Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

Upper Manhattan once resembled a country town

February 11, 2019

It looks like a country scene: a slender iron bridge, green bluffs across the river, groups of women strolling while shielding themselves with straw hats and sun umbrellas, a couple wheeling a child in a stroller, two men in a carriage led by a single horse.

A Midwestern village? Actually it’s 155th Street on the Harlem-Washington Heights border circa 1900, after the Macombs Dam Bridge opened in 1895 and before this section of Manhattan attracted industry, traffic, and a tidal wave of new residents looking for space and better housing.

The wonderful thing is that Macombs Dam Bridge still stands today, flanked by the same stone sentry towers.

Magnificence and magic at 1920s Columbus Circle

February 4, 2019

Since last week’s Columbus Circle painting turned out to mislabeled (it was actually Madison Square), I thought I’d make up for the error with this Impressionist kaleidoscope of the Circle, as it was called, by Colin Campbell Cooper.

This must be around 1920. The trolleys circling the Columbus monument are joined by automobiles, and pedestrians seem to cross wherever they can—though it looks like a police officer is directing traffic. (Has Columbus Circle ever been pedestrian friendly?)

The streets look slicked with rain, giving them a soft, magical quality. But blue skies peek through the clouds, perhaps a nod to the magnificent early 20th century city.

Gilded Age Manhattan aglow in a rainy twilight

January 28, 2019

UPDATE: Turns out this painting is probably not Columbus Circle, as Artnet had it; it looks like opposite Madison Square. Thanks to eagle-eyed ENY readers for catching]

Columbus Circle in the 1890s must have dazzled the senses.

The towering granite monument that gave the Circle its name was unveiled in 1892. On one side was the entrance to the carriage lanes and horse paths of Central Park, and on the other could be heard the “uninterrupted whirr” of the Broadway cable cars heading downtown, as Stephen Crane described it.

Stylish electric street lights illuminated the Circle with globes of sunshine. The Theater District was now just blocks away to the south; the new apartment houses and townhouse blocks of what was still known as the West End were rising to the north.

And a mostly forgotten artist named William Louis Sonntag, Jr. captured the din and dazzle in this painting, giving us a view of twilight at Columbus Circle on a rainy, magical night.

The Beaux-Arts arch deep beneath 168th Street

January 7, 2019

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!

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