The Beaux-Arts arch deep beneath 168th Street

New York has many subway stations with artistic touches meant to enchant and inspire. But I’m not aware of any station with a beaux-arts arch like the one on the 1 train platform at 168th Street.

The white tiles, as well as a decorative wreath at the arch’s highest point, give an ordinary subway ride an air of celebration and glory. (If you look past the grime, of course.)

So why is there an arch at 168th Street? Perhaps it’s structural rather than purely decorative.

The uptown IRT stations at 168th Street, 181st Street, and 191st Street run along what’s called the Washington Heights Mine Tunnel.

At the turn of the century, workers cut through bedrock to build these stations, and the platforms are several stories below ground.

They’re the deepest three stations in the entire subway system, according to the ever-informative nycsubway.org.

Perhaps engineers decided that an arch was needed to keep the station from caving in. And in an era when city buildings were designed to be inspiring, architects chose to make the arch something artistic and uplifting.

The third photo shows the arch as well as one of the terra cotta light fixtures still in the station, another wonderful original touch!

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5 Responses to “The Beaux-Arts arch deep beneath 168th Street”

  1. Joseph Ditta Says:

    The arch marks the original extent of the station, which was extended to the south in the 1950s, hence the much lower ceiling above the tracks and platforms. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/168th_Street_(New_York_City_Subway)

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ah, thanks Joseph!

  3. keenanpatrick Says:

    Starting Sat. the station will be closed for a year for elevator repairs.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    That’s a drag. But I have to say, those elevators are a little scary!

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    I know this station very well…been there a few dozen times in my life to change trains and a few million more going through it to get to my grandparents.

    The arch is at the point where the original station ended. It had to be extended, like 181st north of it, to accommodate 10-car trains.

    191st was added to the line after 168th and 181st were built, so it lacks their architectural style — to save money.

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