Article B: "The Seventh Wonder of the Traction World"

by Al Mankoff (published in "Electriclines" magazine, July/August 1990)

 

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The land on which the building stood at 80 Park Place, had been owned by Thomas N. McCarter, president and board chairman of the Public Service Corporation. The president and chairman sold his own land to the company when plans for the great terminal were under way.

McCarter, described bv one writer as politically "somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan'', was a graduate of Princeton University and the Columbia School of Law. He knew how to make money. and he had a little help on the way. His brother, Uzal McCarter, was the founder and Board Chairman of the Fidelity Union Trust Company, and another brother, Robert, was a powerful corporate lawyer and director of many companies. Then old Tom McCarter died at the comfortable age of 88, he had spent 45 years with Public Service, 36 of them as its president.

But McCarter deserves neither ridicule nor cynicism, for he was an organizational genius; in his way, he contributed mightily to the success and growth of the City and the state. Its people, even today, owe this pugnacious, sometimes arrogant, always controversial figure a debt of thanks for welding hundreds of small marginal gas, electric and transportation companies into the single massive conglomerate known as the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey, which he incorporated on May 6, 1903. A 20-foot blueprint produced by the company in 1929 lists acquisitions by the hundreds, including a number of firms established in the early 19th century, and one as far back as 1802.

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By September, 1915 the steelwork had reached this point. You're looking west here. The steel in the foreground supported the street railway tracks crossing Pine Street to the upper level railway terminal. Edward T. Francis Archives.

Artist's sketch of railway concourse, Public Service Terminal. Edward T. Francis Archives.

General offices were located at 776 Broad Street, but the services supervised were scattered among the properties acquired. By 1911, the company was able to consolidate its three operating branches---electric, gas and transportation---in a classic 11-story structure in the Prudential Insurance Company building at 759 Broad Street, roughly across the street from its future home.

By 1913, Public Service served 2 million New Jersey residents in 200 municipalities, with hundreds of miles of trolley line, 435,000 gas meters, and more than 96,000 electric meters.

For a decade after 1903, the transit arm of Public Service faced an incredibly complex array of equipment inherited from the dozens of predecessor companies it had swallowed. Equipment incompatability was a major problem facing the new corporation. By 1911, the problem was well on its way to a solution as older cars were scrapped or sold off and new cars by the hundreds were either built at the company's Newark Shops or purchased from major car builders. Serving over 2,000,000 people, the fleet by that time totaled 2,380 cars, 948 of them newly purchased or built.

Traffic in Newark was beginning to strangle the major downtown arteries. Like many American urban centers, rush-hour traffic in the central area funnelled through two crowded streets. Newark's problem was that these two high-density roads intersected at the heart of downtown. The corner of Broad and Market Streets was a traffic engineer's nightmare gone awry. As early as 1911, counts showed a total of 562 trolleys crossing the intersection between 5:15 and 6:15 PM. Something had to be done, and soon, or conditions would approach what we today would grandly call "gridlock".

For some time, solutions to this and to the problem of interstate commuting to New York had been brewing, but with no concrete workable proposals coming out of the stews of vested interests, politics, power, property, and the public interest.

Plans for a central terminal and general offices for the corporationd ated back as far as 1904. In 1905, McCarter announced plans to build a high-speed electric railroad from park Place in Newark to Jersey City, to connect with a projected interstate tunnel railway which would carry trains under the Hudson River to a terminal in downtown Manhattan. The tunnel company, the Interstate Tunnel Railway, was actually incorporated by Thomas N. McCarter, Charles Stirling, and Albert B. Carlton.

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A cross-section of the terminal.

McCarter knew that the Lehigh Valley Railroad, which at the time owned the bed of the Morris Canal (now the Newark City Subway) had proposed abandoning the canal operation. Through the Public Service Corporation, he proposed a rapid transit railway to Bloomfield and beyond, to be built in the canal bed.

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Cars entering upper level of Public Service Terminal from Mulberry Street, Newark, 1917. Edward T. Francis Archives.

The date is November, 1926, and Thomas N. McCarter, at the zenith of his power escorts Thomas Edison and New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore through the Kearny Generating Station as workers and state police guards watch. Edward T. Francis Archives.

