Throughout New York City, ghost subway stations serve as a reminder of the past. We spy fleeting glimpses of 91st St. underneath Broadway between 86th and 96th, and eagle-eyed riders of the 6 train know where to look to see the forgotten columns of the 18th Street station. Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope is a vivid reminder of the Myrtle Ave. subway station, but the MTA won’t even officially acknowledge the existence of the South 4th St. shell above the G train’s Broadway stop.
Even as the allure of the past draws us to these abandoned or never-used subway stations, over the years, various groups have proposed more practical uses. The old Court St. subway station in Brooklyn, for instance, hosts the Transit Museum, and on-again, off-again efforts to turn City Hall into a Transit Museum annex died at the hands of security concerns even before the 9/11 attacks. Today, it is home to regular Transit Museum tours and serves as an attraction for those who ride the 6 train through the loop south of the current Brooklyn Bridge station.
Every now and then, some plans emerge to make use of abandon subway stops, and those plans generally consist of fanciful renderings that go nowhere. We can talk about underground theater space and art galleries or restaurants, but throughout the world, abandoned subway stations continue to be just that. They remain forever abandoned.
The latest attempt comes from a Paris mayoral hopeful. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, currently polling second in her campaign, recently garnered worldwide headlines with her fanciful proposals to turn the Paris Metro’s ghost stations into something a little more lively. In conjunction with OXO Architects, her ideas range from implausible to impractical, but it’s hard not to find them alluring. OXO’s renderings all use the Arsenal Metro stop — a particularly tough station to reclaim since it is on an active Metro line — but the renderings include an underground swimming pool, an art gallery and an auditorium. At the least, it has people talking.
Amusingly enough, OXO’s appeal to such romantically Parisian uses of the Metro rests on an analogy with New York. On their website, they write, “At a time when New-York is talking about the ‘Lowline’, why couldn’t Paris profit from its underground potential and invent new functions for these abandoned places?” The Lowline, of course, remains an idea, unfunded and unsupported by the transit agency that owns its planned space. Still, though, as OXO notes, “More than a century after the opening of Paris’ underground network, these places could show they’re still able to offer new urban experiments.”
So just what does NKM and the architects have in mind? They summarize: “To swim in the metro seems like a crazy dream, but it could soon come true! Turning a former metro station into a swimming-pool or a gymnasium could be a way to compensate for the lack of sports and leisure facilities in some areas. A theatre on a disused platform could be an amazing venue for artists, choregraphers or dancers to perform, in an outstanding yet familiar setting. Why not open a night club in the Arsenal station? Close to La Bastille, a vibrant neighboorhod, it is the perfect location to party in the heart of Paris without the risk of disturbing the neighbors.”
NKM has explained her thinking on the proposals. For those of you, like me, who cannot read French, she has said she wants to convert seven of the 11 Paris Metro ghost stations into community spots. She herself went exploring two decades ago because “it was too tempting,” and she notes that “magical” atmosphere underground. I understand her sentiments entirely.
It’s hard not to find these ideas appealing even if the odds of them becoming a reality are slim. We dream of past station we never saw in service, and we dream of ways to bring back what was once built for productive uses. The City Hall station in New York remains something amazing to see while others flash by in the blink of an eye. Maybe one day, the public can appreciate abandoned infrastructure; today, we’ll just enjoy these renderings instead.