content area




Gimbels Passageway and the Penn Station Underground


On a bitterly cold day in New York underground corridors can be a godsend. The network under Rockefeller Center is the most extensive, but there are many more convenient one-block passages throughout the city.

At one time, Penn Station had its own network connecting to the Hotel Pennsylvania, Gimbels Department Store, the Farley Post Office, and other nearby buildings and subway stations. In fact, there was a weather-protected route from Bryant Park all the way to Penn Station.

The Moynihan Station project is an opportunity to create a lively underground network in the Penn Station/Hudson Yards area similar to Rockefeller Center. Re-opening and rehabilitating existing tunnels will alleviate the horrific pedestrian congestion on the sidewalks around Herald Square and enhance the connections between Penn Station and the subways. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has suggested creating a pedestrian thoroughfare on 33rd St. It’s also conceivable to imagine underground tunnels, possibly with people movers, connecting Bryant Park to the development at Hudson Yards.

The shuttered “Gimbels Passageway,” named after the Gimbels Department Store, connects 6th Ave. to 7th Ave. under the sidewalk on 33rd Street. Before it was closed during the 1970s, one could switch from the subway or PATH at Herald Square and continue to a commuter train at Penn Station without braving the elements.

“Brooklyn to Macy's Manhattan, Gimbels was beloved by many in its day but never mustered the sophistication and charm of its slightly more upscale neighbor on the other side of 34th Street,” wrote David Randall in a remembrance of Gimbels for The New York Times. “Its competitor had a parade, but Gimbels had something else: a bargain basement, the first of its kind in New York.”

The Gimbels bargain basement is now the food court of Manhattan Mall. Vornado, a co-developer of Moynihan Station, owns both Manhattan Mall and Hotel Pennsylvania and, presumably, now has the rights to the passageway in the vault space under the sidewalk on 33rd Street.

We found some pictures of it here. It looks like a dark and narrow cinderblock hellhole, but could be reworked and possibly widened. Retail, moving walkways, elevators, and escalators could help activate the space. Plus, we'd assume the developers would like to drive more pedestrian traffic to Manhattan Mall and its food court.

Please let us know if you have any photos of Gimbels or info on other Penn Station tunnels. We’ve heard about a tunnel to the New Yorker Hotel, but haven’t been able to find it on any plans. Also, what is the condition of the Sixth Ave. tunnel between 34th and 40th?

Sixth Ave Passageway

I think the idea of a people mover from Penn Station to Bryant Park would be a welcome addition to the mass transit infrastructure of Midtown. I use the passageway under Church Street and I find that during most times it is empty. Although during rush hour this corridor may get a good number of commuters the rest of the time it probably would be empty and hard to maintain a safe atmosphere.

I know that many small rail vehicles would be able to fit in the low ceiling corridors the connect Penn Station to Bryant Park. Maybe a little digging would allow a connection from Bryant Park to Grand Central fullfilling the plans of properly connecting the two stations.


Would make a GREAT movie location!

And of course these tunnels for pedestrians would really help.

Could they have decor and lighting ala Starbucks ?

Memories of student years

When I was a college and graduate student in New Jersey, I often used the 41st Street tunnel (now part of the Times Square Station), the 50th Street tunnel (between 8th Ave and Broadway, now open only on weekdays) and the 33rd Street tunnel (never beautiful, always convenient, now closed).

I could continue, but there remains a beautiful network of underground passages that would save a mess of walkers, if only they knew ir was open.

Let me know if I can help restore them.


The pedestrian tunnel under

The pedestrian tunnel under Sixth Avenue between 34th and 40th Streets was closed to the public after a couple of murders were committed there. When the Sixth Avenue subway was built, the tracks had to be fairly deep below the street surface in order to pass under existing subway lines (42nd Street Shuttle and BMT Broadway subway). Rather than spending the money to backfill the excavation, the space was left open and the walkway built above the track level. There were intermediate stairways to the street at 36th and 38th Streets - now all sealed. It used to be possible to walk underground from Bryant Park all the way to 8th Avenue and 31st Street - I did it many times, especially on rainy days. When the subway station at 6th Avenue and 34th Street was rehabilitated a few years ago, the turnstiles/ fare controls were relocated blocking the free access route. They would have to be shifted again, at consderable expense, to creat a clear passageway outside the fare controls should the walkway up to Bryant Park be reopened.

Hotel Tunnels

My mother came to New York many times in the 40's-60's from the South on buying trips...via the Metroliner from WDC to Penn. She told me that there was a tunnel from Penn into the Hotel Martinique .

Gimbels Tunnel

I remember the tunnel quite well. I often used it as part of a route that enabled sheltered connections beteeen Penn Station or nearby and the area of the Public Library thanks to the then open passageway between the 34th Street and 42nd Street stations of the Sixth Avenue subway at the mezzanine level. The last time I saw that pasage it was in fairly good shape, but the MTA loves closing all underground spaces that are not heavily used and using them for God knows what purposes.

