broad street station chinese wall

One of the more puzzling things about the Market Frankford Line is the lack of a station between 15th and 30th Street stations. Especially when you consider that today, all of the city’s tallest office buildings are clustered between 17th and 20th Streets, along Market. After all there are 5 stops east of 15th along Market. Then none west of 15th until the the subway crosses under the Schuylkill River to 30th Street.

To understand how this happened, you have to understand the topography of Philadelphia when the El was constructed. The might Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station brought passengers from across the region to Philadelphia via a viaduct that ran adjacent to Market Street. The two-story tall viaduct was known as the “Chinese Wall” to locals and with its noisy, smoking trains and dark underpasses, left the area west of Broad as an undesirable address.

chinese wall

So when the Market Street subway was planned, there wasn’t much demand for a stop between 15th Street and the Schuylkil. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company did initially urge for a stop at 19th Street but the city’s transit commissioner A. Merritt Taylor favored the express service east of the Schuylkill and felt the city west of  Broad would be better serviced by the planned Chestnut Street Subway.

When the Market Street subway was being planned, it was anticipated that the Darby Line and Cobbs Creek elevated lines would be built, initially being routed down Market Street till capacity was reached in the 1930s. At that point, the lines would be sent down the proposed Chestnut Street subway. A subway line that would offer stops west of Broad.

According to Malcolm Burnley in the February issue of Philadelphia magazine, adding a stop today at 22nd Street would cost a whopping $350 million. A price tag that no one seems particularly interested in funding. That’s just the latest proposal for a West Market stop. In 1978 and again in 1991, recommendations were made for a station between 19th and 22nd streets.

For more on Philadelphia’s “Chinese Wall,” check out Hidden City Philly’s Tracing The ‘Chinese Wall’ In Center City.