The City Hall Loop station on the Lexington Avenue IRT line was the original southern terminal station of the first line of the New York City Subway, built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, named the “Manhattan Main Line”, and now part of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. Opened on October 27, 1904, this station underneath the public area in front of City Hall was designed to be the showpiece of the new subway. It was designed by Rafael Guastavino.
Guastavino is historically important for his patented tiling system which is used in a huge number of architecturally important and famous buildings, which derive their flexibly vaulted spaces from his unique vaulting. In 1881 he came to New York City from Barcelona and his first major commission, of McKim, Mead, and White‘s Boston Public Library, made him known to every major architect on the East Coast.
In 1900, New York architects Heins & LaFarge hired Guastavino to help construct the City Hall station. The station is unusually elegant in architectural style. The platform and mezzanine feature Guastavino arches and skylights, colored glass tilework, and elegant curves that ran along the platform. It was lit by wrought iron chandeliers and three skylights of cut amethyst glass that allowed sunshine onto parts of the platform.
The curved platform is about 400′ long, which is the length of a five car IRT train minus the front and rear doors as was the IRT’s standard design for a local station when it was constructed. In the center of the platform is an archway over stairs leading to the mezzanine. On each side of the stairway, there is a glass tile “City Hall” sign, and a third is on the archway above the stairs. No other signs like these were placed in the other IRT stations of the era; the lettering is quite unique, as is the deep blue and tan glass tiling. The arched ceiling of the platform area has simple brass light fixtures along its length.
After the station opened on October 27, 1904, it became immediately clear that expansion of the subway system would be necessary and additional lines were built. The ever-increasing ridership eventually required the Interborough’s five-car local stations to be lengthened to accommodate longer trains, and so the IRT underwent an extensive program of station lengthening in the 1940s and early 1950s. The City Hall station however, due to its architecture and its being situated on a tight curve, was deemed impractical for lengthening. The new longer trains had center doors on each car, and at City Hall’s tight curve, it was dangerous to open them. It was decided to abandon the station in favor of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge station, and City Hall was closed to passenger service on December 31, 1945. The street entrances were sealed and the skylights covered over.
But, that didn’t stop people from seeing the station.
The track on which the City Hall station is located isn’t abandoned. The #6 trains pass through it on their way northbound, using the loop to begin the uptown bound route. These days a good-spirited conductor will allow riders to stay on the train after the last stop on the downtown-bound side of the Brooklyn Bridge station. The loop track is classified as a revenue track, and the newest announcement programs on the R142A subway cars announce at Brooklyn Bridge: “This is the last downtown stop on this train. The next stop will be Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall on the uptown platform.” A further announcement follows, warning passengers to remain inside the car at all times. The New York Transit Museum still conducts a few tours to the station per year.
I shot the below photos while on a tour of the station in December of 2009. The care put into the architecture was marvelous. If you’re in New York and want to experience something similar, check out the Guastavino-designed Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. You can also see the curvature of the station as well as the nearby Brooklyn Bridge station in the station plan after the jump.