Mar
11

Remembering a few abandoned subway stations

By

I grew up at 91st St. and Broadway in Manhattan, and I remember learning from an early age of the subway stop that, one day, years before I or my parents lived there, had been open at our corner. The station was a local stop on the IRT from 1904 until February of 1959 when modernization and platform expansion rendered it useless. Today, it is a graffiti-covered relic from another era.

These days, whenever the elimination of a service is mentioned or the partial shuttering of a subway station finds its way into the news, community groups react with a vehemence reserved only for the biggest of issues. Protests are planned; letters are written; politicians put pressure on the MTA to find a way to keep that station open. Even a station as lightly used as, say, Broad St. with its 7200 daily riders and its 589 weekend riders might garner some community support.

Once upon a time though, the Transit Authority engaged in a bit of system improvements that led to the shuttering of a good number of stations. A few were deemed redundant because they were simply too close to the next stop, and with longer trains and platforms that stretched an extra block or so, these stations were casualties various modernization programs. Surprisingly, the media reception to these closings were slight.

In 1959, when the TA closed 91st St., The Times mentioned it in the context of a 1000-word article about the $100 million West Side IRT upgrades that led to a clearing of the 96th St. bottleneck and a lengthening of that station to include a southern entrance between 93rd and 94th Sts.

Buried after the jump on page 18 of the paper was a solitary paragraph about 91st St. “One other change,” Stanley Levey wrote, “will be made on Feb. 6. The local station at Ninety-first Street will be closed. In its place an entrance to the new mezzanine of the Ninety-sixth Street station will be opened between Ninety-third and Ninety-fourth Streets.” It was rightly deemed pointless to double the length of the 91st St. stop with an express station just two blocks away.

A few of the other shuttered IRT stations received barely more coverage than that. When the city announced in 1948 that the 18th St. stop along the East Side IRT would be closed, The Times devoted three paragraphs and 123 words to the news. The reason given then wasn’t because Union Square’s northern entrances were three blocks away but because the 23rd St. station now had access points at 22nd St. “Trains will now run non-stop between Fourteenth and Twenty-third streets,” the unsigned article said.

The long-forgotten Worth St. stop, just a few hundred feet of the original Brooklyn Bridge station, received a scant send-off as well. It closed in 1962 as part of a $6 million overhaul of what we now call Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall on the East Side IRT. The TA had to lengthen and straighten the platforms to better accommodate 10-car trains, and when they did so, the Worth St. stop became pointless. Charles Grutzner of The Times was seemingly the only person to mark the occasion. “The rebuilt station, to be known as Brooklyn Bridge-Worth Street, will go into full service at 11 P.M. At the same time, the old Worth Street local station near by will shut down,” he wrote. “No ceremony will mark either event.”

And that is the way history had it. No ceremony marked the events as various stations faded into subway lore.



40 Responses to “Remembering a few abandoned subway stations”

  1. zz says:

    Fascinating.

    Surely there must have been a bit more public complaint when the City Hall station closed? I would think that the public would regret losing access to that civic treasure.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      City Hall was an aesthetic treasure, and still is, but it had minimal ridership, and Brooklyn Bridge station was just a few steps away. Like the others Ben mentioned (91st St, 18th St, Worth St), it made no sense to modernize City Hall when another station with better connections was so close by.

      The one great thing about City Hall is that, unlike the other closed stations, it has not suffered from vandalism. It is still the architectural gem that it always was.

      • bob says:

        I went there on a Transit Museum tour a two years ago. A gem, yes, no graffiti that I recall, but many of those skylights are broken. (Not the upper level to the outside, but the lower one that is part of the ceiling.) I don’t know if it’s vandalism. It also needs a good scrubbing from all the steel dust from the trains going by on the curve.

        But if the Transit Museum does that tour again – anyone out there should go.

  2. Scott E says:

    A big reason there weren’t protests is because there was no internet. Today, everyone can have a podium and rally the masses for any cause imaginable. (This blog, while an example of such a podium, is one of the good ones — one of the credible ones).

    Also, the people who read the Times were, and still are, rather intelligent. Today, the news is dumbed down or dramatized to attract as many eyes as possible (see the New York Post).

    I’m sure that if I create a Facebook page to “Tell the MTA to fire its overpaid managers, cut fares, increase service, and let students ride free”, I’m sure I can get 10,000 “fans” in a week.

    • AF says:

      Don’t think the Post was ever an intelligent paper, back then it was just a liberal rag as opposed to conservative.

      • Alon Levy says:

        No, the Post was once a respectable paper – say, in the early 19th century. It was definitely a rag in the 1970s, but was it a rag in the 1950s?

