The beautiful terminal in Hoboken

30 04 2015

I never tire of railway stations, especially the grand stations of old in which one can quite easily be transported back to an age when rail travel might have seemed to be all about the romance of it.

Hoboken Terminal.

Hoboken Terminal.

And its gorgeous interior.

And its gorgeous interior.

A grand old station I found myself passing through quite recently was in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from the Big Apple. Being on the waterfront, it was built in 1907 to also connect with trolley buses and ferry services to Lower Manhattan. This was later extended to the subway. As an early intermodal transport hub completed before the first road tunnels were dug under the Hudson, the terminal served an important role in the movement of man and material across the river to a New York in the midst of transformation. In its heyday, the terminal boasted a YMCA residence,completed in 1922 and hosted a mail sorting facility.

Hoboken Terminal at the time of its opening (source: Wikipedia – public domain).

The ferry slips at the terminal.

The ferry slips at the terminal.

The station is one that oozes with the charm of the old world, seen especially in its Beaux-Arts inspired architecture. It is a style found in several iconic stations of the era, one of which was Paris’ beautiful former Gare d’Orsay, now the Musée d’Orsay. Outwardly, the terminal’s copper clad appearance takes us back to the age of its construction. The copper, added for fire resistance – a requirement that was especially necessary seeing that the previous terminal had been consumed by a huge fire just two years prior to its construction, was quite readily available. There was as an excess of the metal procured for the erection of the area’s most famous landmark, the Statue of Liberty, which would otherwise have had to be sold for scrap.

The copper clad exterior.

The copper clad exterior.

The most eye-catching and charming part of the terminal is its Waiting Room. The spacious room has a ceiling that rises to a height of 55 feet (about 17 metres) and is crowned by the most impressive of skylights. The daylight that filters through the skylight, constructed of Tiffany stained glass, casts a warm and welcoming glow on the limestone and bronze finishes of the luxuriously decorated room; as do its bronze chandeliers in the hours of darkness.

The Waiting Room and the Tiffany glass skylight.

The Waiting Room and the Tiffany glass skylight.

Another look at the Waiting Room and its magnificent skylight.

Another look at the Waiting Room and its magnificent skylight.

Looking around, one can understand why Hoboken Terminal has been described as the most impressive and striking of the five terminals that were found along the New Jersey Hudson waterfront. It now is the last of the five still is in use.  Another survivor, the Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal at Jersey City, from which operations had been terminated in 1967, stands today only as a conserved building within Liberty State Park. The Jersey City terminal and Hoboken Terminal, have both been designated as historic sites and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The former Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at the Liberty State Park waterfront.

The former Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at the Liberty State Park waterfront.

Hoboken Terminal’s architect, Kenneth Murchison, was a graduate of Columbia and the Paris based École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts and a notable practitioner of the Beaux-Arts style. Hoboken was one of several railway station projects Murchison was involved with. His work includes another station for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (for which Hoboken was built) at Scranton in 1908, which has since been transformed into a hotel.

A look at the train platforms and the shed, an innovation at the time. The low sheds used in Hoboken Terminal were provided with open channels above the tracks to  allow steam and exhaust gases to vent.

A look at the train platforms and the shed, an innovation at the time. The sheds were provided with open channels above the tracks to allow steam and exhaust gases to vent.

Following the opening of the Holland Tunnel at the end of the 1920s, the Lincoln Tunnel at the end of the 1930s, and the introduction of three new subway services across the Hudson in the 1930s, demand for railway and ferry services began to fall off. The gradual decline was to lead to the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad merging with the Erie Railroad in 1960 to form a loss making Erie Lackawanna (EL) Railroad, which in 1970 scrapped inter-city services. By this time ferry services had already stopped in 1967. Conrail was to take over the running of EL’s commuter train services in 1976, before that passed into the hands of the State-owned New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) in 1983.

Passengers waiting at commuter train platform at the terminal.

Passengers waiting at commuter train platform at the terminal.

The declining fortunes of the railway and ferry took its toll on the terminal and its upkeep. A early victim of this was the original iconic tower, which had to be dismantled in the 1950s due to concerns about its structural integrity. The station lost much of its gloss by the time ferry services had stopped and it wasn’t until 1995 that an effort was made, by NJ Transit, to restore the station to its original glory.

A ticket dispenser at the train platform.

A ticket dispenser at the train platform.

A ticket counter inside the Waiting Room.

A ticket counter inside the Waiting Room.

