New York Subway’s Beautiful Abandoned City Hall Station

Image by Salim Virji

Image by Salim Virji

With a recent post delving into the murky underground tunnels of London, it seems only right to mention a true gem from another great city’s subterranea – New York City’s long closed City Hall subway station.  From the very beginning, this station was envisioned to be the grand centrepiece of a new transport network, yet it has been largely deserted since 1945.  Come in and see…

To the platform; tour in progress (image by BenYankee)

To the platform; tour in progress (image by BenYankee)

The grand skylight (image by Salim Virgi)

The grand skylight (image by Salim Virgi)

City Hall, situated along what is now known as City Hall Loop, opened on October 27, 1904.  It was the original southern terminal of the first ever New York City Subway line, built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT).  Originally christened the “Manhattan Main Line”, it is now part of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line.

Ornate detailing (image by Salim Virji)

Ornate detailing (image by Salim Virji)

City Hall station is far more architecturally elegant than its contempories along the old IRT network, which tend to be more utilitarian.  The platform and mezzanine are adorned with skylights, coloured glass tilework and brass chandeliers.  The entire structure adopts Guastavino tile, a “Tile Arch System” patented in the United States by Valencian architect/builder Rafael Guastavino in 1885.  The result is self-supporting arches and vaults adopting interlocking terracotta tiles and layers of mortar to form a thin skin, with tiles following the curve of the roof – resulting in both awesome architecture and a robust structure.

Lights in the tunnel (image by BenYankee)

Lights in the tunnel (image by BenYankee)

Early photo from around the time of construction in 1904

Early photo from around the time of construction in 1904

But for all its architectural wonder, the station was more a decorative exhibition of engineering ability than a functional hub.  In reality, City Hall station was never very busy, compounded by the fact that it was built on a tight curve, meaning any attempt to lengthen the platform to cater to the needs of longer post Second World War trains would be a mammoth undertaking.  In time, it’s proximity to the far busier Brooklyn Bridge station finally sealed its fate.

Plaque listing the "Staff of the Chief Engineers" (image by BenYankee)

Plaque listing the "Staff of the Chief Engineers" (image by BenYankee)

While nearby Brooklyn Bridge station, at the opposite end of City Hall Park, provided both local and express services, as well as easy transfers to the Brooklyn Bridge streetcar and Park Row station on the elevated lines above, City Hall had served a meagre 600 passengers per day.  As a result, the city decided to close the station and on December 31, 1945 the last stopping train rumbled away from the tired platform.  To this day, City Hall loop is used as a turn-around for the Number 6 train, offering discerning passengers a glimpse of the “ghost station” as they rattle through.

Elaborate brick and tile design (image by Salim Virji)

Elaborate brick and tile design (image by Salim Virji)

In modern times, tours of City Hall above have included the old subway station in the “Beneath City Hall” packages.  Unfortunately, plans to reopen the station as a branch of the New York Transit Museum were stalled by the Giuliani adminstration in 1998 due to perceived security risks after terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.  As of 2006, tours began again although to get on one you must now be a registered member of the museum, reserve a place and pay in advance!

City Hall is perhaps the finest but certainly not the only abandoned subway station on the New York network.  Beneath the streets of that great city winds a labyrinth of tunnels and passageways, perhaps not as deep, but certainly as mysterious, as its older counterpart, London.

 
 
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