Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

The remains of a defunct downtown subway exit

December 10, 2018

When Fulton Center opened in 2014, city officials heralded this massive transit hub as a superstation uniting 12 subway lines with a connection to PATH service.

But the extra convenience when it comes to transferring between lines cost New York some of its lovely early subway architecture.

Case in point is this stylized subway exit on the downtown East Side IRT platform.

 

Bronze and with slender ionic columns, this exit once lead to stairs and no leads nowhere. The second photo shows the exit in 2011, as the station was undergoing construction; the turnstiles weren’t pretty, but one could still leave the platform here and get a feel for what the station was like decades ago.

Now, the exit remains—but its passageway is sealed forever.

The remnant of the exit isn’t even accessible as an artifact to look closely at or even touch while you’re waiting for your 4 or 5 train, thanks to the escalator blocking it off.

Where did subway riders who disembarked here and took this exit to the street end up?

Thanks to the exhaustive New York City subway archive at nycsubway.org, it appears to have once taken riders to 195 Broadway, the former AT&T Building. Number 195 is directly across the street from Fulton Place and is noted for its Doric columns.

[Third photo: nycsubway.org, 1999]

Waiting for a train at a dazzling subway station

December 3, 2018

Vaulted ceilings, pendant lighting, mosaic tiles, colored glass that let in natural light—these are some of the spectacular features of the City Hall IRT station, opened in October 1904 and the southernmost station on the original IRT route.

Unfortunately all of this beauty has been shut off to passengers since 1945—when the station was deemed redundant because the Brooklyn Bridge station so close. Also, it just didn’t accommodate the longer trains necessary to carry the vast numbers of city commuters.

“The subway is a microcosm of New York City”

November 19, 2018

We may never know what printmaker Harry Sternberg was thinking when he etched this rich, detailed scene inside a city subway car (appropriately titled “Subway Car”) in 1930.

But I like Nicole Viglini’s take on a web page published by Smith College Museum of Art in 2015: that Sternberg, who was born on the Lower East Side in 1904 and as a kid took free art classes at the Brooklyn Museum, depicted a microcosm of New York City.

“Though people from many different walks of life are present together, they do not directly interact with one another,” Viglini wrote. “A couple chats in the foreground, and a few shady-looking men look askance; everyone else seems to be absorbed in their own thoughts.”

“The ads above the seats remind the viewer of the busy commercial madhouse above ground. Within the confines of the subway car, hurtling through tunnels beneath the chaotic city, there is a measure of calm and a respite for people to regain some modicum of control.”

The Oldsmobile sign that once lit up in Brooklyn

November 5, 2018

Oldsmobile has come and gone, but this vertical neon sign on Flatbush Avenue and Avenue D still stands. It seems a little out of place—was this an area of car dealerships in postwar Brooklyn?

That seems to be the case. This corner brick building at 1217-1219 Flatbush Avenue was the home of Gaines Motor Co., an Oldsmobile dealership, as this ad from the Daily News in October 1963 shows.

The dealership lasted at this location into the 1960s. But to my knowledge the sign hasn’t glowed gorgeous neon for years; I’m not even sure the clock works.

The sign is rusted and the green has faded, but it stands as another totem of New York’s past.

[Photo courtesy of D.S.]

The Spring Street station and a superhero logo

October 29, 2018

The Spring Street subway station is one of the original 28 IRT stations to open in October 1904. And like the rest, the platform is decorated with mosaic name tablets, rosettes and wreaths, and cartouches.

Every time I ride through this little station on the 6 train, I can’t help but notice that the S in the cartouche looks a lot like the S in the shield emblazoned on Superman’s chest.

Coincidence? Probably.

But just for the record, Superman first appeared with a similar-looking S shield in the 1930s, a good 30 years after the Spring Street station opened.

It wouldn’t be the first time New York City inspired a superhero’s creators. Batman’s Gotham City sure appears to bear a big resemblance to our Gotham.

