The Glamorous but Abandoned City Hall Station on the New York City Subway

Petar Djajkovski
Author: Julian Dunn – CC BY-SA 2.0

The City Hall Station was an example of great transit architecture, a showpiece of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. It attracted attention and admiration from the public and the architectural world as an outstanding example of this kind of structure.

City Hall Subway Station – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

City Hall Subway Station – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

 

Described often as the most beautiful subway station in the world, the magazine House and Garden even called it an “apotheosis of curves.” The world was abuzz with talk about the glamour and splendor of the station in the days after it opened.

NYC City Hall Subway Station – Author: Joe Wolf – CC BY 2.0

NYC City Hall Subway Station – Author: Joe Wolf – CC BY 2.0

A newspaper extract dating 28th of October 1904, a day after the station was opened: “From the moment the train curves into the station, it is obvious that this place is different. Perhaps its most stunning features are the Guastavino arches, which were also used by architects “Heins and LaFarge” at one of their other great monuments, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine; there is not a straight line or support column in sight.

The station is alive with color, with natural light from the vault lighting in front of City Hall upstairs pouring into the station, through the three leaded glass sections above the tracks, and the oculus atop the mezzanine.”

City Hall Subway Station ceiling – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

City Hall Subway Station ceiling – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

 

City Hall Station was opened to the public on December 27th, 1904 and more than 16,000 people bought passes for the rides. There were so many people in attendance that every single police officer of the New York force worked there through the day and night.

City Hall Subway Station passage – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

City Hall Subway Station passage – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

New Yorkers were called to join the parade and celebration by ringing bells and blowing whistles. For some time, the station was also known among New Yorkers as the “City Hall Loop.”

City Hall Subway Station ceiling arches – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

City Hall Subway Station ceiling arches – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

In the end, it was the station’s unique design that brought about its end. New, longer trains were introduced to the New York underground and while other stations could be lengthened and widened to accommodate them, this was not the case with City Hall Station.

The columns and arches were too delicate and too beautiful to be deconstructed and reconstructed properly. With Brooklyn Bridge Station so nearby, it was not necessary to renovate City Hall Station at all. So on the 31st of December 1945, the last passengers left its platform and the station has not seen any passengers since then.

 

City Hall Subway Station plaque – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

City Hall Subway Station plaque – Author: Salim Virji – CC BY 2.0

About two decades ago, New York City began the long process of transforming City Hall Station into New York’s subway transit museum. This came to a halt as security became a huge concern after the September 11 attacks in 2001. After this, the idea of a museum was abandoned.

Most recently, public tours of City Hall Station are being offered by the New York Transit Museum, but these happen very rarely; only about 16 times per year. A museum membership is required and tickets cost about fifty dollars.

Early postcard showing the station c. 1913

Early postcard showing the station c. 1913

Although it is not open to the public eye, there is still a way to take a peek at City Hall platform. A New Yorker in the know shared this piece of information with us on how to do it: “They used to make you get off the train number 6 at the Brooklyn Bridge stop.

They don’t do that anymore, though, so you can do the loop, the turnaround with the cart. Now if you wait a little extra time on the train you can take a look at the City Hall Station as the train makes the loop.”