Old subway sign beauty on a 23rd Street platform

You won’t notice them as you descend the grimy stairs into the 23rd Street station.

But once you’re on the platform waiting for your R or W train, the uniqueness of the individual tiles and swirly typeface hits you.

These are the original mosaic tile bands and tablets added to platform walls when this station opened in 1918, per Subway.org.

What is it about the tiles themselves, as well as the curlicue numbers and serif lettering, that are so much more magical than the helvetica signage used in many stations today?

They turn an otherwise drab local station beneath Broadway into a time machine to the early days of the subway system, when architects were brought in to refine and beautify rough, industrial-looking platforms.

This is the station with the beloved hat tiles as well, a recent installation that’s a nod to the area’s history as an entertainment and shopping district.

But there’s just something about the colors and craftwork of those “23” and “23rd Street” tiles that really enchant and delight.

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10 Responses to “Old subway sign beauty on a 23rd Street platform”

  1. boojum8@aol.com Says:

    THANK YOU for emailing these out on a Sunday instead the usual Monday. Please continue to email them on Sundays (or Saturdays). Fred Ost

  2. Jack Ryger Says:

    And the gusts of wind on 23rd street which gave birth to the expression 23 Skidoo.
    In days of old when women wore hoop skirts, men would congregate on 23rd street waiting for gusts of wind. Their skirts would rise. Men would be gawking and the police would shoo them away yelling skidoo skidoo. Hence 23 skidoo.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for this, Jack. Those were the days when police officers had beats on different corners, keeping an eye on low-level troublemakers and mashers.

  3. Paul Payton Says:

    Most of the first lines in the city had tiled stations; works of art underground were to be part of the attraction. Rather than a total rehab, I’d love to see these classics cleaned up and restored in their proper context. I wonder if a Friends of the [whatever] Station groups could be formed and do some kind of voluntary maintenance, restoration or improvement in exchange for some form of recognition as well as satisfaction.

  4. immacchi Says:

    Intriguing

  5. alaspooryorick Says:

    the irregular tiles surrounding the station number are a la Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie.

  6. The "Decapitating a Upper West Side Luxury Condo" Edition Says:

    […] In appreciation of mosaic subway station signs. (Ephemeral New York) […]

  7. Kiwiwriter Says:

    The Transit Authority is required to do whatever possible to maintain historic mosaics like this one throughout the system.

    If you want to see some fascinating mosaics, check out Bushwick-Aberdeen on the Canarsie (L) line.

    The Transit Museum recently had a great exhibition at their Grand Central Terminal Annex of subway signs and graphics, including mosaics that survived station rebuilds. Among the signs is a huge wooden one that read “14th St.” from Union Square Station’s uptown platform’s northern platform. I remember it with utter clarity as a kid and am delighted that it has survived to enjoy a deserved retirement.

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