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Gimbels Passageway and the Penn Station Underground

gimbels subway signOn 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.”

gimbels underground passageThe 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?