They called it the most beautiful train station in the world. And then in the 1960’s they tore it down. New York’s Penn Station became the crowded basement of Madison Square Garden. But Newark’s Penn Station? It survived.
It was designed by the very same architects who produced that original gem on the other side of the Hudson, and thanks to the renovation work done back in 2007, the marble and limestone sparkle once again. The majestic plaster ceiling was rediscovered, and the lighting fixtures remind of us a time when public buildings could also be works of art.
“I was here for the first Saturday that it was in operation,” said Joseph McGeary, a 1935 Newark Penn station visitor. “It was so vast, but there’s no change at all for the station itself.”
The station has grown to serve tens of thousands of travelers each and every day. It’s the busiest in New Jersey.
“Thousands of NJ Transit passengers pass through here every day,” said NJ Transit spokesperson William Smith. “A lot of people, this is their first stop heading to a Devils game or a concert at the Prudential Center, or they’re going over to NJPAC for a concert.”
There are NJ Transit trains, PATH trains, Newark light rail trains and Amtrak trains. And buses. Lots of buses. Greyhound operates out of here, and NJ Transit’s current bus fleet welcomed back some beautifully restored retired coaches recently as Newark Penn station celebrated its 80th birthday.
The fact is this old station lives in something of a time warp. It’s got eighty years of history behind it. But people use it each and every day. It’s very much a part of the present. Then again, for this city, it’s also something that they dream about as an integral part of their future.
“Penn Station is the hub of the city. My grandfather used to own a news stand back in the ‘50s right out here on Mulberry Street,” said Newark Councilman Eddie Osborne. “And I remember as a kid coming here. I guess it was new back then.”
Osborne also worked at the station. “Construction work. We remodeled all the stone work around here,” he said.
Transit officials admit this place is not perfect. New trackside improvements are underway. And then there are the social problems, demonstrating how Newark’s Penn station is sometimes a last refuge for those down on their luck.
But a local renaissance is clearly underway, from the nearby Prudential Center to NJPAC. And the station project, which cost about $40 million to build in 1935, is still impressing travelers from far and wide.
“I’m just a tourist, and it’s very nice. We wish you the very best. Another 80 years to go,” said Bhupesh Lakhani, a visitor from Kenya.