A secret underground journey unveils a gem of New York’s past

Where might you expect to find Guastavino arches and skylights, coloured glass tile work, and brass chandeliers? It might not sound like a description befitting of an underground New York subway station, but that description about sums up New York City’s famous City Hall Station. But to get there, you need to be in the know. 

The station, located on a loop of track in front of City Hall, was the original southern terminal of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway, opening up in 1904.  The curved platform is only 400 feet long— a standard length for a five car trains of the time. And herein lay the problem that led to the initial closure of the platform. With passenger numbers increasing, longer trains were needed, requiring the lengthening of five-car stations. But little ‘ole City Hall Station was deemed impractical for lengthening because of its architecture and its location on a tight curve. And so, the station was abandoned in favour of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge station. City Hall Station was boarded up and closed on December 31, 1945. 

At the centre of the platform, an archway over  the stairs leads to the mezzanine. Among the features of the mezzanine is a long, wooden ticket boot. Casting your eyes skyward, you’ll see an intricate green, white, and tan tiling pattern on the ceiling, meeting in the four corners of the vault over the mezzanine. 

The mezzanine featured a no-longer existent wooden ticket booth and two stairways to the street. A complex green, tan, and white tiling pattern on the ceiling meets in the four corners of the vault over the mezzanine. 

The area also features unique deep blue and tan glass tile “City Hall” signs, which feature unique lettering, as well as a number of brass fixtures and wrought iron skylights. 

There were plans to reopen the station by the New York Transit Museum, but these were abandoned due to security concerns around areas near to City Hall. However the station did receive a revival in 2004—albeit very brief—as part of the IRT Centennial celebrations. The revival included the uncovering of the skylights, fixing and replacing the lighting, and reopening the stairway to the street. A VIP ceremony was held there on October 27, 2004, and for a few hours after, the station was open to the public once again. Since then however, it has remained close to the public. Unless you’re in the know, that is... 

While the number 6 train used to require all passengers to get off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop, you can now stay on the train as it makes its turnaround maneuver at the City Hall station, and catch a sneaky glimpse of New York’s jeweled past. 

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Photo © 2009 Fred Guenthe

Photo © 1996 Peter Dougherty

Photo © 2010 David Blair

From the collection of Charles A. Warren

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