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 — sorry, Chris — 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 — when the misbegotten K train still ran — 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.