The first phase of the effort, which lasted until 2003, involved repairs and replacement work on the terminal’s structure, roofs and canopies, as well as a refurbishment of the majestic Waiting Room. A second phase was initiated in 2005. This gave the terminal back its iconic tower, a reconstruction, in 2007. Some of the efforts were unfortunately undone when the terminal and its Waiting Room (as well as much of Hoboken) was battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which required further restoration work.

The reconstructed tower.

The reconstructed tower.

Wooden benches in the waiting room required mould remediation work in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Wooden benches in the waiting room required mould remediation work in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The second phase also saw five of the six unused ferry slips refurbished in 2011. Ferry services have since been reintroduced. Boarding of ferries is now carried out at the level of the rail tracks and not on the second level, which had originally been equipped with a large and beautiful concourse. The second level is now used by NJ Transit and is closed to the public.

The ferry terminal.

The ferry terminal.

The ferry berth.

The ferry berth.

A stairway to a lost heaven - the closed second level of the terminal.

A stairway to a lost heaven – the closed second level of the terminal.

A revival of fortunes came with the restoration. The terminal today is a major hub with a better designed integration of transport services. Services now also include the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit (LRT) system that was introduced in 2001. With its new tower in place, the station has also regained its prominence along the lower Hudson and is today a work of architecture, even if not for the charm of the old world it exudes, that is a joy to behold.

The LRT terminal.

The LRT terminal.

More information on the beautiful station, its history and architecture can be found at the following links:

JeromeLim-8402

JeromeLim-8365

JeromeLim-8356

JeromeLim-8350





The Jersey Shore

31 05 2009

I spent a good part of the summer of 1989 along the northern Jersey Shore, under the spell of a lady with a red pick up. Well, maybe not quite under her spell … but the few or us working for her did feel that she was somewhat of a witch, keeping us on our “hands and knees” six to seven hours a day. Well, maybe we were a little ungrateful. She did pay us $7 an hour, when the minimum wage was $2.50 an hour …

The impression given by the name the “Jersey Shore” is one of summers by the seaside, boardwalks with food and amusement, the casinos and lights of Atlantic City, and of course Ashbury Park – made famous by one of its sons – Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t get a chance to see Atlantic City, deciding instead to hop on a Greyhound on a 15 day journey up and down the eastern seaboard instead, at the end of my working stint.

Jersey Shore

Ashbury Park proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. The area around the famous beach was quite rundown, and had certainly seen better days. Nearby, the borough of Deal was a little more interesting, if only because of a particular piece of architecture – a piano shaped mansion, built by Billy Joel for his Uptown Girl, Christy Brinkley.

I got most of the firsthand experience I had of the seaside and the boardwalks in Belmar, a borough south of Ashbury Park, where I lived during my time along the Jersey shore. The apartment was maybe five blocks from the beach front, and it gave me the opportunity of walking by the white sandy beach each evening, listening to the wave of the Atlantic washing up to the shore. Walking down the boardwalk along Ocean Drive, you would come to some amusement and food outlets lining the boardwalk. A mate of mine worked at one of the food outlets frying burgers each evening. At the end of his shift, he would have to sweep the part of the boardwalk directly in front of the burger stand and in doing so would pick up the many pennies discarded by the affluent crowd that frequented the boardwalk. At the end of the summer, he had accumulated some $400 in one cent coins.

The work I did on my “hands and knees” involved contract cleaning jobs the lady with the red pick up, Jane, undertook. Each day, I would find myself, with some of the members of our team, sent to different houses along the Jersey Shore. Some of the houses were huge, and among our duties, we would need to do the laundry, change bed linen, clean windows, kitchens and toilets, as well as vacuum some very plush carpets. One of the houses we cleaned was owned by the owner of some of the food and entertainment outlets on the boardwalks. I recall seeing that he had two walk-in wardrobes adjoining his bedroom, which in area, each was maybe half the size of a apartment in Singapore.  There was another house which had seven bedrooms, each with an attached bathroom, fitted with gold fittings.

Besides the cleaning job, I also spent a few weekends helping out in the kitchen of Pat’s Tavern in Belmar, washing dishes. I remember the roast beef sandwich I requested for during lunch each time – the cook always gave me a generous helping of pink thinly sliced roast beef, which I always looked forward to.

Matchbook - Pat's Tavern

Matchbook - Pat's Tavern

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Beach at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Belmar, NJ, 1989

Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach

Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach