Restoring a zoetrope in an old abandoned Brooklyn station

By · Published in 2007

Riders of the Manhattan-bound B and Q trains know there’s something out there. Shortly before the trains go above ground on the Manhattan Bridge, alert riders can spot a glimpse of…something. It’s not a solid tunnel wall; daylight streams through a series of slits in a temporary wall blocking whatever it is that’s there.

Well, that something is actually a very old and long-abandoned subway station. It is an old elevated subway stop at Myrtle Ave. that hasn’t seen passengers since July of 1956, over 50 years ago. While abandoned stations dot the subway system — and alert passengers on the East and West Side IRT trains know where to stop them — the Myrtle Ave. station is unique because it once served as the staging grounds for a work of art:

Two hundred twenty-five hand-painted panels sit behind those mysterious slits. When viewed properly and at the right speed, those panels form a picture. It’s a life-sized subway zoetrope.

But the Masstransiscope has fallen on hard times. Installed in the 1980s by filmmaker Bill Brand, the piece, as any astute rider may notice, is completely obscured by graffiti. Now, Brand wants to restore his zoetrope. Originally installed at a price tag of $60,000 and through the aid of the NEA and the New York state Council on the Arts, Brand estimates it could cost up to $40,000 to restore it, and the MTA’s Arts for Transit program can’t cover the restoration costs.

“Around 1990, we fixed it up,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program. At that time only the light bulbs needed to be replaced, and the MTA received a donation of bulbs. Now, however, the electrical work needs to be entirely redone. Arts for Transit isn’t willing to shell out the estimated $35,000-$40,000 for restoration.

“I need to produce works that will be here 30 or 40 years with that kind of money,” Bloodworth said. Masstransiscope, she added, “gets damaged so quickly. It gets painted over with break-ins.”

While twenty years ago, Brand convinced graffiti artists to tag elsewhere simply by asking nicely, times have changed. Graffiti in the subways is no longer about the art of graffiti; instead, it’s about tagging a name on as much MTA property as possible. And Brand knows he would face an uphill battle to keep the Masstransiscope viewable.

The MTA will coordinate the restoration. Now, Brand just has to raise some money to restore an interesting work of art that would lend some color to an otherwise sluggish ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Hat tip to Brooklyn Record.

11 Responses to “Restoring a zoetrope in an old abandoned Brooklyn station”

  1. peter says:

    Unfortunately, a developer has recently purchased the entire block above the abandoned platform, and the City is permitting the developer to also demap portions of the adjacent streets, as well as demolish the closed entrance to the station. Excavation will likely make access to & from the platform practically impossible, except for emergenccy exit catwalks.

  2. Julia says:

    I don’t know how much you can really hope for from the organization that gives us these monstrosities:

  3. Todd says:

    I would love to tour abandoned stations and tunnels. I’ll sign whatever waiver they want me to.

  4. peter says:

    Todd – Join the Transit Museum, or go there, and take a look at upcoming events. They do occasional tours of closed tunnels & such


  1. […] the spate of Second Ave. subway news hit, we were talking about the Masstransiscope in the remains of the old, abandoned Myrtle Ave. stop on the BMT line that runs over the Manhattan Bridge. Abandoned stations hide the mysteries and […]

  2. […] Restoring a zoetrope in an old abandoned Brooklyn station Read the original post in Second Avenue Sagas here. […]

  3. […] so many of the quirky stories behind its nooks and crannies are lost to time. You’ve got art in abandoned stations and artistic stations long since abandoned. We think of the subway map as static, but train lines […]

  4. […] square on the red line. Wikipedia says its using an old animation technique called Zoetrope. Other subways have them as well. I think its an interesting use of time and space, when i would othersie be zoned […]

  5. […] every subway line in the city, the BMT Brighton Line has its special charms. It has a zoetrope in an abandoned station, an earthen embankment section that runs near the site of the worst accident in New York subway […]

  6. […] the end, Brand decided to contact the MTA about restoring the piece. While Arts for Transit was initially resistant mainly due to the price, Brand secured funding through a grant from the Albers Foundation. As […]

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