< Art, Culture of an Old New York Train Station
By Gena Bennett
15 September 2023

The first subway station in New York City was designed to be a masterpiece and was considered a "jewel in the crown" when it opened.

The trains in New York City's public transportation system, its subway, mostly run underground. Today, the main concern of subway designers is that their systems work correctly.

New York's subway opened in 1904. City Hall Station was one of New York City's first underground subway stations. Now called Old City Hall Station, it was built during a time when many public buildings and spaces were designed to appear majestic. The goal was to demonstrate that New York could compete culturally with great European cities, sometimes called metropolises.

FILE - Visitors take pictures during a tour of the City Hall Station, New York City, June 3, 2018.
FILE - Visitors take pictures during a tour of the City Hall Station, New York City, June 3, 2018.

"It was a statement that New York City had arrived at the level of the great European metropolises like London and Paris, Rome, Madrid...that New York City was taking its place as a world city," said Clifton Hood. Hood is a history professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York.

Inside Old City Hall Station, the top is not flat in shape but curved instead. The walls rise up to create a high, round shape known as a vault. Square pieces of glass, called tiles, shine. Some of the lights in the station are called chandeliers. These are beautiful hanging lights that hold many individual light bulbs and look like huge pieces of jewelry.

Polly Desjarlais is with the New York Transit Museum. She said she was "blown away" when she first saw the old station. She used words like "lovely, elegant and really unique space" to describe the station.

"I've heard [the station] be described as a celebration of curves, because there are a lot of curves. Everything is sort-of rounded," Desjarlais said.

But those beautiful curves are why the station is no longer part of the normal subway system. Its rounded platform cannot fit long trains.

"The platform at City Hall is really curved. It's a very, very tight curve, and the platform itself is just over 200 feet long. So, it's short," Desjarlais said. "As the subway got busier...trains got longer, and we added cars...We were growing those platforms and making them longer..."

Although it is no longer part of the subway system, Old City Hall Station is still being used. One train line, the No. 6, uses the Old City Hall Station to turn around. And while the public cannot enter the station from the street, the members of the New York Transit Museum can see the station a few times a year at a cost of about $50.

Over the years, there have been ideas to make the old station a restaurant or a place for travelers to the city to visit. However, security concerns put those ideas to rest. Today, the unofficial way for the public to see the old station is by taking the No. 6 train and staying on after the last stop. Then, the train turns around at the Old City Hall Station, and riders will be able to see the majestic space.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Dora Mekouar reported this story for VOA. Gena Bennett adapted it for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

masterpiecen. a work of outstanding art

jewel in the crownexpression something that is the best among similar, often costly or beautiful things

majesticadj. having or showing extreme beauty

curvedadj. a smooth, rounded line or shape

bulbn. an electric device that produces light

platformn. an area where people stand to wait for or enter and exit a train

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