Built in 1933, when the Pennsylvania Railroad was at the height of its U.S. rail dominance, 30th Street Station broke ground for its time. It was one of the first rail stations to put its lines underneath the station, sparing passengers from the soot and grime of the tracks (back then, facilities were also built to allow small aircraft to land on the roof). It also had one of the first electric intercom systems for announcing train arrivals and departures.
History aside, what’s really impressive is the main concourse’s elaborate interior. Look around the 562,000 square foot expanse and take its massive Art Deco lights, intricately patterned ceiling and travertine walls. You almost expect to see men in bowler hats and women in 1940s-style suits sitting on the long wooden benches, as they wait for their departure time to flip on the old-fashioned schedule board (try to forget the McDonald’s and the Dunkin Donuts kiosks).
Walk outside to catch your cab and you’ll see the building’s neo-Classical pillars opening onto Center City, Philadelphia’s downtown – but before you go outside,stop to see the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial, an immense statue of Michael the Archangel carrying a soldier out of the fire. The Memorial honors Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died during World War II.
The Station has been used in several movies, including Trading Places, M. Night Shymalan’s Unbreakable (a resident of the Main Line, Shymalan has filmed numerous movies in the Philadelphia region, including The Sixth Sense) and Witness starring Harrison Ford (the murder scene takes place in a station bathroom).
Honestly, only New York’s Grand Central Station beats 30th Street for ambience (unfortunately, the Amtrak trains that depart Philly for New York arrive at Penn Station, which is one of the more depressing train stations around). A great entrance into a destination – be it a rail station, airport or highway view – can set the stage for a trip. I used to love driving Lakeshore Drive into Chicago, for example, or flying over Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. It establishes a sense of place, and engages your senses as a traveler.
Amtrak now owns 30th Street Station. On National Train Day (May 8), former baseball players will be on hand for a panel discussion on how teams usesd the rails to get to their away games.
Do you have a favorite entrance to a city, be in rail, airport or port? Tell me in the comments!