Historical Markers
Pennsylvania Station Historical Marker
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Pennsylvania Station

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
N side of Market St. between 29th and 30th Sts., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
December 12, 1996

Behind the Marker

Pennsylvania Station 1936 postcard.
Pennsylvania Station 1936 postcard
Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station was the last major intercity urban train station to be built in Pennsylvania. Many also believe it to be the grandest. Today, this neoclassical structure with a ninety-five-foot-high ceiling above its main concourse handles more than 3.5 million Amtrak rail passengers a year, second only to New York City's Pennsylvania Station. It is one of the few stations in America where trains depart and arrive in all four directions - north to New York and Boston; south to Baltimore, Washington, Florida, and New Orleans; east to Atlantic City, New Jersey; and west to Lancaster, Harrisburg, Altoona, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Besides long-haul trains, it is served daily by dozens of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit commuter trains.
Pa Station, Architects" drawing
Pennsylvania Station, Architects" drawing

Opened in four stages from 1930 to 1953, it was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Its location at 30th and Market Streets prompted the public to call it 30th Street Station to distinguish it from other PRR stations in the city. Conceding to public usage, PRR listed it in timetables as "Pennsylvania Station-30th Street."

Designed by the Chicago firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the station consists of a six-track upper level for commuter trains, a ten-track lower level for intercity trains, and a five-story office building whose wings flank the open main concourse. (A planned landing field for small aircraft on the station's roof was never constructed.) The soaring, coffered ceiling, five-story-high cathedral-like windows, and a Tennessee marble floor are the most distinctive architectural features of this public space. Faced with Alabama limestone, the building measures 637 feet long on the side facing City Hall and the Schuylkill River, and is 327 feet wide.
Old Broad Street Station exterior.
Old Broad Street Station.

The planning and design of the $10 million station were borne out of the city's desire to simplify and beautify its streetscape, and to ease the growing congestion at the railroad's Victorian-styled 1881 Broad Street Station, which stood next to City Hall. A fire at that station on June 11, 1923, set the stage for a series of joint municipal-PRR projects, which the railroad collectively called "the Philadelphia Improvements."

The plan included construction of a tunnel and a new downtown underground terminal for electrified commuter trains, construction of Suburban Station, (also designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White), closure and demolition of Broad Street Station, and removal of the elevated roadbed that had formed a "Chinese Wall," dividing the city. Underground operations were made possible by the coming of electrified commuter trains, first on the Paoli Local in 1914, and later on lines to Chestnut Hill; Norristown; Media/West Chester; Wilmington, Delaware; and Trenton, New Jersey.

Groundbreaking on the $52 million project took place on July 27, 1927, and the upper-level commuter wing of 30th Street Station opened on September 28, 1930, in conjunction with the opening the same day of Suburban Station in Center City. At the time, PRR carried about 30,000 commuters a day into Philadelphia aboard 325 daily trains.

Two lower-level tracks for New York-Washington trains opened on March 12, 1933, allowing PRR to close its 1903 West Philadelphia Station, which had in turn replaced a station built for the 1876 national Centennial Exhibition. On December 15, 1933, the main part of 30th Street Station opened when Philadelphia Mayor J. Hampton Moore bought the first ticket. "It is probably the most ornate, artistic and commodious railroad structure in the United States," Moore told reporters.

The Great Depression and World War II delayed further progress, and the old Broad Street Station was not closed until April 27, 1952. To enable 30th Street Station to handle the added business caused by that closure, PRR spent $11 million to add lower-level tracks and related facilities.

A bronze sculpture in the concourse, commissioned from renowned sculptor Walker Hancock(1901-1998), graces the station's interior. Titled Angel of Resurrection, or sometimes Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, it depicts an angel lifting up a fallen soldier, to honor the 1,307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who had died in military service in World War II, out of the 54,035 PRR employees who had served. Five-star Army General Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the August 10, 1952, dedication ceremony.
Angel of Resurrection, a statue of the archangel Michael bearing the soul of a fallen soldier sits on top of a shaft engraved with the names of PRR employees killed in World War II.
Angel of Resurrection
  Unveiling the statue was Army Sergeant Robert E. Laws, a sheet metal worker in PRR's markerAltoona Shops who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor during hand-to-hand combat in the Philippines in 1945. The 36-1/2-foot-high figure, with the 1,307 names engraved on its base, remains the most distinctive feature of the concourse.

Over the years, the station has been the site for flower shows, holiday concerts, bowling tournaments, labor demonstrations, and the filming of television commercials. It got its biggest public exposure in the 1985 film Witness, with actor Harrison Ford portraying a detective trying to protect a young Amish family during a murder investigation. The Angel of Resurrection was featured prominently in the movie.

During a $100 million renovation in the 1990s, the structure was cleaned and restored, and shops and food courts were added to the previously long-closed south concourse area. Today Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, intercity, and Acela high-speed trains share the station with commuter trains.
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