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Broad Street Station (demolished) at Broad & Market Streets was the primary passenger terminal for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker from 1881 to the 1950s. Directly west of City Hallmarker, the office towers of Penn Centermarker now occupy the site.

Originally designed by Wilson Brothers & Company in 1881, Broad Street Station was dramatically expanded by renowned Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, 1892-93. In 1894, the PRR relocated its headquarters from Fourth Street to the office building above the station, where they remained until moving to the Suburban Stationmarker Building in the 1930s. It was finally demolished in 1953, a year after all train service to it had ceased.

Location and services

The "Chinese Wall", the PRR's stone viaduct, extended 10 blocks west to the Schuylkill River.
Shown is the section beneath the train shed, from 15th to 16th Street.
Broad Street Station dominated the center of the city. Trains would enter and exit the station two stories above street level on a viaduct known as the "Chinese Wall" and run west to cross the Schuylkill River. The access tracks thus bisected the western half of Center City Philadelphia into north and south. Fifteenth Street ran beneath the station's lobby, and all the numbered streets up to 24th ran beneath the viaduct. John F. Kennedy Boulevard traces a similar path today.

The station was renowned for its architecture but cursed for inundating the heart of the city with the smoke and noise pollution of the day's steam-powered locomotives. The Chinese Wall also made Center City north of the station unfashionable, as the area was essentially cut off from the rest of downtown. Passengers arriving at Broad Street Station could make public transportation connections to the rest of the city via the numerous trolley lines that operated around it on Market Street and 15th Street, or via Philadelphia's east-west Market-Frankford Subway-Elevated Line (beginning in 1907) or the north-south Broad Street Subway starting in 1928. These latter two consisted of heavy rail lines that crossed under City Hall.

The Station provided service to virtually every destination served by the PRR. From Broad Street Station, passengers heading in any direction would first arrive at West Philadelphia Station at 32nd and Market Streets on the west side of the Schuylkill, which in 1933 was replaced by 30th Street Station. The lines then split off in three directions:

  • Trains heading west towards Harrisburg would then take the PRR's Pennsylvania Division line to 40th Street Station, 52nd Street Station, and Overbrook Station. Trains heading northwest along the Schuylkill would split off from this line after 52nd Street towards the stations at Wynnefield Avenue and Cynwydmarker.
  • Trains heading north towards New York City or east across the Delaware River to New Jersey would take the New York Division lines through North Philadelphia, North Penn Junction, and Frankford Junction Stations, before splitting off in their respective directions.
  • Trains heading south would take the Baltimore & Washington RR Central Division line through Angora station.

Today all of these railroad lines, except for the one between 30th Street and Broad Street stations, remain intact as part of SEPTA or NJ Transit rail services.


A Pennsylvania state historical marker commemorates the site where Broad Street Station stood.
The architecture of Broad Street Station was typical of Furness's buildings in central Philadelphia in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Furness's structure looked much like a web of Gothic spires and arched windows, with considerable modification from their medieval sources. His work expanded on a similar structure originally constructed by the Wilson Brothers & Company a mere decade before. Furness's windows were often rounded, and did not use pointed chancels. The lower levels of the structure were heavy and rusticated, recalling the work of H. H. Richardson from the previous decade, while the spandrels of the upper stories emphasized the building's verticality. The frame for the stone structure was largely made of iron and steel, and on the interior the structural techniques were often displayed by balustrades and columns that in places revealed the rivets that held them together. The formal style of the building was altogether not unlike that of Furness's building for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Artsmarker, which he completed in 1876, or his University of Pennsylvania Librarymarker, designed in 1888.

PRR later hired Furness, Evans & Company to design the Arcade Building, an office building of the same red brick, stone and terra cotta as the station, that included a pedestrian bridge over Market Street.

As the station expanded after 1881, additional train sheds were added to cover additional tracks, twelve in all by 1891. They were eventually replaced by a single shed, which, upon its completion in 1892, had the largest single span of any station roof in the world (91 m), and ultimately covered 16 tracks.Even in its early years, there were flaws in the operation of Broad Street Station, the two major ones being that the station could not accommodate passenger trains passing through the city without time-consuming back-up moves, and that it took a number of engine moves to turn around commuter trains, which had become the station's main business, considering its proximity to the downtown area. The first problem would remain unsolved, despite a proposal for a tunnel in North Philadelphia that was to run to the Broad Street Station area, then emerge above ground to meet the lines coming out of the station. The last problem began to be alleivated with electrification of the rail lines, starting with the Paoli service to the railroad's "Main Line", starting on September 12, 1915. In 1918, service to Chestnut Hill(today's Chestnut Hill West) was opened, and the two busiest commuter services were dealt with. In 1928, two more services, West Chester/Media, and Chester/Wilmington, would go under wire, and in 1930, Norristown and Trenton would be electrified, that latter being the first segment of electrification of today's Northeast Corridor, which was completed to Penn Station, New York, in 1933.The train shed was destroyed by a fire on 11 June 1923. The fire began about 1:00 a.m. and burned for two days. Amazingly, work on clearing the debris began even while the fire was still smoldering. The steel skeleton that remained was fully removed; thereafter, the train platforms operated while covered by small, "umbrella" shelters. These replacements were destroyed by another fire that began at 9:38 a.m. on 12 September 1943, and were replaced by a similar structure that remained for the last ten years of the station's existence.


In the 1920s and '30s, the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed two new stations: 30th Street Stationmarker, which is now the main intercity hub for Philadelphia rail travel, and Suburban Stationmarker, an underground stub line that went from 30th Street Station to a tunnel that ended just northwest of City Hall, directly north of Broad Street Station. (This line was later extended east as part of the Center City Commuter Connection tunnel in the SEPTA era.) 30th Street Station was a through railway station which did not require intercity trains to turn around to exit the station(though a loop track was proposed just south of the station to allow the through east-west trains to come close to the center of the business district), while Suburban Station took over the commuter rail traffic. As a result, Broad Street Station's importance diminished dramatically. It ultimately suffered a fate similar to many of Furness's institutional buildings, as it was closed in 1952 and razed in 1953. The land which was once occupied by Broad Street Station and its access tracks is now the home to the commercial heart of the city, also known as Penn Centermarker, including buildings such as the 54-story Mellon Bank Centermarker. A bas-relief mural by Karl Bitter, The Spirit of Transportation, located in the northwest corner of the main waiting area at 30th Street Station, was originally located in Broad Street Station. Today, all that remains of the building is a historic marker on 15th Street commemorating the site.

See also


  1. Spirit of Transportation

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