        But anyway, even in the late 19th century the newspaper world was filled with rags.

        • AF says:

          When Alexander Hamilton started the New York Post it was there to attack Thomas Jefferson, so I believe it was always a rag. Its political allegiances have shifted over time, and I am sure Hamilton’s political attacks were more intelligent than Murdoch’s but it was still a political piece of crap.

          • Jerrold says:

            I don’t know what it was like back in 1801, but when Dorothy Schiff was the publisher, the Post was indeed a respectable paper. Being a tabloid does not automatically make a newspaper a “rag”. Rupert Murdoch took it over in the 1970′s, and then it rapidly became a “rag”.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Until late in the 19th century, all newspapers were political. The New York Times’ idea of being neutral and placing itself above politics was considered new at the time.

            • rhywun says:

              When did that end? The Times has been anything but “neutral” in my lifetime.

              • Alon Levy says:

                It’s very pro-establishment, whatever the establishment is, but it’s not particularly partisan. The only really consistent bias it has is in favor of the biases of its owners and writers, which tend to be urban upper-class: tolerant in principle, but quite neglectful of minorities and the working and middle classes; socially liberal and distasteful of the religious right; economically right-wing, but supportive of bold government plans that sound like they could make history; and unabashedly pro-establishment on foreign policy. It’s not really partisan, in the way the NY Post or the SF Chronicle is. Even its op-ed writers are a mix of liberals and conservatives. The editorials are usually written by good-government liberals, but nobody really reads them – the op-ed pages are where the action is.

  3. Mitch45 says:

    There are a few more abandoned stations outside Manhattan as well, such as Myrtle Avenue on the Brighton BMT line, closed in 1959. Once the Myrtle Avenue el was cut back, there was no need for this local station anymore, as DeKalb Avenue, a much larger express stop, was nearby. Then you have the partially closed facilities – the abandoned lower level of 9th Avenue on the West End BMT (closed 1975 with the end of the Culver Shuttle service), the abandoned lower level of the 42nd Street station on the 8th Avenue IND (now demolished to make way for the extension of the (7) line) and the lower level of Bergen Street on the IND Brooklyn line. Then there’s Dean Street on the Franklin Avenue shuttle, closed in 1995 due to lack of patronage and vandalism. There is no trace of that station today.

    • bob says:

      So while we are listing things, I’ll mention the PATH (H&M) station at 18th St.

      And don’t forget to look out the windows at the closed stations in the Metro-North tunnel north of GCT on your next trip.

  4. Scott E says:

    Are these spaces being used for anything today? With all of the signal modernization, security and communications modernization, etc. they should be able to use the space for something. It’s cheaper than acquiring above-ground real estate.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      At the three stations Ben mentioned (Worth, 18th, 91st), the actual surviving platform space is tiny, and they no longer have above-ground entrances. With other, much larger stations nearby, it is not really practical to put anything there.

      Some abandoned stations, or at least parts of stations, have been put to good use. The lower level at the BMT City Hall station is a train yard. The abandoned platforms at Bergen Street are a storage area.

      • I know that 91st St. has an above-ground access point that hasn’t been bricked over yet. There’s a grate on the ground on both sides of Broadway with, I believe, a staircase or ladder under it. I’m not sure about the other ones, but access is hardly up to code.

      • Scott E says:

        Tiny is a relative term. When you see restrooms converted into telecom rooms (Wall Street 4/5) or employee lockers on the platforms (Chambers St 2/3), you realize that a lot can be done in small spaces. Half a platform is plenty of space for storing extra brooms or light bulbs — or maybe even an elevator shaft.

        • Marc Shepherd says:

          But I don’t think the MTA has been acquiring above-ground space for brooms and light bulbs—your original premise. Unless they are running out of space for that stuff, abandoned stations that attract vandals, have no security, and are not accessible from the street, are poor storage areas.

      • Zvi Rosen says:

        I remember going by 91st street on an express train on one of those weekends 6-12 months ago where they had all trains running express going north above 72nd due to construction at 96 on the new station house. I was shocked to see temporary lights on in the 91st street station and men at work – they were using it for what looked like a staging/storage area for the construction at 96. So 91st is being used, at least a little.

  5. What was the name of the station where the Transit Museum is now?

  6. wayne's world says:

    It would be great for the Transit Museum to do an exhibit of photos and memorobalia from these stations.

    • Think twice says:

      They had one to that effect at their Grand Central Terminal annex. The exhibit was a retrospective on the work of Heins & LaFarge, the architectural firm that designed all the original IRT stations.

