We Do New York: City Hall Subway Station Tour

Visiting the abandoned City Hall Subway Station has been high on the list of New York Things to do since E and I moved here. This year, days before E’s birthday, I discovered that tickets for a tour were about to go on sale. E usually blows me out of the water with birthday/holiday gifts, so I was excited to finally have an awesome gift in the works. The City Hall subway station was designed to be the crown jewel of the NYC subway, and it had vaulted ceilings and skylights, lovely mosaics and an ornate wooden ticket booth.  It was abandoned in 1945, when changes in the design of trains made continuing to use the short, curved platform unsafe and impractical. Nowadays, subway riders can catch a glimpse of the station as the downtown 6 train loops through it when turning around to go uptown, or you can go on a tour of the station with the New York Transit Museum (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite museums in New York! Vintage trains! That you get to hang out in!).

On Saturday, September 24, we gathered on the downtown 6 train platform at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station to wait for the tour to begin. It’s uncomfortably warm in the subway from April-October, so we were quickly annoyed by the heat and the grime and the noise down there, but what are you going to do. They gave us earpieces and radios so we could hear the tour guide on the platform.

And we waited. And waited and waited and waited. The tour was supposed to begin at noon, but the tour guide was late. At 12:15, they sent somebody above ground to call the guide. At 12:30, they said we could go to the abandoned City Hall station with the facilitator from the Transit Museum, which most of the group elected to do. She imparted what she knew about the station, but we didn’t have a formal tour — mostly we just hung out on the platform and took photographs.

It was disappointing to not get the full tour experience, especially given how pricey the tickets were (and, since the tour was only open to museum members, I had to buy a family membership as well), but the museum has said they’ll try to accommodate folks on their December tours. And, at the very least, the staff of the museum are to be commended for their flexibility and customer service. It wasn’t their fault that the tour guide, who I believe was independent of the museum, did not show up. Hopefully we’ll be able to attend the December tour and give a review of the tour content beyond just OMG THE STATION IS SUPER COOOOOOL. Which, if I haven’t said it yet, it was.

I don’t pretend that I am anything of a photographer (for some perspective, my camera is so old and crappy that my iPhone takes better pictures than it, like 90% of the time), but here are a couple snaps:

A view of the curved platform. Check out the chandeliers and skylights!

Skylight above the stairs to the ticket booth area. Instagram'ed, of course.

One of the reasons the station fell out of use: the huge gap between the car and the platform! When the station was first built, the trains only had entrances at the front and back of each car, but now there are doors in the center. We used a ramp to get from the train to the platform.