Apr
15

Remembering subway passageways lost to time

By

A glimpse of the long-shuttered pedestrian tunnel underneath 6th Ave. (Photo courtesy of flickr user newpennstation)

Everyday, thousands of New Yorkers destined for Midtown exit the 34th St./Herald Square station and walk north along Sixth Avenue. Most do not realize it, but they are tracking the path of an underground complex that ranges north from 35th to 40th Sts. and connects the Herald Square subway station to the 42nd St./Bryant Park stop. That passageway, closed for nearly 20 years, is just one of the many secrets the subway system hides right before our eyes.

This passageway dates from the construction of the IND, and it originally opened, as the Municipal Arts Society recounted, in 1940. A piece from the May 4 New Yorker that year introduced the city to the tunnel as a work in progress:

It’s a passageway running from Thirty-fifth Street to Fortieth, connecting with both the Thirty-fourth and Forty-second Street stations. The idea is that it will relieve congestion at these points by distributing passengers over a greater area. If you add the length of the station platforms to the length of the underpass, you have something impressive – a stretch of more than nine blocks, from Thirty-third Street to north of Forty-second. There will be a catch to using this as a summer promenade, however. There will be turnstiles at the ends of both station platforms, so it will cost ten cents to make the entire distance. The arrangement should nevertheless be a boon to adventurous strollers in the summer of 1941…At the south end, once you’re through the turnstile, you will be able to wander on indefinitely underground: through territory of the BMT, the Hudson & Manhattan terminal, Saks-Thirty-fourth Street, Gimbel’s, the Pennsylvania Station – a whole world in itself.

For years, the passageway served as a short cut away from the crowds on 6th Ave., but as the subway system fell into ruin, so too did these less-than-secure areas underground. Eventually by the 1980s and early 1990s, homeless people outnumbered commuters, and long, dark passageways were hallmarks of the unsafe subways. Junkies and pushers sprung up in area that bred graffiti and saw nary a cop – or station agent – patrolling the grounds.

Resembling what we might see in a movie today, these tunnels were ominous, and in 1991, after years of police complaints, disaster struck in the form of a horrific rape. A 22-year-old woman from New Jersey was sexually assaulted in that 6th Ave. tunnel on a weekday afternoon in March, and her attacker used construction equipment to shield the crime. The MTA’s reaction was swift. They barricaded that long tunnel and offered a mea culpa. The authority had kept open the passageway despite police requests because they feared a public outcry from homeless advocates. The crime though tipped the balance.

A now-shuttered passageway between 7th and 8th Aves. at 14th St. (Photo via NYCSubway.org)

That now-forgotten tunnel under 6th Ave. wasn’t the only casualty of an unsafe and unpatrolled system. Throughout the system, the MTA shuttered various isolated crossovers and passageways that many deemed to be unsafe. “Although it may be inconvenient for some people to walk the long way around,” Beverly Dolinsky, then of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council, said, “I think most riders won’t mind because of the increased feeling of safety.”

Included in those closings were a walkway outside of fare control that connected the IRT stop at 14th St. and 7th Ave. with the IND station at 14th and 8th; free connections between the uptown and downtown platforms at 28th St. along the 6 and 23rd St. on the R; various staircases at the C/E station at 50th St.; and assorted understaffed areas in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Few of these passageways and staircases have reopened in the intervening twenty years, and most have been lost to the vagaries of time and subway history. That Gimbel’s tunnel is but a memory from another era.

Today, the subways are safer than they’ve ever been in part because the more dangerous high-crime areas have been off limits for two decades, and yet, that fear always lurks in the minds of New Yorkers. With station agents set to be eliminated, many wonder if we’re in for a repeat of the shiftiness of the the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, new technology and innovation – cameras, more efficient police beats – make the subways safer, and maybe one day, the MTA, with the right investment project, can reactivate these old passageways and restore lost transfer points.

In fact, Vornado is proposing to do just that. In a sweeping plan that would overhaul the Herald Square-Penn Station area, the real estate company has called for the reopening of the Gimbel’s tunnel. Their ambitious transit renovations would reconnect the 34th St./Herald Square complex with the 7th Ave./Penn Station stop, and instead of a dual fare at either end of the tunnel, the connection would be free. This underground dream that would see 34th St. resemble the Rockefeller Center are a long way from reality, and for now, these various passageways shuttered throughout the city remain the ghosts in the subway machine.