A motorized fire engine draws a crowd in 1910

October 15, 2018

“New motor propelled fire engine” reads the caption of this 1910 postcard, which shows off what appears to be the Fire Department’s newest piece of equipment.

I’m not sure where we are in this image, but it looks like a handsome residential neighborhood with a bishop’s crook lamppost in the back. And as always when fire engines hit the street, a small boy stands nearby, perhaps checking out the machinery.

Postcard: MCNY/54.212.107

A painter who said the subway was his art school

October 15, 2018

New York artists have always found inspiration in the subway. But few were so taken by their fellow passengers that they whipped out a piece of newsprint and sketched faces in the middle of a ride.

Joseph Solman did. Born in Russia but an American since childhood, he studied at the Art Students League and National Academy of Design.

Despite his formal training, Solman maintained that “he had learned more by sketching on buses and subways,” according to his 2008 obituary in the New York Times.

(Solman died at age 99 that year in his studio above the Second Avenue Deli.)

“Claiming ‘the subway was his art school,'” stated the Danforth Museum in Massachusetts, he “documented dozens of passengers as he commuted to work as a part-time bookie at the Belmont Park race track in Long Island, NY, in the 1960s.”

“With pencil in hand and the daily racing forms as his paper, Solman used sparing, gestural lines to record random travelers engrossed in their private worlds amidst the public space of the commuter train,” the museum continued.

His gouache portraits are tender and poetic, and different from the more abstract urbanscapes he was known for in the 1930s. In 1935 he became a founder of the Ten, a group of Expressionist painters in New York City.

The Ten co-founder Mark Rothko was also inspired by the subway, envisioning the platform as a bare, silent place where people stand close but remain in their solitary worlds.

Solman shared a similar sensibility. “Solman’s subway paintings eloquently capture the tenor of the commuter train, which can be a metaphor for urban America: both crowded and noisy, yet ironically isolated and self-contained,” stated the Danforth Museum.

His 1960s subway riders don’t look all that different from today’s commuters, right? They stare ahead and avert their eyes, armed with an expression of disinterest or a preoccupation with whatever they are reading. I see them every weekday morning.

How things looked one wet night on the Bowery

October 8, 2018

A shapely woman holding (posing?) with an umbrella in front of a brightly lit store window. A statue outside a cigar store.

Car lights up ahead, under the hulking steel tracks of the elevated train, making the Bowery appear darker and more ominous than usual.

And in the background beyond the cigar store are at least two men, forced by the rain and probably circumstance into the shadows of New York’s most blighted skid row at the time.

This is how John Sloan saw the Bowery one wet night in 1911.

The sailing ships of the Columbus Circle subway

October 8, 2018

Whether you consider Christopher Columbus a hero or a villain, there’s one thing we can all hopefully get behind: some circa-1904 artistic images at the Columbus Circle subway station.

Behold the blue, green, and off-white faience plaques depicting the Santa Maria, the largest of the three sailing ships Columbus commanded on his first voyage in search of a shorter route to the Far East, according to this 1979 Landmarks Preservation Committee report.

These restored sailing ship reliefs (the second image dates to 2011, as the restoration was in progress) line the platform of today’s 1 train, one of the original stops on the IRT that opened in 1904.

City subway stops celebrate all kinds of nautical images—like at Fulton Street, where Robert Fulton’s steamboat is immortalized on the platform of the 4 and 5 trains.

The old-school subway signs at Chambers Street

September 17, 2018

Walking through the Chambers Street IRT station on the West Side not long ago, I noticed these tile subway signs, pointing riders in the right direction to the 1, 2, and 3 trains.

The station itself opened in 1918, and the signs look a lot newer than that. It’s kind of nice that the old-school spelling of uptown and downtown remain—with both words broken into two, so the signs read “up town trains” and “down town trains.”

They’re charming touches that take you back in time to a different New York as you make your way to your train. Luckily, other examples of vintage subway signage can be found in and outside various stations through the city.