It’s been a year since the iconic split-flap departures board disappeared from 30th Street Station.
The flipping board, which now sits in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, was systematically dismantled and then removed entirely on Jan. 25, 2019.
In its place, the train station’s grand hall now has a mundane, all-digital display. Before the switch, Philadelphia was home to the last active Solari board along Amtrak’s service lines. The Metro-North transit system replaced its network of Italian-manufactured mechanical displays in 2014, and New York Penn Station got rid of its flippy board three years ago.
Amtrak cited accessibility compliance as a major reason for the change — but they could have had the best of both worlds.
Oat Foundry, the local engineering agency that builds cool stuff for Fortune 500 companies, creates “smart analog signage” pieces that have the look, feel and clickety-clack sound of the original Solari boards, but incorporate modern technology.
“We had the opportunity to pitch Amtrak in a meeting with David Handera, VP of Stations, Properties, and Accessibility,” said Oat Foundry comms director Jeff Nowak. “Their team was very accepting of the idea, but…Amtrak had already set plans in place to use digital displays.”
Want to see that mod-meets-historical option yourself? Now’s the chance.
In honor of the first anniversary of the demise of the beloved “Flippy Boi,” Oat Foundry and Billy Penn are putting on a pop-up titled Remembering flippy board: The modern solution to 30th Street Station’s lost icon.
Hosted at Old City’s Room 244 on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 25-26, the free event will let you see a split-flap board in operation, take selfies next to it — and even operate it yourself.
Kids never got a chance to appreciate its functional beauty? Friends want to relive memorable travel moments? This is the place to do it.
A giant 4-foot-by-8-foot split-flap will be the main attraction. It’ll rotate through mock train times, quotes from famous Philadelphians, and custom messages. You’ll be able to type in a note on an iPad kiosk and watch the letters flip to display it on the sign.
There’ll also be art to look at on the walls, and Oat Foundry folks available to answer any questions about the unique technology, which is currently in use at Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore and Honeygrow restaurant in Rittenhouse.
As for 30th Street Station, Amtrak has said they intend to incorporate a flippy board into the decor the grand 1933 Neoclassical building as part of its planned renovation.
That decorative board might end up being one from Oat Foundry, according to Nowak.
The Room 244 gallery will be open all weekend, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, and Sunday, Jan 26.