The plan called for continuing the line under Park Place to North Canal Street (now Raymond Boulevard) to an underground terminal, which was to include a streetcar terminal for Public Service Railway cars. This was the germinal idea for the grand headquarters/terminal that came into being more than a decade later.

Other sharks were circling, however, with much bigger teeth. The notorious financier, William G. McAdoo, with something called the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Company, won the right to build a tunnel and railroad into downtown Manhattan. The uptown leg of this operation began running from 19th Street to Hoboken on February 25, 1908. The lower Manhattan line, operating jointly with the Pennsylvania Railroad, began service in stages from 1909 reaching Park Place November 26, 1911. Newark terminals were at Center Street and Saybrook Avenue.

With the Interstate Tunnel Railway now only a soured dream, McCarter swallowed his pride and set about to make his remaining vision a reality. On June 23, 1913, he revealed plans for a great new central terminal for downtown Newark.

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Public Service Terminal

Ground was broken on J une 24, 1914. On that grand day, there sat Thomas N. McCarter, stiffly bound within a tight-fitting, conservative business suit, at the controls of a monster steam shovel---truly a ground-breaking to be remembered. The cornerstone of the building was laid on July 20, 1915. Less than a year later a giant 3-day celebration, from April 28th through the 30th, unveiled the $6,000,000 masterwork to the public.

Cars using the lower basement terminal approached along a major north-south street, paralleling Broad Street on the west. From Washington Street, they swung into a subway carved from under Cedar Street and Military Park.

Cars using the upper level terminal entered from Mulberry Street on the east, using an incline bridging Pine Street before entering the terminal itself.

Shortly after the terminal opened, traffic counts at Broad and Market showed slightly more than 300 cars an hour passing that critical intersection---down from the earlier crisis average of almost 600 cars during the rush time.

When the public realized what McCarter had wrought, it could not help but be impressed. For here, in Newark, was without question one of the most elaborate, functional, convenient and best-planned trolley terminals in the world.

Cars from such diverse points as Paterson, Hackensack, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Trenton, Caldwell, the Oranges, Irvington, Maplewood---and later, Morristown---now poured into the new facility. The longest line operating from the terminal was the Fast Line to Trenton, 55 miles and two hours and forty-five minutes distant.

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17 Paterson line, exiting Cedar Street subway, August 17. 1936. Wilbur Sherroood Collection.

Artist's sketeh of Kresge subway station.

Into the sparkling new station came some 2,050 trolleys each day on the upper level alone. The lower level saw 550 a day. Between the second-floor upper level---hidden from the outside public by the fancy exterior vaulted windows---and the basement lower level was a grand concourse which never closed. There, a traveler could buy a newspaper, a magazine or a pack of Sen-Sen. He or she could have breakfast, Iunch or dinner---or a midnight snack---if appropriate. Flowers for the missus, or for his best gal---or visit a beautifully-tiled, nine-chair barber shop for a quick shave and a haircut---no waiting. Even a print shop was available for business cards. letterhead or wedding announcements. All of this was on the ground level, a not-so-subtle marketing ploy followed even today---route your customers past the goodies on the way to where they want to go.

A total of 10 loading and unloading tracks on the two levels handled traffic. On the lower level, the two arrival tracks, each 280 feet long, led to a connecting loop and three 25-foot loading tracks. Switches at the loop were controlled from Tower No. 1, one of three interlocking towers at the terminal. Block signaling was used throughout the subway.

The upper level, entered from Mulberry Street on the east, led to two arrival tracks, 140 and 170 feet long, a connecting loop and three departure tracks, 140, 180. and 190 feet in length. Space was left for a fourth departure track.

The upper level was controlled from two interlocking towers. No. 3. located at the Mulberry Street turnouts, controlled the entrance to the terminal and the street switches. Signals for approaching cars in the street were hung from the span wires.

Tower No. 2 was located at the extreme end of the upper level. It controlled the loops. The three interlocks were by Union Switch & Signal, and were table-model units.

Less than a year after the terminal opened, traffic was so great that Public Service installed prepayment fare collectors to facilitate crowd movements. Turnstiles registered between 50,000 and 60,000 fares each day.

