Historic Structures

Pennsylvania Train Station, Newark New Jersey

Date added: September 4, 2020 Categories: New Jersey Train Station

Built in the 1930's as a large "prestige, palatial station," Pennsylvania Station retains much of its original stature after forty years. The Station is most notable for its well developed and sophisticated functional organization and its Art Deco detailing which is found in numerous motifs throughout the exterior and interior of the building. The Art Deco style is found in repetitive curve linear forms, periodic decorations, and the clean white metal materials used. Despite grime and some deterioration and alteration, the Station is the first and perhaps the most successful of the grand railway stations which also served as an intermodal terminal.

The most significant design feature of the building is its Art Deco detailing which is found in numerous motifs throughout the interior and exterior of the building. The Station's overall style is Art Deco as well, a popular sub-set of Art Moderne (c. 1920-1940), and a style often associated with the public building of that period. The major concentrations of the detail work are on the exterior surrounds of the west entrances, the north, south, and west entrance interiors of the Waiting Room, the walkway surrounds flanking the west portals of Raymond Boulevard and Market Street under the train shed, and the running motifs throughtbut the building. These principally are the exterior spandrel panels and frieze on the north elevation, the coping on the north elevation of the train shed, the entablature pilaster system in the Concourses, the Waiting Room medallions, and the four (original) lighting fixtures in the Waiting Room.

The use of curves as a thematic design feature throughout the building, although of a somewhat lesser significance, is another Art Deco characteristic. These curves occur in both horizontal and vertical planes, principally in the smooth, unadorned semi-circular granite arches surrounding both north entrances and the passage from the Waiting Room into the Main Concourse; the segmental curves of the train shed portals over Raymond Boulevard, Market Street, and Edison Place; the Waiting Room ceiling the convex and concave ticket bays in the west corridor and the end of the north concourse respectively, and the camber of the false ceiling beams in the main concourse; and the various curves in the framing and glass of the two platform skylights. In a subtle way, these and other seemingly unconnected curve linear forms characterize the building equally as much as the ornament and materials finishes.

The building contains a profusion of decorativb details and finish architectural materials, which graduate in density from larger spaces, such as the main Waiting Room, to the corridors and other parts of the building. This multiplicity is a hallmark of Art Deco. Conspicuously absent at Newark is a profusion of rich colors, which was also common with Art Deeo. It was probable that the subdued color scheme resulted from a desire to instead display the bright white metals of much of the decoration and most of the hardware. These metals, mostly polished aluminum and some stainless steel, were metals popularized by the Art Deco movement because of the connotation of the use of these relatively new architectural materials with the general pervading spirit of modernism.

Between the world wars, architecture experienced a transition from the Neo-Classical styles to the International Style, and the Moderne variants were the popular mainstream of the architectural transition. The explorative design of the Newark Station, exhibited in the non-thematically related decorative and geometrical design motifs, expresses that new spirit. Since the 1890's, McKim, Mead and White had been one of the major firms designing in the Neo-Classical/Beaux Arts idiom. Although the original designers, McKim and White, had died in 1906 and 1909 respectively, the firm continued producing designs in a similar style under that name. With the advent of the Moderne/Art Deco style, they preserved the conservative Classical design tradition through a transition to a decorative style undated to reflect the popular image of "modern," but which maintained the compositional formality and much of the symbolism of the earlier period. Penn Station exhibits much of that classical tradition through symmetrical arrangements, vestigial-use of an architectural order containing base, column, and entablature, and other classically inspired decorative motifs such as the Renaissance-like medallions of the Waiting Room.

The unique intermodal transportation aspect of the Newark design is also significant. Although there were many larger stations that linked two or three modes of public transportation, the Pennsylvania Station was alone in containing intercity and local subway, regional commuter railroad, rapid transit, and local bus facilities within the building complex as originally designed. Pennsylvania Station is designed with access to its transportation modes and free-flowing interior circulation in mind.

The genesis of the design for the new Station was the 1929 agreement between the City of Newark and the Pennsylvania Railroad which called for the creation of a major intermodal transportation center on the site of what was then a relatively small railroadway station. Prior to the agreement with Newark, the PRR in 1928 had officially announced its intent to fully electrify the New York-Washington line. The nearby PRR station at Newark which had been built in 1889 had become outmoded, even though its tracks had been elevated in 1901, because of the growth of the city and the tremendous increase in commuter traffic with New York. In addition, the Public Service Company of the City of Newark had previously acquired the right-of-way of the abandoned Morris Canal with the eventual intention of building a local subway in the canal bed. The canal intersected the PRR just north of the transportation terminal, new vehicular arteries were also planned to pass in the immediate vicinity of the new Station. The decision to elevate the tracks and to build the Station's train shed on a series of viaducts, the construction of the large vertical lift bridges, the planning and building of new highways to provide avenues of approach to the Station area, and the incorporation of the other access modes such as the City Subway and the H&M Tube System all are elements which demonstrates the scope and sophistication of the City's public improvement program for the Station area.

The PRR engaged McKim, Mead and White to design the new Station which would include the facilities for the increased PRR traffic, the extended H&M RR from Manhattan Transfer along the PRR right-of-way, local buses, and the link of these above-grade facilities with the City Subway station beneath, and which resulted in an eventual cost of $22 million to the City and $20 million to the PRR.

The new Station developed out of the third scheme proposed by the architects after the first two more extravagant ideas were rejected. That plan was similar to the one built, but the main facade first proposed/submitted was composed to emphasize only the entrance to the PRR-oriented southern portion of the building. The Waiting Room was expressed by an elevation symmetrically disposed around its entrance bay and flanked on each side by four window bays. After reviewing this scheme, the City suggested that the entrance to the spaces housing the other local transportation modes grouped on the north side of the building be given equal prominence. To achieve this, the architects increased their subsidiary one story north wing to the full height of the main Waiting Room and simply duplicated the bay designed for the railroad entrance at the local transit entrance. This created the visual duality of the main facade, a design decidely non-classical, and a further indication of the architects' transition from the Beaux Arts.

The Station's complicated circulation system, upon analysis, is logically disposed to connect two parallel elevated rail lines with two perpendicular intersecting lines, one of which is at grade level and the other underground. Pedestrian transfer between these transportation modes was designed to separate it from all vechicular traffic of these modes, and thus the circulation system is both compact and functionally efficient in this Station, which is one of the more operationally sophisticated transportation terminals in the country. The dual service of local and long distance transportation needs is ingeniously expressed by the functional equality implied by the separated twin entrance bays of the main facade.

Amtrak received ownership of Pennsylvania Station, Newark and the right-of-way adjoining the Station from the U.S. Rail Reorganization Act on April 1, 1976. Prior to this, the Station was owned by the trustees of the Pennslyvania Railroad Corporation and the lands beneath the Station and the rights-of-way were owned by the trustees of the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company.