A Tale of Two Loops Update: South Ferry Loop closing soon!

After a combined 108 years of service, the original South Ferry loop station will close once again! Whether it’s tomorrow, Wednesday, or Friday, for that matter the station will close to make way for the replacement station which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. So today, I took a ride downtown to old stop for old times’ sake. Sadly I didn’t get on the Ferry services, the Governors Island and Staten Island Ferry, that are upstairs due to time constraints. While I will miss it’s eccentric nature, I will so not miss the screeching!

If you want to read the original blog posting click here

So long old South Ferry and thanks for the memories!

 

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Awaiting Departure

 

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Getting On

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Going to miss the classic tiles!

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Train Departing in 5,4,3,2…

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Pulling away from the past into the future

 

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Thought’s on Baseball and Birthday’s: Happy Birthday Jack (Jackie) Roosevelt Robinson

Today is the 98th Birthday of the late great Jackie Robinson. The first African American to play for a major league baseball in 1947. Recruited by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier, which was more an actual unwritten rule and custom due to the racial and social politics of the day, is still considered an momentous achievement in both sports and American history.

A few weeks back I made the pilgrimage to the Robinson’s grave. As a licensed tour guide for the city of New York and as a African American I felt that it was long time coming to pay respects. In fact the road that bisects the cemetery where he lies with his Mother-in-Law and son, was dedicated in 1997 for the 50th anniversary.

So with my good friend John who is in the process to tracking down luminaries of New York baseball we made our way to Cypress Hills Cemetery on the subway. In fact the station, also called Cypress Hills on the J/Z line, literally deposits you within steps of the front entrance.

To find the grave, ask the security guard at the gate for more detailed instructions but I did keep the map the cemetery provides and labeled the easiest route. Also bear in mind that the path’s are not labeled with their corresponding names on the map. If you follow the security’s directions carefully, you can find the site within 10 minutes.

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People have left behind baseballs and bats one I read came as far away as Nashville TN. 

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Follow the Yellow Brick Road?

You will also travel between the boroougs of Brooklyn where the Dodgers used to play, to Queens where the New York Mets, a team many Dodgers fan switched allegiances to after the rather devastating split of the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles. As recent as 2013, when the current Dodger team was facing strife, their were some old timers who gleefully wished for ‘dem bums’ to return.

The city has a few places that also memorializes Robinson such as the statue of Robinson and Pee Wee Reese from their ’embrace’ in Cincinnati and the hotel he stayed in where he got the call that he had been signed to the Dodgers. That hotel is located in Midtown Manhattan.

I will be updating this post in the coming days and to fill in those locations.

On a final note, Happy Black History Month.

My Holiday Tradition: The Nostalgia Train

Sorry for the long drought of writing, it’s been a busy few months and little to nothing to write about. This time though I’ve something that has been in the making for ages. It’s the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) annual holiday train.

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Train about to be turned around at Queens Plaza

The Arnines: A subway history.

This recent addition to the New York Holiday scene, consist of subway cars that date back to the 1930’s. The cars are know by their official names as the R-1 through R-9 series or arnines in subway buff speak.

They were 1,703 cars built for the Independent or IND system. The cars are the standard for every subway train design since then. Subsequent generations of MTA rolling stock can trace their design roots from car length, the amount of doors, ceiling height and even the seating layout, to these beauties. The cars can handle up to 228 people during the height of rush hour.

The cars ran from 1933 when the Eight Avenue Line, today’s A-C-E service opened until 1970 when the trains were finally retired due to old age. An overwhelming majority of the cars were scrapped but 19 have made it to the present day, a majority of which are still with the MTA. Eight of the cars are now in use for trip.

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Really Bright Interior! 

 

The consist is usually a combination of the following: 100-381-401-484-1000-1301-1575-1802. 100 is usually the lead car since it is the actual first car from the entire batch. 1575 which was re-done to look like it’s cousin the R-10, is usually in the middle of the pack and has a distinct light gray, gray-green and orange color scheme. The rest of the cars are painted green, although in historic photos, they were usually painted black.