Categories : Subway History

49 Responses to “Remembering subway passageways lost to time”

  1. Jay says:

    Great post. Curious as to whether there is a method in place that the public can use to petition the MTA to open long shuttered entrances, tunnels, etc. My home station is Franklin Ave on the C and ive noticed the painted over tile indicating there once was a entrance/exit at Classon ave. Wondering if enough riders ask, we can get it reopened.

    • Andrew says:

      Send an email to the MTA. It can’t be all that expensive to reopen an existing entrance. The hardest part is probably relocating whichever department has taken over the real estate. The more people ask, the more likely it will be.

    • AlexB says:

      An entrance to Classon at that station would be very useful. Franklin is so close to Nostrand.

  2. Rhywun says:

    The city economy is heading for a repeat of the 70′s – crime can’t be far behind.

    • Al D says:

      Disagree. There a multitude of social differences that make this unlikely. Just because crime spikes a little doesn’t mean we’re back to the bad old days. We are far from it, so just relax.

  3. Russell Warshay says:

    I’m not sure if it is wide enough, but how about turning it into an underground strip mall? That would generate revenue, and get the benefit of that tunnel back.

  4. Scott E says:

    From the 1991 NYT Article: “In the heart of midtown Manhattan, stretching from 34th Street to 42d Street, there is a little-known subway passageway used by as few as 400 people a day walking between stations or dodging bad weather.”.
    It was little-known when it was open? Maybe lack of knowledge about it (which would increase crowds) made it more dangerous. Also, it doesn’t seem particularly useful, especially without a midpoint entrance/exit.

    “Included in those closings were a walkway outside of fare control that connected the IRT stop at 14th St. and 7th Ave. with the IND station at 14th and 8th…”
    Odd, considering the 14th/7th IRT connection to 14th/6th remains open.

    “…various staircases at the C/E station at 50th St.”
    One of these former entrances now houses telecommunications equipment. It would be tough to find space to move it to reopen the entrance. At least the space is put to good use.

    I’ve often wondered about the winding downtown out-of-system underground corridors that connect the 4/5 Wall Street stop, the J/M/Z Broad street stop, and (via the Chase bank building) the 2/3 Wall Street stop, as well as the Equitable Building on Broadway. Maybe it’s the neighborhood, the cameras, or the customer service intercoms that make it safe, but it’s still a bit eerie walking through there around all those blind turns.

    Anyway, I’d love to see a connection between Penn Station ands Herald Square. It goes a long way towards unifying transit systems (rail, subway, PATH)

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      Odd, considering the 14th/7th IRT connection to 14th/6th remains open.

      It makes perfect sense. The 14th/7th to 14th/6th connection always had more use, because there is a PATH station at 6th Avenue. There are L stops at both 6th and 8th, but a rider at 7th Avenue is more likely going east than west. Also, there are several other places where a 1/2/3 rider can transfer to the A/C/E, so a transfer at 14th St. was not especially important.

      I’ve often wondered about the winding downtown out-of-system underground corridors that connect the 4/5 Wall Street stop, the J/M/Z Broad street stop, and (via the Chase bank building) the 2/3 Wall Street stop, as well as the Equitable Building on Broadway. Maybe it’s the neighborhood, the cameras, or the customer service intercoms that make it safe, but it’s still a bit eerie walking through there around all those blind turns.

      Those passageways are not MTA property, and they have never presented the crime problem that the MTA passageways did.

      • Scott E says:

        Actually the underground portions are unmistakably MTA property. They’ve got the same wall tile, mosaic signage, and customer assistance intercoms that you see throughout the system.

        The map at http://www.onnyturf.com/subway/ shows the MTA-owned part along Broad/Nassau and Pine streets. The western stub off off the Pine St. corridor connects to the Equitable Building, and the stub at Nassau and Cedar connects to the Chase building. The non-MTA connection is from Nassau/Cedar to William/Cedar, which is via the Chase building.

        • Marc Shepherd says:

          We are obviously thinking about different passageways…but in any case, the second part of what I said is unquestionably true: the financial district stations never had the same crime and homeless issue that the midtown and outer borough stations did.

          However, even downtown there are a few examples where passageways were closed. I am thinking, in particular, of a long winding exit from the J/M/Z Fulton Street station which came out a few blocks north of there.

