The station was opened on 10 June 1854 by the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway (WEL&CPR) to take the crowds to the relocated Palace. It was formerly known as Crystal Palace (Low Level) to differentiate it from the nearby and now demolished Crystal Palace (High Level) railway station. From the outset trains were operated by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR). Initially the station was the terminus of a spur line from Sydenham. In 1856 the station was able to take through train services to Clapham Junction via West Norwood and Streatham Hill, following the completion of the 746 yard (690 m) Crystal Palace Tunnel. Although relatively short, the tunnel was regarded as a major engineering achievement as it was cut “through the same treacherous material [clay], through the hill on which the Crystal Palace stands, and immediately under one of the great water towers, a superincumbent weight of 2,200 tons which taxed in its execution all the skill and workmanship of the eminent contractors.”
In 1857, an eastward connection was made to Norwood Junction (for the Brighton line to the south) and in 1858 the WEL&CPR was extended as far as Beckenham. From 1860 direct services were available from London Victoria.
The frontage of the station was rebuilt in 1875, and was described: “Although the Roman Catholic chapel room is no longer used the station still has a cathedral-like atmosphere as one passes from the period booking hall to the vault-like station and the stairs down to the original station area”.
This is a description of the station trainshed roof above the staircases at the west end. However, the rest of the station has no shelter from the elements between the vast brick retaining walls. Originally the whole length of the platforms beyond the bottom of the massive staircases was covered by an elegant dual bow-spring arch iron roof. This was removed as a precautionary measure shortly after the collapse of the similar structure at Charing Cross in 1905.