 

 

 

Between their retirement and the centennial, the Arnines were used mostly for fan trips which were either open to the public or to exclusive members of the New York Transit Museum.

(203k, 1024x678)<br><b>Country:</b> United States<br><b>City:</b> New York<br><b>System:</b> New York City Transit<br><b>Line:</b> IND Crosstown Line<br><b>Location:</b> Smith/9th Street <br><b>Route:</b> Fan Trip<br><b>Car:</b> R-1 (American Car & Foundry, 1930-1931) 103 <br><b>Photo by:</b> Joe Testagrose<br><b>Date:</b> 10/30/1971<br><b>Viewed (this week/total):</b> 6 / 16857

Car 103 on a Fan Trip In Brooklyn. Photo by Joe Testagrose from nycsubway.org

The yearly tradition of rolling out vintage trains for the Christmas season dates back to the subway’s centennial in 2004.  In previous vintage runs, they were limited to just five cars. At the time they were running multiple trips on many lines and my dad and I only did one trip along Broadway N-Q-R-W line in Manhattan.

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Old Destination Signs 

Interest must have hit a peak because in 2007 the trips were restarted and moved to the Sixth Avenue Line were they run today between the 2nd Avenue-Lower East Side and Queens Plaza stations on Sundays.

Also a special Holiday jazz party on the rails is usually held on the 3rd or 4th Sunday depending on the schedule which is cool since you really feel like your back in time. People also get dressed up like it’s 1935 again!

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I see him every year with the same paper. 

 

So back in 2012, after years of not riding the train, I decided one Sunday to take it and I wasn’t disappointed. Since then it’s been tradition  for me and I’ve met friends and even been featured on someone’s blog when I dressed up one year. The trips also show a unique cross-section of New Yorker’s from train buffs, to classic clothing enthusiasts, jazz musicians and everyday people who want a break from the mundane. So while some look at the tree or the display windows I’m downstairs riding the arnines!

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Yeah that’s me two years ago in train car 1575 with it’s funky 50’s interior. I still have the outfit!

Tips and Schedule  

One round trip run time is just over an hour. The best stations to use are either terminal, Broadway-Lafayette Street, West 4th Street-Washington Square, 34-Herald Square, 42nd Street-Bryant Park, 47-50th/Rockefeller Center, Lexington Avenue/53rd Street and the former 23rd Street-Ely Avenue (now Court Square-23rd Street).

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Big fan of the split view at 47th-50th Rockefeller Center

I do not advise 14th, 23rd Streets and the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station stops due to their layouts which can prevent you from catching the train. They only have one so if you miss it you’re stuck. On the weekends, there is no direct service to get you from Queens Plaza to 23rd Street or even 5th Avenue/53rd Street to 23rd Street so plan accordingly.

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Louis Mendes, another regular really gets into the spirit  

The only time those stops could be used is on the first or last trips of the day. In regards to timing the first run leaves at 2nd Avenue at approximately 10:04 a.m. and the last tain leaves Queens Plaza at 4:44 p.m. but trains on regular service will have priority to leave the terminal stops first to avoid delays. So use the schedule provided by the MTA website as a guideline, especially when you are catching the train mid-route.

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Passenger

The best part is when the train goes under the East River in which the train kicks up it’s heels. All the windows and the walk through doors are opened so you really hear the noise and sounds of steel on steel.

The Jazz party is fun but if you plan to dress up try not to make it complicated it’s the most popular run and it gets very crowded, which makes the train very hot!

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Guitarists  

Cameras are allowed provided you don’t flash the train operator. Leave the tripod at home.

Pro Tip: The train usually stays at the 207th Street Yard in Upper Manhattan during the runs. So after the last run, listen to the announcer who will notify you of the route.

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Train heading back to the yard along the 8th Avenue Line 

The Nostalgia Train will run December 11th and the 18th. Due to Christmas and New Years Day landing on a Sunday they will not run the trains on those days. So take a ride if you can!