      • Jonathan D. says:

        The reason the 8th -> 7th ave walkway is closed at 14th st is because of the renovation to the 8th ave complex whereby the tunnel no longer connects to the mezzanine. You can see the other end of this tunnel at the stairwell down to the L at 14th St by the fare booth. It opens up over the top of the stairs. It’s clear they could have decked out to the passageway had they wanted to, but it closed when this renovation happened (it is possible that they would have had to make the 7th ave station ADA to comply with the renovation at 8th ave and that this was cost prohibitive at the time).

        • The passageway itself closed in 1991 along with the other 14 passageways I mention in the post, but when the renovations were completed, they precluded restoring the passageway without future work.

        • Andrew says:

          Also, I don’t think this passageway was ever a free transfer.

          Both passageways were built when the BMT was extended west from 6th to 8th. The western one wasn’t of much use, so it was closed. I’m not certain, but I think it was closed well before 1991.

          • Bob Olmsted says:

            Bob O says:

            When the MTA decided to implement a free transfer between the 7th Ave subway (1/2/3 trains) and the 14th St Line (L train) in 1978 (I was involved), we had a choice of using the passageway to 8th Ave or 6th Ave. I argued for 8th Ave because it was a slightly shorter walk and one could board L trains and get a seat without waiting (its the terminal), rather than waiting on the platform at 6th Ave. The decision, however, was made for 6th Ave because the stair at the extreme west end of the 6 Av station was actually slightly shortly. But because there was a large piope in the stairway, it was (and still is)sealed off, so the walk is actually a little longer. The passagway is continous from 6th to 8th Ave and was built when the BMT was extended from 6th to 8th Ave in 1931, the last part of the dual system to open (along with Nassau St, which opened on the same day). Prior to the 1978 opening of the free transfer, none of the passageway was ever in the “paid” aresa.

            • Andrew says:

              Very interesting. Thank you.

              Another point in favor of 6th is that it also provides a connection between the 1/2/3 and the F. The 1/2/3 already connects with the A/C/E at Columbus Circle and Park Place/Chambers (although I don’t know if the Park Place/Chambers connection existed yet in 1978 – do you recall?).

      • Rhywun says:

        The passage in the Equitable building was closed for years after 9/11 – I’m not even certain which passages are open now, because every time an “event” happened anywhere in the world, hysteria would be whipped up here in NYC and random barriers would be thrown up everywhere. I don’t even bother trying to use those corridors anymore.

    • Jerrold says:

      “Also, it doesn’t seem particularly useful, especially without a midpoint entrance/exit.”

      Scott, I can remember (circa late 1960′s) occasionally using the midpoint entrance/exit, which was at 38th St. and 6th Ave.
      If you ENTERED at that point, there were signs with arrows pointing in opposite directions for the 34th St. station and the 42nd St. station.

      • Scott E says:

        That’s interesting to know. Growing up in New Jersey in the 70s and 80s, I didn’t really have much opportunity to ride the subway until adulthood. The article that this post linked to didn’t mention this entrance.

  5. Kid Twist says:

    Opening the Gimbels passage would create a Midtown equivalent of the Fulton Street project, uniting multiple subway lines and suburban rail. It might also help free up some space on the crowded sidewalks of 34th Street. Can’t see a downside to this.

    One story I read about the Sixth Avenue tunnel is that it had a mid-point exit at 38th Street because the Sixth Avenue El, which the IND replaced, had a stop at 38th. So it was meant as a convenience to people who were losing service.

  6. Eric F. says:

    One way to avoid the homeless encampment issue would be to simply close off the tunnels for acouple hours each night and sweep the place of all people prior to the closure, i.e., pretty much what is done now with Grand Central. There could also be a rule that no one is allowed to remain in the tunnel for more than one hour, which would have a similar effect, if enforced. You probably couldn’t have such a rule at a station, but I don’t see why you couldn’t have such a rule in a passageway between stations.

  7. SEAN says:

    When entering the subway from Grand Central Terminal, there is an out of system passage on the side near the shuttle stairs. When entering the shuttle is down to the right & this out of system passage is to your left.

    There is a similar in system passage below that is better lit across from the shuttle between the staircases that puts you just inside fare control of the 4 5 6.

  8. bb says:

    In Osaka, Japan there are huge underground shopping complexes that connect the subway stations throughout a fair part of the central city. Basically mile long stretches of subterranean shopping corridors that connect the stations together. Beautiful cafe’s, elegant pastry shops, antique camera stores, basements of local dept stores, record stores and huge weather-resistant pedestrian plazas for relaxing. I’ve always wondered why the cash strapped MTA couldnt follow this model and rent out subway space for shops. They do it to a very small extent at a few stations in midtown (port authority 8th ave for example) but that just seems like an afterthought. I’d love to see food vendors, restaurants, drug stores, mom & pop shops, all that filling up these empty spaces.

