NYC has a labyrinth under its streets like none other. Subway tunnels, steam tunnels, railroad tunnels, steam tunnels, auto tunnels, drains, water tunnels 600 feet below the ground, rivers and creeks covered so long ago most people don’t even know they are there… You could say, NYC is a tunnel-centric city…
As an old school LTV member used to say: “It’s time to get Federal”
The majority of these tunnels are well documented. However, there is one variation of tunnel that is virtually unknown to most: tunnels that connect various buildings around the city to other buildings. Unless you happen to work in one of these buildings, the chances that you’d know that these tunnels even exist are slim to none. Over the years I’ve seen several of these structures, but it has been a long time since I’ve had occasion to check one out. So when I learned of this one… well, what happened next was just plain expected.
The James A. Farley Post Office is NYC’s Main post office. It
is open used to be open 24 hours a day, 7 days week, only closing for certain holidays. Located at 8th avenue between 33rd and 31st streets, the Farley post office takes up an entire city block. The building was designed by the legendary architectural firm McKim, Mead & White, and is a national landmark. It was built in a very similar style to that of the late Pennsylvania Railroad station which was located right across the street until the railroad committed a truly baffling act of vandalism – they tore it down and replaced it with a below ground station in the basement of the office tower and the ever so ugly Madison Square Garden sports arena which cover the current station entirely.
As grand as the Farley building is, much of the space within it today is currently unused. There are plans (which may actually happen now that Pataki has been voted out of office as NY’s governor Update: This project is STILL nowhere near done. Where’s the money going?), to convert portions of the building into a ‘new’ Penn station – maintaining the building’s exterior and providing a more grand entrance to the train platforms that lay below.
So you might ask, if the building is relatively empty, where does the mail get processed?
Say hello to the Morgan Sorting Facility
That would be at the Morgan Sorting Facility, a massive set of buildings to the south located at 9th avenue at 30th street which consume 2 full city blocks. The two buildings are connected via a full length weight bearing bridge over 29th street. The Morgan building isn’t quite as attractive as the Farley building, though it contains its own historic quarks that are worth noting: The building was once served by The High Line, an elevated freight railway on the west side. Located within the building there is still to this day a strip of cross-ties embedded under a false floor from where the tracks entered off of the viaduct.
2006 view of the high line – the viaduct to the sorting facility is on the right. (This view is now obscured by 2 new buildings)
The newer portion of the Morgan facility is located in the building between 29th and 29th streets. This ugly building is coated in anti graffiti paint that has peeled and become quite ugly. On the 8th avenue side of the building retail space was created, though these stores sat empty for years because no running water was connected to the storefronts. *facepalm*
Farley and Morgan are connected via a relatively unknown tunnel under 9th avenue. This 1 block long tunnel was more or less abandoned for a verrry long time, becoming a rat infested, dark and disturbing hole in the earth…
Then the Republican National Convention came to NYC in 2004. The tunnel was revived as a ‘secret’ means of getting guests (read: assholes) around without the hazards of surface transportation and a flood of 1 million protesters. Portions of the Farley basement were also revived, cleaned up and of course, secured. The area was used as a staging location for the convention across 8th avenue in MSG.
The tunnel, Looking north.
Now back up a second you say: secured? What needed securing?
The Farley Building, being located over the tracks of Penn Station, contains an entrance to the now ‘abandoned’ platform 17 in penn station. Platform 17 is a very strange one. It is short, wide, and located on an angle at the western end of the station. It has never been used in regular passenger use and was built with the intent of moving mail to and from the post office above. Back in the day, passenger railroads moved a LOT of mail (freight railroads took over this business). Amtrak used to use this platform for just this purpose up until the late 1990s/early 2000s I can recall clearly seeing an Amtrak engine positioned at this platform with several mail car (basically boxcars built for higher speed service).
Today, this tunnel still exists, and was very recently used during the Pope’s 2015 trip to NYC. Even manholes into nearby cable vaults were welded shut. This alongside the security measures already in place at both buildings makes this one of the most secure tunnels in NYC.