One Last Thing (or Two or Three) 

My good friend John and I usually find things to do so last week we went to the Brooklyn Museum to a very cool exhibit on Sport Photography called “Who Shot Sports” here is a link to his quick blog post which makes this one seem like a dissertation!

Also big thanks to the nycsubway.org who have been the repository of all things subway online when you can’t make it to the Transit Museum. They have thousands of pictures and articles on local transit history which is where I received some of my source material.

I’m not sure if I will post something in the next few weeks so if I don’t have a safe holiday season and see you in the New Year!

 

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Toot Toot!

A tale of two loops: City Hall and South Ferry, A ‘City I love project’

In this post about this great metropolis, I’m heading deep underground to two of New York City’s interesting subway stations; City Hall and South Ferry. The reason why they are interesting is because they are not exactly in a straight line.

In fact, they are loops.

The first is one of the most beautiful underground spaces in New York. The second station, while a bit simpler, has managed to last the test of time and even get a second life.

But first a throwback.

City Hall before opening day. image from viewing.nyc

It’s 1900 and the first shovel spade is dug into the earth in front of City Hall on March 24th of that year. The planned 9 mile subway line would stretch from City Hall up to the booming neighborhood of Harlem.

The City Hall stop was to be used for local trains running to Harlem and later on The Bronx. While express trains would continue to Brooklyn. If you are wondering why that was the case, consider the fact that Broadway is a very narrow street and it would have been expensive to dig a four-track subway under Broadway. They would have to widened the street which would have lead to the loss of valuable real estate and cost more money.

To convince people to go underground, the newly formed Interborough Rapid Transit company, hired the architectural firm Heins and LaFarge to design the tilework for City Hall and the other stations on the inaugural line. The firm, in turn, hired Rafael Guastavino and his tile company for the sole purpose of tiling City Hall.

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View of the ceiling

Guastavino is often referred to as a genius in his designs. Using tiles that were layered like a cake, Guastavino’s tiles were considered structurally superior to traditional Roman Barrel style Arches that required the use of large stones to support the arch.

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Guastavino’s tiles at work

It was a cheaper and by all accounts more attractive method of construction. While Guastavino tiles usually come in white or eggshell, the station has a beautiful green and orange poly-chrome tiles that are pleasing to the eye.

The station also has a Guastavino hallmark. Since the tiles are layered the ones that are not used for display would have have had groove like striations on the tile to place the grout. When Guastavino was in his workshop one day, a client for another job remarked that the pattern was perfect and it has been placed on almost every tile ever since.

The station is also a massive feat of engineering. The station alone sits on a 147 degree angle. This was done to accommodate the City Hall building itself and the former Post Office that sat on the southern edge of the park. The tracks also had to go under the express trains that were heading to Brooklyn.

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Inside the City Hall station

City Hall and the other stations on the line opened to the public on October 27, 1904. A ceremony was held at the station and as the legend goes Mayor George B. McClellan Jr., so intoxicated by controlling the train, he refused to give up the controls until the train reached 103rd Street, 7 miles away.

Passenger and guests of the ceremony were treated to not only the tiles but chandelier fixtures and skylights.

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Favorite piece of the station the Skylight

However despite the station putting on a good show for the 15,000 ticketed guests, the next day the station was nearly empty.

It would be the station’s fate for the next four decades until it closed to traffic on December 31, 1945, at 9 p.m. with little fanfare save for an obituary like report in the New York Times.

The average daily ridership was around 600 and the station closed early when local service was sent to our next location. The South Ferry Station.

They were other factors that lead to the closure of City Hall as well. The limited amount of space between City Hall and the Post Office building, the inability to expand the station and the aforementioned close proximity of the Brooklyn Bridge station lead to the stations rather small ridership.

The South Ferry stop is located near the Battery, a local city park. The Battery is where you pick up ferries either leading to the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island and now Governors Island. The area has long been a transit hub in one way or another when back in the day all of Manhattan’s elevated trains, the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 9th Avenue elevated trains all terminated here.