    • SEAN says:

      Toronto’s Path network is similar to what you describe with shops & restaurants underground in pasageways connecting various buildings.

      In the US the closest networks exist in Chicago, “Pedway” & Arlington VA, “Crystal City Shops.” The Crystal City Shops network is quite extensive, stretching from 12th Street S along Crystal Drive southward to 23rd Street S. In adition there are several cross passages, some of wich go under US 1 Jefferson Davis Highway.

      Connections are avaleable to Metrorail, local & regional busses & VRE trains.

  9. AlexB says:

    Opening the Gimbels passage would be sooo convenient for getting to Penn Station. The sidewalks on 32nd are too narrow.

    The MTA should be able to use these passages to make money AND provide a convenience for its customers. Unused midtown real estate should not go to waste. Like other commenters have noted, turn these passages into strip malls. Rent the space, free up space on the sidewalk above, and provide more convenient connections. Many other cities have the equivalent of underground malls in their business districts.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      It is very, very difficult to add an underground mall in a space that was not designed for it to begin with. The passageways that Ben is referring to aren’t very wide. It’s not as if there is room for stores there.

      • Evan says:

        They’re doing it with the renovation to Columbus Circle. Do you think they can renovated the passageways and open up some of that space for shops?

        On the other hand…the shops in the 42nd St ACE stop are really not much to look at. I used to live off of the Roosevelt Ave stop and there is so much potential to make that station much nicer than it is. I wish the MTA would see that.

        • Marc Shepherd says:

          Yes, you can do it when you renovate, but visit the MTA website and look up how much it costs to rehab a major station complex like Columbus Circle. I like the idea of retail in stations, but the idea that it will help the MTA dig out of the current financial crisis is a fantasy. The numbers don’t add up.

  10. Tacony Palmyra says:

    In-system passageways are far less likely to become problems than out-of-system ones, but I don’t understand why it would have been so difficult to put fare control at the passage entrances to deal with these problems instead of closing the passageways altogether. I understand that not all of them were MTA property, but if they were so undesirable that they were closed, couldn’t the owners be convinced to give them to the MTA to take off their hands?

    And yes, closing passageways for an hour for “cleaning” every night would be a good idea.

    I use the 14th Street passageway b/t 6th and 7th often– it’s the only “transfer” between the F and the 2/3– and while there are occasionally people playing music for change or selling bootleg DVDs, I’ve only seen a homeless/transient person sleeping there once. Not sure if the MTA sends personnel through the passage to keep out encampments or what.

  11. Dale Ramsey says:

    Nice thoughts, but don’t hold your breath.
    As I recall, these were closed (including the passage from Broadway to Eighth at 50th) because of crime issues. As it is, the police avoid the subways as much as they can today, and the MTA does not have the dough to make the improvements or have someone to occupy or close or clean them at night. As every remaining tunnel fills with deafening buskers (using amplifiers that the nonexistent police are supposed to ban from use everywhere down there), maybe we are just as well off without them. Alas, the good old days!

    • Andrew says:

      Do you remember when the passageway from Broadway to 8th at 50th was closed? I definitely used it after 1991, and I think I used it after 2000, but I’m pretty sure it’s closed now.

  12. Jimmy says:

    Opening the Gimbel’s passageway would also be great for the SAS, as that like will have the Q that stops at Herald Sq. That would make it very easy to get from the UES to Penn Station.

  13. Clint Guyon says:

    Does anyone recall at the Times Square Station of the R/N/1/2/3 having the ability to walk directly to the Port Authority Bus Terminal without having to sluice down to the 7 mezzanine? It was very twisty and turny but i could swear it was all on one level… perhaps this now shuttered passage joined the current 8th avenue walkway just up from the 7 ramp, where there is now a little newstand?

    • Andrew says:

      There were two intricate sets of ramps between the upper and lower mezzanines, winding around the two escalator banks. They’ve been replaced with staircases.

  14. petey says:

    i have no memory of the 28th street passage on the 6. is it still visible?

    • Kai B says:

      Yes, in fact until sometime last year there was even a blank black sign above the covered pit where the stairs are.

  15. Mike Nitabach says:

    Awesome post! This is my favorite disused tunnel:

    http://www.brooklynrail.net/proj_aatunnel.html

    Years ago I went on a tour and it was totally cool.

