"Construction of the building started in 1910 and was completed in 1911. The contractor was Cramp & Co, and the approximate total original cost was somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000. About 1/3 of the building was occupied by a railroad YMCA, with the remainder occupied by various railroad offices. Before going into more detail though, I should first go over the history of the railroad line adjacent to the building.
The Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad (PG&N) was the first railroad to open in Philadelphia, on June 6, 1832. Its original route started at 9th & Green Streets, and at ground level, followed the route of today's SEPTA Regional Rail Main Line and Chestnut Hill West lines to Germantown. Over time, a large complex of railroad station buildings, freight houses, engine and car repair shops developed over the several blocks north of Green Street.
The Reading Railroad took over the PG&N in 1870, and in 1893 opened an extension of its line southward from 9th & Green to the newly opened Reading Terminal, at 12th & Market Streets. This extension was a two-track elevated line and included a new elevated passenger station at 9th & Spring Garden Streets that replaced the ground level passenger terminal at 9th & Green Streets.
Over the 8-year period of 1907 to 1914, the Reading RR rebuilt this route by building a 4-track viaduct north of Green Street, and widening the viaduct south of Green Street to Reading Terminal from 2 tracks to 4 tracks. This massive project included demolition of the 1893 Spring Garden Street station and construction of your Spring Garden Street office building, a new 4-track railroad bridge over Spring Garden Street (the one still there today), and a new station building on the outbound side of the elevated tracks at the northwest corner of 9th & Spring Garden. Everything then remained the same until November 6, 1984 when Reading Terminal and the elevated railroad past Spring Garden Street was shut down and replaced by the opening of the Center City Commuter Tunnel a few days later.
As originally finished in 1911, the Spring Garden Street office building housed the following departments of the Reading RR.
Basement: Stationers Department and Real Estate Dept.
First Floor: Ticket stock and records storage, Printing department. In the 1930s, half of the first floor was taken over by the YMCA to build bowling alleys and other recreation use.
Second Floor (train-level): north half, railroad YMCA community rooms; south half, supervisory offices for the Master Mechanic (in charge of equipment maintenance) and Road Foreman of Engineers (supervised locomotive engineers). Also the immigrant room and a waiting room for regular passengers.
Third Floor: north half had the YMCA dormitory rooms, south half had offices for the Relief Association (a company-sponsored health and disability insurance program), the Medical Dept, and the Advertising Dept.
Fourth Floor: Offices for the Division Engineer (track and structures maintenance), the Signal Engineer (signal construction and maintenance); and the railroad's Chief of Police.
Fifth Floor: Auditor of Passenger Traffic - accounting and record keeping for the railroad's entire passenger business.
Regarding the railroad YMCA, these were associated with the regular YMCA's but were sponsored by the railroad companies specifically for housing their own employees who were away from their home terminal. Back in its heyday, the Reading Railroad ran long distance passenger trains between Philadelphia and points such as Harrisburg, Williamsport and Jersey City. Train crews whose homes were in these outlying cities needed a place to stay in Philadelphia while awaiting an assignment to run a train back to their home terminal. Even crews who lived in the Philadelphia area might hang out at the Spring Garden YMCA in between assignments. The railroad YMCA had a restaurant counter, sleeping rooms, showers (especially desired by steam engine crews), a library, and various lounge and recreation rooms. The YMCA sponsored educational and religious lectures and programs and other social events, so it became sort of a mini-hub for the local community of railroad workers. There was even outreach to the area neighborhood with events like Christmas parties for the children that lived nearby and other charity drives.
Although not a major function of the building, the immigrant room might also hold special interest for some. Most of the immigrants that passed through it had probably come in via Ellis Island and had boarded a Reading RR train at Jersey City (the same facility where today tourists can board a boat for the short ride to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.) An article in the Reading Railroad's employee magazine in 1911 described the immigrant room at Spring Garden Street as follows:
"The south section [of the train-level floor] contains the immigrant room, used to receive hundreds of newcomers to our shores who find their way into Philadelphia. The trains deposit their loads of strangers to America at this station, and in the comfortable shelter provided, they find their friends or are headed in the right direction to reach their desired destination. Kindly competent women attendants from the welfare societies of our city care for the strange girls who stare with wide-eyed wonder at the unfolding of this Western Republic's complex civilization, and these caretakers prevent the new arrivals while in their charge from falling into the hands of the traffickers in human souls who seek to make them their prey. A corps of special officers [i.e. railroad police] re-enforce this supervision."
Finally, the Reading Railroad moved its offices out of Spring Garden Street in 1961 and sold the building in 1962 to Mrs. Lillian M. Maeder for $42,000.
History as told by:
Rick Bates, RCT&HS
Archivist Reading Railroad Heritage Museum