In the 13 years between 1903 and 1916, passenger volume grew from 215 million to 451 million. The growth pattern continued through the first World War until the advent of the jitneys in the early '20s, followed by the establishment of a number of independent bus operators. This unrestricted competition, coupled with a disastrous platform workers' strike in 1923, and a precipitous buyout of the independents by Public Service, set the stage for the slow decline of streetcar operation in New Jersey.

Minor changes were made over the years. The Kresge Station, eastbound in the Cedar Street Subway, opened in 1927, the McCrory Station, westbound, in 1929, both providing subway-level access to popular department stores on the line.

In 1929, the upper level tracks were paved to permit shared facilities with buses. Later, the lower level was also paved, including the right-of-way of the Cedar Street Subway.

Plans were under way in 1930 to construct the long-discussed Newark City Subway, and to link the subway with a new Pennsylvania Railroad Station. This, it was clear, would divert much traffic from the Public Service Terminal. A connecting subway link was built, linking the Public Service Terminal lower level with the new railroad station, which also housed the Hudson & Manhattan Newark-Jersey City-New York operation. The new station opened in June of 1937, just as the last surface trolley lines in Newark were caving in.

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Orange Line, at Penn Station, Newark, showing track construction prior to opening the station, November 6, 1935.

43 Jersey City line, at Park Place Terminal of the Hudson and Manhattan Tubes, February 22,1937. The old station shown here was replaced by a new station in June of 1937. Cars operated on this route while the Cedar Street subway was being paved with concrete for joint ASV and trolley operations. Wilbur Sherwood Collection.

The City Subway opened in May of 1935, with double-ended cars using a switchback at Broad Street until Penn Station was completed. Its loops and platforms permitted both single and double-end operation.

On May 1, 1938, the last revenue trolley passed through the Public Service Terminal. The car, on the 43-Jersey City line, operated from Jersey City to Newark, through the Cedar Street Subway (now paved and awaiting its first all-service vehicle) and through the terminal to the new Pennsylvania Station. It then made its way via the City Subway and Orange Street to the Roseville Car House.

By 1961, only one inbound and one outbound platform remained in use on the upper level, for buses only. The track on the lower level was intact, but neatly paved in concrete. It formed a smooth roadway for the all-service vehicles, and later for buses, until the tunnel was closed in 1965. The lower level was then used for air conditioning equipment and other building utilities. The upper level was closed and converted to office space.

The tunnel linking the Terminal with the City Subway remained in place, however, and for a time stored five work cars and surplus PCCs. Arsonists destroyed two sweepers and the tunnel was subsequently sealed off. By some administrative quirk, the PCCs at the site were forgotten. They remained entombed, gathering dust in the gloom, not to be rediscovered until a contractor's wrecking ball broke through the roof of the tunnel during demolition of the Terminal building in 1978. The cars were dismantled at the site by workers using cutting torches.

Public Service had been a major contributor to the development of the PCC car, and in 1934 actually had a prototype PCC design of its own on the drawing boards. The irony of the wrecker's ball committing the ultimate indignity to McCarter's great work is exceeded only by one final and greater irony---the old man's unique trolley terminal in downtown Newark was the prototype for the Port of New York Authority's Manhattan bus terminal, built on the same general plan, but greatly enlarged.

Today, not a trace remains of Tom McCarter's crown jewel, the Seventh Wonder of the Traction World. Public Service Electric & Gas covered the 5.32 acres of prime downtown land with a magnificent new glass and steel tower and plaza as the new decade began. The trolley terminal's contribution to New Jersey transit history, before the birth of NJ Transit, has been long forgotten.

In the Board Room of the tower hangs an awesome portrait of the great man, glowering out at the grand new world he helped create, but never knew. The essence of the man remains&emdash;the will, the power, the grit, the brilliance of Tom McCarter is still there. One look will tell you so.

Readers may well wonder what the other six wonders of the traction world may be. The author, admitting a regional bias, suggests:

1. The great Passenger Elevator and Elevated traction terminal at Weehawken, New Jersey.
2. The Hoboken Elevated---once termed the largest iron structure in the world.
3. The Indianapolis Interurban Train Shed.
4. The San Francisco Cable Car System.
5. The Niagara Falls Trolley Excursion Route.
6. The Mount Lowe trolley line and funicular at Pasadena, California.
7. The Public Service Trolley Terminal at Newark.

 

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Content: © 1997 Al Mankoff
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