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Why the City Hall Station in New York was abandoned

The Big Apple has one of the most extensive and busy subway systems in the world. On average, about a whopping 5.5 million people use this way of transportation on a regular weekday!

With so many commuters, it doesn’t seem possible that there could be anything mysterious about the New York subway. And that’s where most people get it wrong! Hidden underground is one of the most beautiful and opulent stations of the whole New York subway.

Unfortunately, nowadays, very few people remain who have seen this station with their own eyes since it was abandoned long ago. Want to know why? Then how about we take a trip down the station’s memory lane? October 27, 1904, is an important day for New York City.

After all, its first underground line of the Interborough Rapid Transit system is finally getting opened, and isn’t it a reason for celebration? You have to admit that these days, you’d probably be more depressed than elated at the prospect of riding the subway. But don’t forget that we’re back in the past! People are thrilled at the new possibility of using a subway car instead of moving through the crammed streets of New York.

Smooth and fast underground trip? Give me two! No wonder on the very first day of the new transport system operation, more than 15,000 New Yorkers were willing to pay the one-nickel fare and have a ride on the first subway to open outside Europe. Oh, you should see these traffic jams at the entrances, with the police trying to organize all the visitors!

The opening day didn’t pass entirely smoothly. At about 6 PM, a fuse burst on one of the trains at 96th Street. And since the mechanics couldn’t figure out what the problem was, the train had to be pushed to 145th Street and left for repair. Surprisingly, it didn’t result in any insane delays. Passengers had to wait just 20 minutes longer. And anyway, the first official public train had to run only at 7 PM.

“The crown jewel” of the new transportation system

The southern terminal station of the line is the City Hall station, and it’s a sight for sore eyes. Situated almost directly beneath Manhattan’s City Hall, the station is rightfully called “the crown jewel” of the new transportation system.

The very first subway ride leaves from right here. Let’s have a look inside, shall we? As soon as you enter the City Hall station, your eyes get drawn to its graceful vaulted ceilings, supported by pedestals and arches, and emerald green tiling. Then you notice that the sun, which is coming through dozens of intricate skylights, is flooding the platform.

But the sunlight can’t get to the far corners of the station, and still, they aren’t dark! How so? Ah, I see! Delicate gilded chandeliers fill the rest of the station with electric light. Well, even having seen a variety of modern subway stations all over the world, I’m properly impressed! And I just can’t understand how it could become abandoned.

Why people stopped using this place

What could make people stop using such a masterpiece of a place? As with many things in this world, it’s a matter of practicality.

Why people stopped using this place
Why people stopped using this place

People have gotten used to commuting by subway and, focused on getting to work, don’t pay attention to the unusual tiling or exquisite furnishings. But what’s more important is that the station doesn’t have turnstiles, which makes it harder for people to enter.

On top of that, few people want to make the effort to get to the station, which isn’t located along the express track. And since the express train stops at the close-by Brooklyn Bridge station, only several short blocks away from City Hall, most passengers prefer to walk there to use the express service.

Especially since the Brooklyn Bridge Station is next to several streetcar stops and, of course, the famous bridge itself. And last but not least, train cars have become longer, and as a result, the curved platform the City Hall station is famous for can’t accommodate the new trains.

Also, the gaps between the platform and the train doors have gotten too wide for the passengers to enter and leave subway cars safely. To keep going, the station needs serious renovation, but the authorities seem unwilling to invest money in this project.

One more trip through time, and we find ourselves on the completely deserted platform of the City Hall station. It’s around 8 AM, and wait, isn’t it supposed to be rush hour? Oh, I see, it’s the year 1945, several months after the station was officially closed.

After all, it wasn’t bringing a profit since only 600 passengers a day used the station. That’s the reason for what we see now: dust floating in the sunlight, empty platform, the atmosphere of abandonment, mystery solved.

How to see city hall subway station?

But is it possible to visit Old City Hall Station nowadays? Yep, there is one absolutely legal way to see this mysterious place, and that is to take part in a special tour organized by the New York Transit Museum. But even so, that’s not an easy feat!

The legal way to see this mysterious place
The legal way to see this mysterious place

First of all, there are only a few tours to the City Hall Station a year. Then, you can’t get a ticket unless you have the MTA Transit Museum membership. But even if you ARE a member, you should be online and ready early in the morning on the day when the tickets go on sale.

Try to be as fast as lightning because Old City Hall Station tours sell out within hours. The cost of the annual museum membership starts at $40 for one person and $90 for a family with up to 4 kids.

Curious facts about the City Hall station

In any case, there are some other curious things you probably don’t know about the City Hall station! For example, one arched exit of the station used to lead to the basement of the Woolworth Building, one of the earliest American skyscrapers! It allowed office renters to go through a tunnel and get straight to their office building.

Unfortunately, this way is closed nowadays. During World War II, the skylights of many New York City constructions, such as the Ansonia Hotel or the original Pennsylvania Station, were tarred over due to safety concerns. And even though the City Hall Station was underground, it underwent the same treatment.

If you ever get to visit the station, pay attention to the skylights: some of them still have remnants of that tarring. In the mezzanine area, right above the platform, there used to be a beautiful, ornamented oak booth that sold subway tickets.

Unfortunately, today you can see it only in old photos. In one episode of the TV show “Person of Interest,” they made a replica of the Old City Hall station, and that’s where the headquarters of the team was. However, even though the green and white tiles were similar to the original station, the vaulting was significantly lower.

Besides, the subway sign read not “City Hall” but “IRT.” Before the station was open in 1904, there were organized inspection tours of the new underground line on wooden cars. In some photos from that time, you can see the Mayor of New York City George B. McClellan Jr., as well as contractor John McDonald, standing on a wooden platform.

Do you know about any abandoned subway stations or other mysterious places? Let me know down in the comments! If you learned something new today, then rate this article “Why the City Hall Station in New York was abandoned” and share it with a friend.

Credit: Bright Side

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