel’s Skybridge at Herald Square

8 thoughts on “Penn Station Renovations Reveal Guastavino Ceilings in Lost IRT Subway Passageway

  1. A little perspective to what’s just been uncovered in the MTA’s current LIRR Concourse project. When the original Pennsylvania Station was built in 1910, Gimbels department store had also just recently opened. The Seventh Avenue truck line of the IRT hadn’t been built yet, and the Hotel Pennsylvania wouldn’t open until 1919.

    The online blueprints of Penn Station at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington DE (https://digital.hagley.org/2471_01_03_07) show the Baggage Room as being one level down from the street and was directly below the Main Arcade which was centered on 32nd. Running north to south on that same level was a Baggage Passageway connecting to a pair of planned baggage/taxi loop drives. Adjacent to the Baggage Passageway was shell space which appears not to have been finished at Penn Station’s 1910 opening. Conjecture is inserted at this point as there were always adjustments being made to the 1910 structure. The aforementioned Baggage Passageway is about where Tracks raw bar was located. The northern baggage/taxi loop drive is about where the LIRR ticketing area has just been located. And, the southern baggage/taxi loop is about where the NJT waiting room is presently located.

    When the IRT Seventh Avenue trunk line was being extended southward towards Penn Station in 1917, the Hotel Pennsylvania was also being constructed. The current 34th Street IRT station and the hotel basement were laid out at the same time in an amazing level of cooperation between two agencies which had originally not been noted to have worked well together up to this point. (Follow this link to the Hotel Pennsylvania blueprints – http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~statler/genealogy/statler/docs/statlerhotels/sh_penn/blueprints/sh_penn_blueprints.htm)
    There were two passageways which ran east-west between Penn Station and the hotel – one under 33rd (now known as the Gimbels Passageway) and the other under 32nd (now known as the Hilton Passageway). These ran immediately adjacent to the IRT’s passageways at those same streets allowing access to the center platform. But, the Gimbels and Hilton Passageways were outside of fare control. And, this was probably the time that the unfinished shell space was fitted out with all of that wonderful Guastavino tiling.

    The Gimbels Passageway under 33rd allowed passengers to go under Seventh Ave to the hotel as well as on to Gimbels, connecting to other passageways under Herald Square, eventually going beyond Gimbels to the H&M terminus and the Hotel Martinique. At the 1919 opening, there was access to the main elevator banks of the Hotel Pennsylvania as well as a barber shop and at least two shops fronting the passageway in the hotel’s first basement level. There was a similar arcade experience at Gimbels. The Gimbels Passageway also allowed adjacent access to the 33rd Street entry/exit fare control functions of the newly built IRT extension.

    The Hilton Passageway under 32nd was more utilitarian. It allowed movement of baggage between Penn Station’s Baggage Room and an elevator to the hotel’s main desk (which is still likely extant). So, arriving passengers would access the Exit Concourse, traverse under Seventh Avenue to the hotel in the Gimbels Passageway while their baggage would be moved through the Hilton Passageway. There was also a stairway on the Penn Station side from the Hilton Passageway (or IRT) to the vestibule of the main entrance. Again, there was close coordination between the station, hotel, and IRT at the 32nd Street entrances on either side of Seventh Ave. But, it’s unclear what kind of street level access there was for the downtown IRT platforms within Penn Station’s main entrance at 32nd. But, like the Gimbels Passageway, the Hilton Passageway ran immediately adjacent to the IRT passage outside of fare control at the 32nd end of the station.

    Three periods of construction impacted both the Gimbels and Hilton Passageways. The first was the demolition of Penn Station’s 1910 headhouse in 1963. The stairway from the station side of the Hilton Passageway was walled off at this time, and any street level entry to the downtown IRT platform was removed as well. The Gimbels Passageway was largely unaffected at this period. When the ‘new’ Penn Station was being created in 1965, the Hilton Passageway was effectively extended under the 32nd axis creating a parallel east-west corridor with the reconfiguration of the Exit Concourse.

    The second was a renovation of the 34th Street IRT/MTA station in 1984. The walls between the middle sections of the Gimbels and Hilton Passageways running below the subway tracks and the respective IRT passages to the center platform were removed. This led to an effective doubling of the width of those passages, especially when one compares it to the unmodified passage up at 34th. The other parts of the Gimbels and Hilton Passageways were now cut off from each other and repurposed. The hotel side of the Gimbels Passageway saw it also at this time being cut off from the hotel’s elevator vestibule, and the arcade shops were closed. Eventually, due to security concerns, the extension towards Gimbels was also walled off at this time. Although it’s unclear as to when this happened, but it was probably about this time that the Little Italy pizza restaurant was shoehorned into the hotel side of the Hilton Passageway. It’s also unclear if there was ever any in-building access to the IRT station from the Equitable Building/Eleven Penn Plaza.

    The third was the 1994 changes to Penn Station which are currently being undone. And, that’s what has just recently been exposed – the station side of the vestigial remnant of the Gimbels Passageway. Now, to add to the confusion, I believe that the article included pics of the station side of the vestigial remnant of the Hilton Passageway. But, I can’t be sure. Justin Rivers can likely better explain since he’s up there in the City. And, I’m down here in North Carolina.

  2. What is not exciting about seeing these old architectural fragments and remnants emerge again is the realization that no matter what improvements are done to today’s Penn Station, it will always remain a bleak inhospitable blighted scar on the urban fabric of NYC. To see the incredible attention to detail that even a mundane pedestrian passageway received from the original architects and compare it to the cheap suspended ceilings and disposable acoustical panels of today’s rat hole, just makes you shake your head and wonder how could we ever have been so careless and shortsighted to destroy such a grand and monumental structure as the original Penn Station.

  3. When my brother and I came to NY from Puerto Rico, we came by plane to Florida and then took a train to Penn Station. I love this station as I love New York, it is my HOME. Zulma

  4. Hi.
    Obsessed with the old Penn Station and its hidden gems. Please keep enlightening us with all you got to cover regarding the Old Penn Station.
    Is the boarded doors leading visible to the public?

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