5 wildly different sign styles outside New York’s subway entrances

The New York City subway system has 472 stations, according to the MTA. Some of these stations made up the original IRT line that debuted in October 1904; others opened in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, and beyond (looking at you, Second Avenue Q train).

190th Street/Fort Tryon Park

The nice thing about a subway system constructed in different decades is that there’s no one uniform subway sign above ground outside station entrances. The wide range of sign styles reflects the era the station opened and/or the feel of the surrounding neighborhood. Each has a different magic.

Fifth Avenue/59th Street

At the 190th Street IND station at Fort Tryon Park is this subway sign (top photo), with what looks like hand-cut lettering. The station opened in 1911, and I don’t know when the sign appeared. But it’s certainly a vintage beauty in an exceedingly beautiful section of Upper Manhattan.

Lexington Avenue/51st Street

These twin lantern-like subway signs outside Central Park give off a more old-timey vibe. You can find them at the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street N/R station. When illuminated at night, they’re enchanting.

Downtown Brooklyn

The Jazz Age comes alive thanks to this subway signage at the 6 train station on Lexington Avenue and 51st Street (third image). The chrome and lettering seem very Art Deco—as does the building beside it, the former RCA Building/General Electric Building, built between 1929-1931.

The subway signs lit up in green in Downtown Brooklyn look like they’re giving off radiation! It’s all part of the sleek, unusual design that feels very 1930s or 1940s to me.

The last photo features a more elegant, business-like sign design, perhaps from Lower Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn again. It’s the only one that doesn’t appear to be a lamp, though it’s possible it might light up when the skies darken. Sharp-eyed ENY readers identified the location at One Hanson Place, the address of the circa-1929 former Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower.

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15 Responses to “5 wildly different sign styles outside New York’s subway entrances”

  1. Adrian Lesher Says:

    A Google Lens search says the last sign is 1 Hanson Place in Brooklyn (the former Williamsburg Bank Building).

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ah, thank you! I took the photo a while ago and spaced on where it was. So of course the Williamsburg Bank Building would have such an elegant sign.

  2. Phil Says:

    The Fort Tryon sign was erected for the IND, A train, which I believe was a 1930’s construction.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      My mistake; I just took the photo and for some reason thought I got up to Fort Tryon on the 1 train. Thank you!

  3. jeff greenberg Says:

    my guess is Brooklyn, near Jay Street, just down from the old (is it still there?)A&S

  4. Jeffrey Greenberg Says:

    sorry. I was thinking of the fourth image

  5. Ruth Rogers Says:

    By Met Life? Park Ave South/25th ish?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      It does look like that one on Park Avenue South—I know exactly which one you’re thinking of. Turns out it’s at the Williamsburg Bank Building, now a residential tower.

  6. Kevin Walsh Says:

    The last one is 1 Hanson in Brooklyn. The 190th St station is IND and opened in the 1930s

  7. countrypaul Says:

    The classic variety of signs and station decor is a true hallmark of what made New York New York. The newer conformity of signage makes it easier to get around for those unfamiliar with the system, but it does detract from the city’s uniqueness. I hope that when the classic signs and tiling in stations need refreshing, they are restored, not replaced.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I totally agree; the unique signs and art, plaques, lettering, etc give each station a very individual feel. In my opinion it contributes to a sense that NYC is made up of a variety of neighborhoods developed in different eras.

  8. VirginiaLB Says:

    What a wonderful collection! Hard to choose but I do love the Art Deco signage. Thanks for sharing.

  9. velovixen Says:

    I lived near the 190th Street station for several years. My guess is that it didn’t open until the late 1930s. The first IND lines operated in 1932; it didn’t reach the upper end of Manhattan or some of the outlying areas of Brooklyn and Queens for several years.

    While I am partial to the Art Deco sign, they all signal “New York.”

  10. Suzanne Says:

    That 190 St station was my stop for years and years. Each night after work, I’d emerge from the stairs and see that subway sign and the sky and think how lucky I was to live there. It’s a beautiful place.

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