October 23 marked the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Long Island Rail Road's (LIRR) Jamaica Station, a historic transportation hub and transfer point for 10 of the LIRR's 11 branches that is used by 150,000 passengers every day.
The important role of Jamaica Station, memorialized in railroad lexicon by the catch phrase “Change at Jamaica” has made commuting between Long Island and New York City possible for generations of LIRR customers. The station opened for business in 1913 as part of newly elevated right-of-way in Jamaica that did away with street level grade crossings for the first time.
“We celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jamaica Station assured that it will continue to play a strategic role in the future of mass transit in our region,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast. “The MTA’s commitment to downtown Jamaica has never wavered. A decade ago, we completed a major rehabilitation of Jamaica Station in conjunction with the construction of the Air Train Terminal by the port authority. As the LIRR looks to the future, Jamaica Station will remain its nerve center and our Jamaica Capacity Improvements Project will mean more than $300 million in infrastructure upgrades to keep the LIRR running smoothly.”
Jamaica Station was designed by architect Kenneth Murchison and built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, then the parent company of the LIRR. The entire Jamaica complex was constructed by LIRR employees under the direction of the railroad’s chief engineer John Savage. That same year, the LIRR moved into a new corporate office adjacent to the newly elevated station, platforms and tracks. The five-story brick building including the station waiting area, also designed by Murchison, was situated at the corner of Archer Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard, a dirt road intersection in an area still dotted with farms.
Among the best known landmarks in the borough of Queens, the building is home to the oldest railroad in the U.S. still operating under its original name. Each weekday, the LIRR operates 732 trains with approximately 300,000 customers traveling through Jamaica twice a day. AirTrain JFK service draws an additional 11,500 customers per day who arrive by train, subway, bus and taxi.
For much of the last year, LIRR headquarters was veiled in scaffolding and steel grey safety netting as the LIRR Engineering Department employees and a private contractor, Alps Mechanical Inc., labored on building elements that had seriously deteriorated over the years. The restoration effort was carried out in an effort to be consistent with the historic character of the building under the direction of the LIRR’s Department of Program Management.
As part of the restoration, LIRR employees refurbished the Jamaica ticket office and customer waiting area, restored its original terrazzo floors, cleaned the ceiling, installed brighter lighting and gave interior walls a fresh coat of paint. There is also a new seating area for ticketed customers, new electronic train arrival/departure screens and a new rack for timetables.
But the bulk of the restoration effort was devoted to the badly deteriorated building exterior where workers resurrected the appearance of the terracotta covering the first two floors by chemically stripping the paint, installing new terracotta where necessary and re-glazing every block. Above that, much of building’s upper story brickwork was carefully repointed and the extensive deterioration found on the roof was addressed with a new watertight roofing system, among other improvements. The total restoration effort of $8.5 million was funded through the MTA’s Capital Program.