The Gimbels tunnel was indeed narrow, usually dirty, and rather dreary, and had some small, cheap shops like newwsstands on the south side--which perhaps means it mignt be possible to widen it without too much expense.It was often heavily used at rush hours, but little at other times, very likely because of its unsttactive feel.
Ed Kirkland

Signage Used to Say "Penn Station / MSG"

When I first started using the subway on my own in 1997, I remember trying to navigate from the Herald Square station turnstiles at 34th and 6th Ave to Penn Station for the very first time.

There was a modern sign, white letters on a black background, at the time, that said "Penn Station" and "MSG" among other destinations that pointed me down the corridor towards 33rd street. The only thing I found there was the handicapped elevator, and stairs up to the Manhattan Mall.

I remember this being very odd once I realized that the sign had turned me AWAY from the 34th street staircase that would have pointed me to the most direct route to Penn Station, one block away at 34th and 7th aves.

Later on, I learned about the existence of the Gimbals' tunnel, and it seemed that the sign did not know of the tunnell's closing. This could correspond to the information provided by an above commenter, who says that the closing of this tunnell was neve made official.

Pennsylvania Station - Herald Square Underground Passageway

Amtrak (as successor to the Pennsylvania Railroad companies) is legally responsible for keeping open, maintaining, and policing the "Pennsylvania Passageway", as it is called, according to a multi-party easement and jurisdictional agreement dating from 1935.

The passageway was originally opened in 1919, coinciding with the construction of the BMT Broadway subway line. In the 1930s, when the 6th Ave. IND subway line was added to the mix, the 33rd St. PATH terminal (dating from 1908) was moved one block south to W. 32nd St. A new easement and jurisdictional agreement was entered into among a couple of Pennsylvania Railroad entities, the City of New York (which granted the franchises for constructing railroads under the streets), the predecessor of the MTA, the owner of the Saks 34th St. department store (at the NW corner of Broadway & W 33rd St.), and of course Gimbel's (which gained underground entrances on two levels and display windows along the Pennsylvania Passageway). This 1935 agreement provided that the Pennsylvania Railroad (now Amtrak) was responsible to maintain this passage and keep it open at all times for people to transverse it "free of molestation and interference", as I recall. That agreement contained detailed drawings showing who was responsible for what areas, including, for example, who provided power for which electric lights.

Nearly 20 years ago, the 33rd PATH terminal was rehabilitated, along with the BMT and IND subway stations in conjunction with the construction of Manhattan Mall. (I remember how prior to this, because public policy was not to interfere with the civil liberties of the "undomiciled", patrons of this station were forced to run a narrow gauntlet between blue-painted plywood barricades lined by crack-and-heroin-fueled squatters pressing up against patrons and insisting that the patrons give them money. (The squatters were allowed to camp out behind the barricades, and no sanitary facilities were provided for them.) Due to such policies the PATH terminal had descended into foul-smelling and dangerous hell hole. I'm sure that helped to drive Gimbels out of business, as well as driving away patrons from the PATH trains and the subways.)

Among the improvements made around 1990 was the construction of a new Port Authority police substation for the 33rd St. terminal which coincided with an enlightened change in policy that combined offering social services to those in need with proactive policing to enforce reasonable rules of conduct and resulted in ejection of those who misbehaved from the station.

I recollect that the developers had proposed re-opening the Pennsylvania Passageway, but they got bogged down in discussions with the City which inexplicably refused to accept their offer to reconstruct the sidewalk that formed the roof of the passageway. (PATH also was frustrated by the City regarding sidewalks, and they gave up on plans to create a skylight allowing natural light to cascade down into the stations from Greeley Square park above, that would have illuminated a marvelous new sculpture consisting of spheres affixed to exposed girders and visible from all levels. That was a "Green" idea that was ahead of its time.)

Meanwhile, without any prior discussion or review, one night a contractor for PATH put up a cinder block wall across the easterly entrance to the Pennsylvania Passageway, then covered it with ceramic tiles, leaving an unmarked metal door that indicates the location of the passageway.

This unofficial and unsanctioned wall-building is not mentioned in the amendment to the 1935 agreement required for these projects, which amendment also contains no mention of the closure of the Pennsylvania Passageway, nor are there any other official documents that I am aware of that deal with this closure of the corridor.

On the other hand, the amendment to the 1935 agreement (executed in 1989 or 1990) details, with attached drawings, every other modification (all of which had been under discussion for a couple of years) including, among other things, a PATH handicapped elevator entrance, a new staircase and escalator and new underground entrances to the mall from both the subway and PATH levels, as well as the new police substation. Moreover, it provided for reconfiguring and rebuilding the connections between the subway lines and the PATH terminal. It called for no changes to the Pennsylvania Passageway.

New York City has changed much for the better in the last 20 years, and now is the time to tear down this temporary wall and to rehabilitate and re-open the long-neglected Pennsylvania Passageway between Herald/Greeley Square and Pennsylvania Station.

6th Ave Tunnel

The Sixth Ave Tunnel is in fair shape (would need to be cleaned up considerably).

There was talk recently (as in the last few months) to re-open it; however, from what I know, that is NOT going to happen anytime in the near future.