Mystery mosaics at the Chambers Street station

The mosaics are so dark and grimy, you can barely see them from the platform.

But both the downtown and uptown tracks at the West Side Chambers Street station are lined with these images of a Federal-style building set amid tall trees.

Which poses a question: What building is it? Chambers Street doesn’t have anything like it today. A colonial-era city hall? A private mansion?

It’s actually one of the early incarnations of Columbia University. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, the school held classes around the corner from Chambers Street on Park Place.

Renamed Columbia in 1784, the college went uptown with the growing city. In 1857 it relocated to Madison Avenue and 49th Street—today’s Rockefeller Center—then picked up stakes for a final move to Morningside Heights in 1897.

Interestingly, turn of the century subway designers chose to commemorate the Ivy League school’s humble downtown beginnings.

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7 Responses to “Mystery mosaics at the Chambers Street station”

  1. Frank Lynch Says:

    Here’s some King’s College trivia for you: its first head was Samuel Johnson, a distant cousin of the much more famous man of letters. This American Samuel Johnson was one of the leaders of a religious enlightenment movement in CT, and his son, William Samuel Johnson, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool, thanks!

  3. T.J. Connick Says:

    The puny budget for artifacts in the subway system didn’t allow for much; the Chambers Street station work may have commemorated King’s College for a couple of reasons.

    The long-time name had been College Place for the stretch of West Broadway running south from the station. West Broadway had only been the official name of that stretch for about a decade when the subway was opened.

    Because it was built “out of town”, King’s College was a noted landmark before, during and after the city’s expansion through the area.

    The Madison Avenue location occupied the entire city block bound by 49th, 50th, Madison Ave, and Fourth (Park) Ave; it’s a good bit east of Rockefeller Center. Perhaps when composing your piece, you had been reading about Columbia’s acquisition of the former Botanical Garden west of Fifth Ave, land that it would hold long after Rockefeller Center was built.

  4. Nancy A Says:

    Thanks for identifying this mosaic image @ Chambers Street. I’ve been wondering what it is for 25 years!

  5. Old signs left behind on defunct city streets | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] This stretch of modern-day West Broadway between Barclay and Murray Streets was given the name in 1831, a likely nod to Columbia University, which once existed nearby. […]

  6. Mosaic at Chambers St. Subway Station Shows Columbia University, Formerly King's College | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] Source: Ephemeral New York […]

  7. A forgotten relic from downtown’s “College Place” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 1918 subway tile in the nearby Chambers Street Station, hard to see thanks to grime and soot, depicts the […]

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