Home Abandoned Stations Twenty years later, an oft-ignored entrance remains closed

Twenty years later, an oft-ignored entrance remains closed

by Benjamin Kabak

Thousands of people walk past this subway entrance at 52nd and 8th, unaware of its history. (Photo by RJ Mickelson for amNew York)

We started the week with a tale about a doomed abandoned platform at 42nd and 8th Ave. Let’s end the week ten blocks north standing outside a gated subway entrance at 52nd St. and 8th Ave.

In what very well might be the best story to appear in the pages of amNew York β€” sorry, Chris β€” Matthew Sweeney explores the history of a subway entrance that has sat closed since 1991, and no one really knows what it was doing there in the first place. The article is part of a two-parter in Friday’s amNew York about some of the partnerships the MTA has formed with the buildings that climb high above their stations. The other piece focuses on the MTA’s tortured relationships with its escalators.

Sweeney gives us the history:

Paid for with private funds in 1986 β€” when the misbegotten K train still ran β€” the subway entrance at Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street has been gated and locked for nearly two decades.

It’s been shut for so long New York City Transit on Thursday could not remember when or why it ordered the gates locked. Transit officials also couldn’t say whether it will ever be open again. “It’s kind of ridiculous,” said real estate developer Adam Rose, who built the stairwell entrance to what is now the uptown C and E train platform. “The day after it opened, they closed it.”

Rose’s memory is not entirely accurate. For a brief period the entrance was open at off hours. But even then, it was not always open when it was supposed to be, said Andrew Albert, chairman of the NYC Transit Riders Council. According to Albert, the entrance was permanently closed after a woman was stabbed in the stairway in 1991.

The article doesn’t explain why the MTA has decided to close the entrance and why it was never fully staffed in the first place leading up to the Linda Belle stabbing. The building, according to Rose, was forced to construct the entrance by the MTA. Now, it sits empty, a late-1980s subway map hanging on the wall and trash collecting at the bottom of the stairwell.

Say what you will about MTA management in this instance, but stories like these are why I love the subways. While we see a lot of the system on the surface just by passing through, 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 head up different avenues and switch stops seemingly on a whim over the years.

The next time I walk past 52nd St. and 8th Ave., I’ll stop for a minute or two to take in an entrance I’ve seen and ignored countless times over the course of my life. One day, it may have a purpose; today, it’s just another one of New York’s great subway what if’s.

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8 comments

Marc Shepherd April 25, 2008 - 8:34 am

You know, there are tons of closed subway entrances and exits that could be re-opened with very little cost or effort. I haven’t checked it out for myself, but I believe there are a lot of them along the G line. Several of the stations along Central Park West have closed entrances too.

A lot of these were closed in the 1980s when the MTA was justifiably concerned about crime in the subways. The thinking was that if they couldn’t monitor it adequately, they might as well just close it altogether. The crime situation has changed, and by now I think these entrances could be safely re-opened.

A lot of passageways were closed, too, such as the link under 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the link under Sixth Avenue between 34th and 42nd Streets, and the link under 34th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The latter provided (among other things) an underground connection to PATH from Penn Station.

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Todd April 25, 2008 - 8:44 am

You just want the K to run again so you can buy the little MTA themed railroad cars and spell your name πŸ™‚

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ScottE April 25, 2008 - 9:05 am

If I recall, that same station has some closed staircases from the upper (local) platform to the lower (express) platform — at least on the northbound side. You can see the box built around the former staircase on both levels. They were apparantly closed because of crime, though I don’t know if it is this specific stabbing incident or crime in general. Criminals would commit their act, then run down the stairs and hop on a train. Now, the only way between platforms is via the wide-open area where the station attendant sits.

The costs of even minor station work is staggering, so I don’t see this opening as a regular station entrance again anytime soon (you need to add High turnstiles and MetroCard machines, which may not have been there when it was closed), but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was changed to an Exit-Only. In these days of increased security, you need plenty of exits to evacuate a station quickly in case of an emergency.

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Kid Twist April 25, 2008 - 10:19 am

In the high-crime, pre-Metrocard days, it made safety sense and budget sense to close secondary entrances. Now, with crime down and the advent of Metrocard vending machines, I agree that, yes, it would be a good idea to reopen some of these.

That stretch of Eighth Avenue in the upper Forties and lower Fifties used to be the armpit of Times Square. Now, there are tall apartment buildings sprouting every couple of blocks. NYC Transit should definitely consider reopening the entrance and the stairs down to the Queens line below.

I also think they should look into building additional entrances to some existing stations. It’d be a relatively low-cost way to bring the subway closer to where people now work and live (as opposed to new lines). One spot that comes to mind is the east end of the First Avenue station on the L train, near Avenue A.

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Marc Shepherd April 25, 2008 - 11:05 am

I also think they should look into building additional entrances to some existing stations. It’d be a relatively low-cost way to bring the subway closer to where people now work and live (as opposed to new lines). One spot that comes to mind is the east end of the First Avenue station on the L train, near Avenue A.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because there are almost always utilities and other infrastructure that need to be moved. There certainly are a lot of single-entrance stations where a second entrance would be beneficial, but I don’t see this happening, except at extremely busy stations where customer traffic requires it.

But where the entrance already exists, and is merely closed off, the chances are better.

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Chris April 25, 2008 - 3:15 pm

@Marc Shepard: I agree that Kid Twist’s example would be expensive, but given the influx of passengers in that station every morning and evening, I think it’s more of a safety issue at 14th St. & Avenue A. When the platform is packed with people during rush hour with only one stairway to the street, I can’t help but worry about how disastrous an evacuation would be.

Funny that we’re going from talking about closing entrances for safety reasons to talking about opening entrances for safety reasons.

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Benjamin Kabak April 25, 2008 - 3:32 pm

I’m thinking that A and 14th would be the number one spot in Manhattan for a new entrance. It would help serve a very under-served area of Alphabet City by cutting down the walk to the subway by a rather large block, and it would, as Chris notes, alleviate overtaxing the entrance/exit at 14th and 1st. Who has the rights to the above-ground properties and what would need to be cleared is an entirely different story.

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Glen Wood April 25, 2008 - 3:38 pm

“Funny that we’re going from talking about closing entrances for safety reasons to talking about opening entrances for safety reasons.”

Definalty a case of ironic justice for sure. Times have sure changed just as the NY neighborhoods have.
I am over at the Bamford/ now and some re-opened exits could make my running about NY a heck of alot easier.

@Chris: Totally on point about 14th street!!! I am surprised we don’t have more bad accidents there just based on pure volume and the NY rush.

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