  7. Donald says:

    I would love to see these stations (what’s left of them) and get in there and photograph them. It be great to get into the built but never used South 4th Street station in Brooklyn, ever since I found out about I’ve been obsessed.

    • Russell Warshay says:

      If the current home of the Transit Museum was ever returned to revenue service, I’ve wondered if the S 4th St shell could be used as a new home for that museum.

      • Justin Samuels says:

        The only way I could see the Court Street station being restored to revenue service is if they built the full length second Avenue subway, AND decided to connect the Ind fulton line to the second avenue subway. A new tunnel could be built under lower Manhattan, and if it connected to the Fulton Street line, THEN it would make sense to use Court Street for revenue service. As things currently stand, since Court Street is close to Hoyt Schemeron and since it is the last stop on the line, it makes no sense to restore it to revenue service.

    • bob says:

      Years ago the Transit Museum did a tour that went into some of them. If you’re a member you could suggest repeating it. I’d go again. Every time I learn something new.

  8. SignalWatcher says:

    “No ceremony marked the events as various stations faded into subway lore.”

    Maybe no official ceremonies, but I bet there were at least a few railfans on each of the last and first trains to stop at the closed and reopened/renovated stations, respectively.

  9. Boris says:

    There were no ceremonies or protests because in the 1950′s and 60′s people believed in progress. They saw a functioning civil society that involved people working hard for a fair paycheck to make their lives better. The TA (I would assume) promised longer trains, faster service with fewer stops, and delivered – maybe even on budget.

    I’m not trying to say that everything was rosy back then. I’m sure those decades had their share of patronage, corruption, scandal, and special-interest backroom deals. But overall, the feeling was “things will get better in the future if we inconvenience ourselves a little now.” Of course, once the dream of a better future shifted from better trains to suburbs and cars, city residents were left embittered. And now nobody trusts anybody and fights against change, not for it.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It’s not just that there was corruption. Even when it was delivered as intended, the change in the 1950s created the urban renewal and Vietnam War disasters. Project housing was supposed to clear slums, usher in a new era of upward mobility, and improve living conditions; instead, it created entrenched ghettos. Villages surrounded by barbed wire were supposed to catapult Southern Vietnamese into the modern world; instead, they created sympathy for the Viet Cong.

      The problem with any technocracy is that the technocrats are woefully ignorant of anything outside their narrow scope of expertise. Once they’re ignorant, they try to cover it up with lies. Watergate, the riots, and the Vietnam defeat happened when it was no longer possible to hide it.

  10. Russell Warshay says:

    Let us not forget the legend of the 76th St. Station.

  11. Kai says:

    What I find even more interesting are closed exits and sections of existing stations. Check out the Grand Street mezzanine section of Metropolitan Avenue (G): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rober-/3370192343/

    • Donald says:

      I would love to see that closed off section in person. I ride the G everyday and have taken a peak up the closed off stairs and saw in amazement what looked like (now confirmed) a full mezzanine.

  12. Kai B says:

    One night I encountered an open gate on the Grand Street side. I walked up the stairs, looked down the mezzanine, but didn’t dare to go any further.

    Basically the police station didn’t used to be full width and so you could walk by it, similar to Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Here’s what that looked like, not all too long ago: http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/show?918

  13. Margaret Duffy says:

    I remember the West 91st Street station on the IRT very well, although I was a child when it disappeared. Both it and the 96th street station had the original old covered entrances of metal with glass ceilings. There was a Woolworth’s store right next to the 91st Street entrance on the West Side of Broadway. When the trains were lengthened it did seem silly to retain the station, since the express/local stop at 96th got the new entrance at 93rd and the 86th street local station was just a few blocks away (I’m not sure if that has a second, northern entrance or not, since I lived in the 90s). There was some sadness about the closure, but not much. There was a bit of anger at the destruction of the covered entrances, however. Previously, the stations never got flooded in rain or slippery in snow because the stairways were covered, not open to the elements. But no one protested in those days. Though, to be fair, there was usually a bottleneck at the entrances on rainy days, as people stopped to open or to close their umbrellas. This was the same era that the neighborhood was being destroyed by “urban renewal”, which tore down entire blocks of decent housing in addition to some that was not so good. People were more inclined to accept the decisions of government and assume that they were based on good reasoning and had good intentions. Protests came later, after people began to distrust government, due no doubt to the spectacle of the repression of civil rights marches, to the Kennedy assasination and the conspiracy theories that it gave rise to and to the Vietnam War.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] as editors of the Hidden Tracks column, we would be remiss if we did not point you to an excellent blog entry on the history of station closures and the contemporaneous press’ reaction to such closures.  [...]

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