Home Subway History Photo of the Day: City Hall, pre-ribbon cutting

Photo of the Day: City Hall, pre-ribbon cutting

by Benjamin Kabak

City Hall Loop Station, November 15, 1903. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society

Earlier this morning, the New-York Historical Society posted the above photo to its Facebook profile. The still itself is from a day in November in 1903, but the society published it today because today is the 111th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the IRT.

On March 24, 1900, work began on the city’s ambitious effort to build the subway. Construction was to last for two years, but in the grand tradition of public works projects, the IRT did not open for service until 1904.

“The completion of this undertaking,” Mayor Robert Van Wyck said at the time, “will be second only in importance to that of the Erie Canal…This made our city the commercial and financial metropolis of the world, with a population of three and a half millions of people, for whose accommodation and comfort this rapid transit underground road is necessary. The contrast exhibited between the two periods is striking and instructive. De Witt Clinton saluted in 1825 a city of one hundred and sixty thousand souls. We speak to a population of three and a half millions. Then the slow stage coach was the only means of passenger transportation, now it is superseded by steam and electricity.”

Last year on this date, I fondly commemorated the groundbreaking. Today, the subway infrastructure still makes New York City possible. Where will we be in another 111 years?

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Jason March 24, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Truly a marvel.

David in NY March 24, 2011 - 4:52 pm

And the IRT Line may have been delayed two years and taken four years to construct, but how many more decades before the Second Avenue subway line is complete?
Modern day corruption and politics are truly pathetic…

Jason B. March 26, 2011 - 9:59 pm

Yes but overall infrastructure is much more complicated today, cheap labor isn’t available, and the city is much more developed and dense through areas of the SAS than the upper portions of the original IRT.

Alon Levy March 27, 2011 - 9:54 pm

Two years? The first plans were in the 1860s after the London Underground opened. The pneumatic tube line on Broadway was built in 1869.

Terratalk March 24, 2011 - 3:29 pm

Ben: Is it true that you can now ride the 6 train through the loop? [I remember when they would chase everyone off at the last stop at Brooklyn Bridge]

Benjamin Kabak March 24, 2011 - 3:33 pm

As long as the announcement says that the next stop is the uptown platform at Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall, you can ride around the loop. It’s quite a sight.

Bolwerk March 24, 2011 - 3:54 pm

Does it sometimes not say that?

Daniel Howard March 24, 2011 - 4:11 pm

Trains have to go out of service at some point, and the end of the run is a good time to do that.

Bolwerk March 24, 2011 - 4:17 pm

That area isn’t really a service location. That’s why I was asking.

There do seem to be two storage tracks there though, according to this.

Jason B. March 26, 2011 - 10:01 pm

It depends on the conductor though. I was kicked off a train where the next stop was the uptown platform when trying to show a friend the station.

Daniel Howard March 24, 2011 - 4:08 pm

HA! It looks a lot like that these days, too!


Thanks for posting this. 🙂


Daniel Howard March 24, 2011 - 4:13 pm

I would add that the Transit Museum hosts occasional tours of the City Hall station, and other cool things, for its members.



Jerrold March 24, 2011 - 4:37 pm

Construction was supposed to take two years, but it took four.
Today, taking only four years would be a miracle.

Peter March 24, 2011 - 5:07 pm

On November 13, 1899, the City solicited offers for construction of the subway. Contractor John McDonald won the job on January 16, 1900 with a bid of $35 Million, and signed a contract on February 21. Ground was broken on March 24, 1900.

Alon Levy March 24, 2011 - 9:26 pm

Off-topic: any reaction to the census’s severe undercount of the city?

BBnet3000 March 24, 2011 - 9:50 pm

Are you suggesting that the city with the most expensive rents in the country actually DOESNT have a 25% vacancy rate in huge areas?

The Census failed hard.

Bolwerk March 24, 2011 - 11:56 pm

I’m tempted to think it could have to do with Bush-era anti-census policy, but then I don’t really see why NYC would grow so quickly without a bigger glut of affordable housing. Dumping 10% of the population of a city somewhere between the sizes of Chicago and LA into the city is a big net change.

Have voter registrations, personal/household income tax returns, and other demographic shifts that should have been fairly easy to detect moved in a way that would suggest that kind of growth?

Alon Levy March 25, 2011 - 12:49 am

The ACS had the city growing 5% over the decade; the number of housing units rose by about 5% as well – 170,000 out of 3,000,000. The census’s 2% growth is what’s weird in this context.

Bolwerk March 25, 2011 - 10:39 am

It’s not weird if larger households were more likely to leave, and/or the new households in those apartments were more likely to be smaller or single-person — what you’d expect with a growing upper middle class and a declining working class. Not saying that’s what happened, but I would have expected to hear something that indicated it wasn’t happening. I haven’t had time to pull numbers myself, or really do much more than quickly read the NYT article, since this came out, but I would at least expect something like voter registrations to increase at the rate or faster than the in-migration population increase if it truly was broadly upper middle class types coming in — the narrative of much of the past decade. Likewise, legal immigrants are fairly easy to identify. That leaves illegal immigrants, which I can’t imagine the CB hasn’t gotten better at ignoring^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hspotting since 2000.

I suspect there was an undercount, of course, but I also just wouldn’t be surprised if the growth estimates were a bit optimistic too.

Alon Levy March 25, 2011 - 3:59 pm

The ACS says household size in the city increased from 2.59 to 2.67 from the 2000 census to the 2005-9 five-year estimate. This is consistent with the upper-class baby boom in Manhattan.

Anon March 24, 2011 - 10:59 pm

OT: once the Feds implement this I suppose the states can double dip

Adirondacker12800 March 27, 2011 - 9:09 pm

David in NY hinted at it. In 111 years the Mayor will be promising that the Second Ave subway will be on time and on budget… according to the new budget and construction timetable. First station should open in 2127….


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