Elevated Station at South Ferry

The South Ferry stop first opened on July 10, 1905. Over the years a variety of services, from the original subway line to a mix of both the present day Lexington and 7th Avenue IRT lines. In 1918, after the 7th Avenue line was completed a second inner loop platform was constructed for extra Lexington Avenue trains at rush hour. After 1977, the station became exclusively a 7th Avenue station when a rush hour shuttle service and late night 6 train service ended due to lack of ridership and budget cuts.

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Tiles demarcating South Ferry in the Serif font

The inner loop station was known for only using the central door for passenger access due to the extremely sharp curve. To lessen the noise, the station was walled with only door slots.

The outer loop was also designed by the firm of Heins and LaFarge. Stations like City Hall and South Ferry used different color patterns or styles and different symbols to help riders on their journey’s. This was to help immigrants, who had limited command of the English language. A boat was to symbolize that one could get off and take the ferry.

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While, City Hall station remained closed and forgotten, South Ferry dutifully did it’s role in the commuting patterns of New Yorkers for generations. Unlike City Hall, which was too close to the neighboring Brooklyn Bridge station, which was connected to the elevated trains to Brooklyn, South Ferry had the Staten Island Ferry, which remains the most direct way to reach the borough of Staten Island without a car.

Over the years the IRT and subsequent transit agency’s that inherited the station didn’t really pursue any major changes to the station. Other than perhaps the occasional renovation or two, trains continued to screech around the curve.

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1 train returning uptown. Notice the gap fillers and the fences around the platform to prevent passengers from falling. 

Compared to City Hall, the South Ferry Loop stop had an altogether different fate. The American’s with Disabilities Act came in the 1990’s. Dictating that public facilities had to accommodate people’s with disabilities, it became clear that the station had to be upgraded due to it’s proximity to the ferry. Unfortunately, for the old loop an extension was not in the cards. Instead, a new station was built underneath the old one. This allowed for the connection of the ‘R’ line. A connection that was previously never attempted.

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Diagram of the South Ferry area with new station.

The new station, which opened in 2009, was equipped with the much needed elevators, a better ventilation system and a platform for the entire train. Compared to the original station however, the replacement left little to the imagination and looked very dull. One bright spot was a piece of the original fort wall was excavated and preserved for passengers to look at.

The old station was closed down and was used for storage of trains during non peak periods and for a time, tours from the Transit Museum. That all changed when an unexpected event gave the old loop station a second life.

Due to the already existing infrastructure at South Ferry, the MTA decided to dig deeper for the new station, however this leaves the new station vulnerable to major storms. Case in point Hurricane Sandy. It flooded the new station up to the ceiling and destroyed equipment needed to send trains into and out of the station.

The older station, while flooded, was surprisingly undamaged. The April of the following year the old loop reopened as a replacement until the new station is rebuilt from scratch, with the necessary hurricane proofing to prevent future service disruptions.

In a strange bit of irony, if the new station wasn’t built, the old loop stop would have borne the brunt of the damage.

So while Staten Island commuters have to contend with the screech for another year, I like the idea of looking at the old tiles all for the price of a subway fare.

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Platform View 

As for City Hall there are only two ways to get there either via a tour by the museum which requires full membership. Photography is allowed but it’s advised to be mindful about using flash photography and no tripods.

You can go to the Transit Museums website for more information.

The second option is to take the 6 train itself. Over the years the MTA has relaxed its ban on people staying on the train beyond Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. They only request that you stay inside the train as a safety precaution due to the sharp curve. Its fast but if your in town on a day that is not the tour it will do the trick. Try to go in the afternoon to get the skylight effect.

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6 train passing through. Here’s my failed attempt at long exposure shot.

As someone who has done both, the tour is worth the $50.00 due to simply because you’re in the station for at least 45 minutes and despite the noise you can appreciate the station’s full beauty.

While City Hall’s future is secured South Ferry’s third act is yet to be determined. It’s possible they might return to giving tours of the station but they will be one thing missing.

The screech.