Home New York City Transit A famous street corner under the MTA’s auspicies

A famous street corner under the MTA’s auspicies

by Benjamin Kabak


At the intersection of 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave. on the southeast side of the street sits a triangular lot. This lot is not just any lot. It is a historic piece of village land. It is the inspiration for one of Edward Hopper’s most famous works of art and is currently home to the 9/11 Tiles for America memorial. This land is also owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the MTA now needs to do something with it.

The functional plans for this plot are less than romantic. New York City Transit plans to construct a emergency ventilation plant for both the 7th Ave. lines that run north/south near that point and the 8th Ave. line that cuts east/west under Greenwich Ave. to and from West 4th St. The neighborhood though is reluctant to part with its corner, and both sides are working together to come up with an acceptable plan. Albert Amateau reports in The Villager:

New York City Transit last week presented three basic design suggestions for the emergency ventilation tower planned for the triangle at Seventh Ave. South and Greenwich Ave., where thousands of Sept. 11 memorial tiles have been hanging on a chain-link fence for the past eight years. Neighbors at the June 22 presentation were glad the plans provided for space to display at least some of the tiles, but they were disappointed with the tower design options, which they characterized as “off the rack” and not worthy of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

Last year Transit chose a plan for a combined emergency ventilation plant for both the Seventh Ave. and the Eighth Ave. subway lines that includes a 38-foot-tall tower on the triangle property that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns. However, Community Board 2 had recommended the plant be built entirely below street level.

The above-ground option was deemed to be least expensive — $79.5 million compared to $93.7 million to $124 million for eight other site options — and to have the least impact on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement.

Community Board 2 members were lukewarm in their views on the tower. “We’ve been grappling with the ventilation plant issue for some time now,” Brad Hoylman, former C.B. 2 chairperson, said to Amateau. “We asked for a distinctive design for the building, not least because it’s at the gateway to the Greenwich Village Historic District, and because it includes an important piece of recent history.”

Today, Curbed posted slides from the MTA’s presentation, and the one I featured at the top of this post is my choice. As Judith Kunoff, an architect at Transit explained, this version incorporates the Tiles for America memorial into a structure reminiscent of the historic dinner from Nighthawks.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, both the history and memory from this corner will be a part of a functional piece of transit equipment. Incorporating neighborhood design elements into necessary infrastructure serve to make the city friendlier and more livable.

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Rhywun July 8, 2009 - 4:53 pm

Is this “emergency ventilation plant” really necessary? If not, sell the land and let someone build something useful to the neighborhood there.

Benjamin Kabak July 8, 2009 - 5:06 pm

Apparently the answer to your question, provided to us by Bill Thompson, is a resounding yes. This plant is really necessary.

Rhywun July 8, 2009 - 5:26 pm

Well… Sounds to me like a case of leaving the battery out of the smoke detector. If it’s so “vital” I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t exist already. Jeez, you’d think this system was built in the dark ages or something. A hundred years from now we’ll still be building fan plants and replacing 200-year-old signals.

Scott E July 9, 2009 - 8:11 am

It was built in the dark ages. Well, at least in the age where we didn’t design to expect the unexpected. There were no fire alarms or sprinklers in stations, no public-address systems, only one exit from a platform to the street. All things that, if an emergency were to occur, could seriously impede a safe evacuation of a station.

These days, especially post 9/11, we prepare for all of these “what-if” situations, and try to make things as safe as possible during unsafe conditions. This is an Emergency Ventilation tower. Hopefully it will never be needed, but like an insurance policy, you want it just in case.

Charles October 12, 2009 - 4:12 pm

The Edward Hopper proposal works best. It’s a shame that the triangular-shaped diner which inspired Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting is no longer there, but a memorial which incorporates some of its character would be welcome. It suprises me that the historic significance of that corner isn’t better marked already. After all, Nightawks is one of America’s most iconic paintings, and Hopper has been one of America’s most loved and imitated painters. It would serve the neighborhood and the city well to have a unique and significant ode to Hopper at this entrance way.
In my perfect world, I would buy the land from the city and rebuild the diner as it appears in the painting (with the addition of a door). I would call it Hopper’s Diner.


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