Posts Tagged ‘MTA’

Griping about the subway: a New York tradition

June 25, 2010

The first subway line opened to riders on October 27, 1904. And almost since that day, New Yorkers have been grumbling, justified or not, about crappy service.

“Trains will run at the company’s convenience” states the fine print in this New York Herald cartoon from 1905.

It wasn’t just lateness that annoyed residents a century ago. Other grievances are the same ones we have today, like jam-packed trains and filthy stations. 

“All the trains are dirt-filled and full of nameless odors,” bellyached one passenger in a letter to the New York Times in 1915.

Even dim lighting was open to complaints. “The lighting of subway trains was now so poor as to be dangerous to the sight of passengers who might attempt to read their newspapers,” states a 1909 Times article.

Beauty queens of the New York City subway

March 3, 2010

Today’s subway ads are a depressing lot: medical malpractice law firms, Dr. Zizmor, MTA warnings about the dangers of traveling between cars. 

Not so from 1941 to 1976. Back then, one young New York woman per month was crowned “Miss Subways,” her name and face plastered above the seats on thousands of subway cars for millions of commuters to see.

An ad agency, not the MTA, nominated the winners; residents then voted for a top candidate over the phone. The winners came from all backgrounds and boroughs and comprised a surprisingly diverse group over the years.

All had a few things in common: they were wholesome, had aspirations . . . and rode the subway, of course. Some information on what became of some winners can be found here.

Perhaps a revival of Miss Subways should duke it out with a new version of Miss Rheingold, the beauty pageant that gripped New Yorkers in the 1940s and 1950s.

Old-school subway signage

December 9, 2009

The MTA should bring back some of these vintage posts and signs—they’re such a cool throwback to old New York. These lantern-like beacons guard the Fifth Avenue and 59th Street station:

Vintage signage on the New York Life building, on Park Avenue South—important enough to have its own subway entrance. Interborough Rapid Transit is today’s 4, 5, and 6 line.

I hope the MTA does not replace or tidy up this weathered, slightly rusted subway post, in Inwood:

A look at the old East 18th Street subway station

October 26, 2009

This vintage postcard sheds some light on the 18th Street station on the Lexington Avenue line—one of the original IRT stations that opened in 1904. It’s been closed since 1948 after the 14th Street-Union Square platform was lengthened.


Though the MTA has made 18th Street and other abandoned stations off-limits since 9/11, you still can catch a glimpse of it if you take the 6 train and look really hard out the window.

The station walls are dark and graffiti-covered, but it’s not hard to see the old columns and staircases—ghostly reminders of different periods in the city’s past.

Stained glass beauty in Bronx subway stations

August 19, 2009

Every borough has at least a few subway stations that feature stained glass. But the Bronx seems to have more than any other, especially in the little stations at local stops for the 2 and 5 trains.

From “Latin American Stories” by George Crespo at the Jackson Avenue station:


One of several panels from the Prospect Street’s “Bronx, Four Seasons,” by Marina Tsesarskaya:









Part of Daniel Hauben’s The El, at the Freeman Street stop:


Colorful tiles and terra cotta in the subway

April 4, 2009

You have to hand it to the transit officials in charge of designing subway platforms a century ago. They insisted that stations feature colorful ceramic tiles, terra cotta, and mosaics, and that the design elements be unique to each stop.

Today the MTA continues to restore these decorative motifs. They give each station a little bit of enchantment and a glimpse into the past.

Here’s the J for the Jefferson stop on the L train, in Bushwick:


The number 5 on this 50th Street sign for the 1 train harkins back to an Art Deco era:


A long, fat F for Fulton Street, downtown:


The Brooklyn Bridge 6 stop, with its backward B that looks hand-stenciled:


Dear MTA, please don’t take these signs down

January 7, 2009

Brooklyn’s narrow York Street subway station is home to a couple of vintage signs that deserve a little love.

“No Smoking, Spitting” is pretty rough around the edges; looks like it dates from the 1940s or 1950s—and probably hasn’t been enforced since then:











I love that someone at the MTA at one time thought it necessary to put this next sign up.









As you climb the stairs out of the Financial District’s Nassau Street station, you’re greeted by these old-school directions. The barber shop is still there, but I didn’t see a beauty salon.