Great Entrances: Philly’s 30th Street Station

by Chris on March 8, 2010

First impressions matter. Pictures of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station architecture and food court.

First impressions count. And few American cities have as grand an entrance for visitors than Philadelphia’s main rail terminal, 30th Street Station.

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!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Keith March 10, 2010 at 8:38 am

Chris I recently heard you on a This Week in Travel Podcast and love that you are also from Philly. My wife and I lived in the Art Museum Area until October when we took off for a year around the world. Hope to see your comments on our site.

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Chris March 10, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for reading, Keith! I’ll definitely check out your site – and feel free to comment on mine!

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Susan March 12, 2010 at 7:37 am

I LOVE 30th street. It was the entrance to my second home for a while. My fiance is an architect and he studied architecture at Temple, and he would always get into the details about how and why 30th street is so interesting- I’m emailing this post to him 🙂

Another entrance I won’t forget it the Cork airport. It was my first time out of the country and stereotypically, everything about it was green.

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Mary @ Womens Journeys April 2, 2010 at 9:30 am

I love 30th Street Station, and the many fabulous train stations in the northeast corridor. They have been built with lasting, timeless architecture. I commuted through 30th street for 6 months a few years back, and never ceased to be amazed, looking at the ceilings and the grandness of it all. I still count it as my favorite, although the food court at Pennsylvania Station in NYC beats 30th Street by far. 🙂

When in Philly, I also love going to the Reading Terminal Market, being challenged to decide which food to partake in, and pondering the activities that occurred here when it was an active train station. Have you blogged about this location yet?

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Chris April 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

Mary – I haven’t blogged about Reading Terminal Market yet, but I agree with you – it’s a must-see destination (it’s in my Philly iPhone app that will be released soon). Thanks for reading and commenting!

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Mary @ Womens Journeys April 2, 2010 at 8:58 pm

I will definitely check out the app. Looking forward to it.

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Christian Carollo September 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

30th Street Station really is amazing! Love the posts on Philly and hope you’re loving Seattle.

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Chris September 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Thanks, Christian! I like your website – whenever I start feeling homesick for Philly, I’ll go on and take a look.

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