Ghosts of City Hall Station

Tile shadow of abandoned staircase, City Hall northbound local platform, Dec 16 2011

Tile shadow of abandoned staircase, City Hall northbound local platform, Dec 16 2011

Much of SEPTA’s planned $100 million renovation of City Hall Station has been put on hold due to ongoing budget shortfalls. However, an infusion of federal stimulus funds will allow some of the station improvements to be implemented, in conjunction with the overhaul of Dilworth Plaza now getting under way. There are visible clues, like the abandoned staircase in the above photo, that the station has been altered before.

In fact, it almost was moved entirely–even before completion. Nearly a century ago, when the station was built, the narrow staircases and labyrinthine connecting passageways had to be painstakingly threaded through City Hall’s massive masonry foundations.  In 1916, the Annual Report of the Department of City Transit described problems encountered during the excavation of the station, including settling and cave-ins of portions of City Hall’s foundation. What had been envisioned by the station planners as properly built, mortared stone foundations proved to be little more than loose rubble. The 1916 report pointed out that funding for construction of the subway station was already exhausted, with only a fraction of the construction complete. The report went so far as to recommend abandoning the work done to that point, building a bypass track around City Hall, and designing a new station beneath the streets on the northwest corner of Center Square.

Plan for relocating City Hall Station, March 1916

Plan for relocated Broad Street Subway City Hall Station, March 1916

Ultimately that was never done, but it took until September 1, 1928 for the first subway train to enter the station.

About the author

Mike Szilagyi was born in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, and raised in both Logan and what was the far edge of suburbia near Valley Forge. He found himself deeply intrigued by both the built landscape and by the natural “lay of the land.” Where things really get interesting is the fluid, intricate, multi-layered interface between the two.

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2 Comments


  1. There’s another bit of history in that map – the “PRR Subway” just above/west the proposed subway station.

    Broad Street Station was a terminal station, so Pennsylvania RR trains passing through Philadelphia would have to pull into Broad Street and reverse direction to continue their trip.

    The PRR came up with a plan to connect the east side of Broad Street Station to their northward tracks (now the NE Corridor) to allow trains to run through without turning. The tunnel would have run under Broad Street to Ridge, and then under Ridge to 28th, where it would connect to the existing railroad.

    Not sure how long that plan was considered for, but by 1933, 30th Street Station had built to handle PRR intercity traffic.

  2. Early Broad St. Station was a dead end terminal. In the era of steam locomotives; both
    commuter trains and long distance PRR trains used Broad St. and caused congestion, too many locomotives to be serviced and too many trains to dispatch. Early in the 20th Century, the
    PRR electrified; at first only from Newark NJ into Penn Station on Manhattan Island: then from NYC to Washington and in the 1930’s west to Harrisburg. Philadelphia commuter service was converted to electric MU cars. Westbound main line trains used electric locomotives; plus made their Philly stop at North Philadelphia. The West Phila. Station was completely reconstructed as 30th Street Station to service the revised train operation.

    The above plan was far superior to the Broad Street tunnel idea; which died on the drawing board.

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