An interesting museum showcases underground New York
The New York Transit Authority has made great efforts to clean up and upgrade subway trains and stations — in Manhattan, at least. Stations’ new artwork includes replacement tiles in “subway white,” but new new graphics and designs relate to what’s above-ground now. Also, some platforms have been refloored, graffiti has been curtailed, elevators now make many underground train platforms accessible, and security issues have been addressed. Any improvements to this century-plus-old system that hauls millions of riders a day in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of subway cars and buses is to be applauded.
Still, it is difficult, as a rider, to ignore the considerable downside to the New York subway system experience. Peeling (and sometimes leaking) ceilings, chipped paint, ubiquitous litter, pools of standing water between the rails and the occasional rat do are dispiriting. So are squadrons of wary but bored-looking police officers (I counted 17 on Broadway line platform at 6:00 p.m. this evening) and glum riders who never make eye contact with one another.
The subway was not always a literal and figurative pit. It was once the pride of New York. It is still possible to see glimpses of the subway’s elegant past. The fancy brass tok
en booth cages have given way to heavy Plexiglas booths and transit card vending machines. Yet some stations still boast elegant terra cotta signage and on some routes, trains rattle past ghostly, abandoned stations. Most spectacular of all are the Gustavino Vaulted Ceilings in the City Hall Station (right)
, fabricated by a company whose projects included work on the US Supreme Court Building.
The New York Transit Museum
in Brooklyn Heights has opened a convenient gallery annex
at Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. It’s open fromn 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends. It’s worth a visit — and the price is right: free.
Until July 8, the gallery is showing an exhibition called “Architects of the NYC Subway, Part 1: Heins & LaFarge and the Tradition of Great Public Works.” Extensive captioning, historic photographs and diagrams tell the story of the subway, but what I liked best was the terra cotta, seen upclose and not high on a wall or through a grimy subway window. The terra cotta was cast and fired by the like of “Maker Unknown” (the Hay Street Station plaque) to Rookwood
(Wall and Fulton Street stations).