  16. G says:

    I remember last year the tunnel at 34th street that you guys are talking about was cracked open by vandels. Is the tunnel behind the black glass? I took a glimpse and saw some stairs leading upstairs? It was extremely dark and littered with trash. It didn’t take too long for whomever to seal it back up. Is this the tunnel mentioned in the article? I wish I had a camera handy that day.

    On the downtown 6 exit towards the New York Life building on 27th street, there are two exits with spinning doors. One leads directly into the building and to the right of that exit there is another exit that is closed off. Anyone know where that leads to?

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  19. Lily says:

    One problem with the passageway between 34th and Bryant Park–I took it many times–is mentioned in another article. You’re actually walking up or down a hill and the sight lines are not good. After a few dozen yards you can’t see much ahead of you and the people in the stations you’re walking away from can’t see you either. This encourages crime.

    The passageway from Gimbels is quite narrow. Back when I used it, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was well traveled, but there was always a beggar right in the middle playing a musical instrument or whatever. Not someone a young woman alone wants to see in this city in a narrow corridor whose exits are far away. To make this passageway pleasant and safe-seeming, the TA would have to substantially widen it, install–and service, so they always work–CTV cameras, and then respond quickly to any criminal activity in the passageway. I would not trust a probably broken camera to keep me safe, or an indifferent police force that could be many minutes away in bad traffic.

    These tunnels are interesting, but the reality of NYC has hardly changed dramatically for the better, has it? At some point, public safety became very iffy in the city. If it wasn’t always; I’m not old enough to know if street crime was far less in, say, 1950. Has it improved so much recently that the city should spend millions on walkways that would be very difficult to keep safe for their users? I doubt it. I find these old stairs, tunnels, and closed subway stations fascinating, but they are relics of poor engineering decisions, not of some halcyon golden age of city living. Let them remain closed. We need clean, working elevators and functional exit gates (how about that one permanently chained shut at Rockefeller Center because the guy who runs the newsstand next to it wants it that way, thus forcing thousands of commuters to squish through only one open gate?). We don’t need these particular tunnels.

    • Tom Graves says:

      Lily -

      To someone who only knows NY today, where concerns of crime are never far away (despite the huge improvement since the 1970′s), it may seem hard to believe, but, yes, the subways and streets were far, far safer in the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. My mother went to school on the subway by herself in the 1930′s, and worked in the city until the mid 1970′s, and she often attested to the fact that young women returning home late from work didn’t give a thought to whether it would be safe to ride the subway or walk through the passages. Of course it was safe. That really started to change in the mid-1960′s with the middle-class flight to the suburbs and drastic deterioration of the subway infrastructure. The closed passageways can be used again if they are cleaned up, lighted well, and regularly patrolled and monitored by cameras, but knowing the sloppiness of Gotham, these are big ‘ifs’.

  20. anonymous says:

    the gimbals passageway needs to be reopened for conviece sake heck the old maps don’t even show them and that inlise a problem how can people use them if they don,t know about them! which is why they were barly used. now with technology you can reopen the most important tunnels as metro cart only underground transfers and show it like that on a map.

  21. anonymous says:

    the gimbals passageway needs to be reopened for conviece sake heck the old maps don’t even show them and that inlise a problem how can people use them if they don,t know about them! which is why they were barly used. now with technology you can reopen the most important tunnels as metro cart only underground transfers and show it like that on a map.

    also see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v.....r_embedded

    and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzkiFA8dC3E

    for more info

  22. Someone says:

    If the subways are so much safer, they should reopen the 23rd Street R crossover and 28th Street 6 crossover, as well as the 14th Street 1,2,3 to A,C,E passageway and the Bryant Park-Herald Square-Penn Station passaeways

  23. db says:

    they did reopen part of the gimbals passageway under the penn hotel but not under manhatten mall yet the doors still there in the n,r station

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] writing about shuttered subway passageways lost to time yesterday, I mentioned briefly Vornado’s plans to reactivate the Gimbel’s passageway [...]

  2. [...] of sorts. (Who knew Steven Roth was such a fan of Stephen Millhauser’s Martin Dressler) But Kabak’s overview of these ghostly underground presences — left to the albino alligators and Mole People for the past couple decades — really [...]

  3. [...] upon a time, as I wrote last April, numerous passageways within the subway system provided for inter-station transfers. Most of these passageways were outside of the fare control area — meaning that the transfers [...]

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