Thursday, September 24, 2015

Visiting New York's Oldest and Newest Transit Stations

On Sunday, Elliot and I decided to visit New York's newest subway station — 34th Street-Hudson Yards — the 7 train's farthest outpost on Manhattan's West Side. The terminal just opened this month, and it's the city's first new station since 1989 (that was the year that an obscure patch of New York called Roosevelt Island got subway service).

But we wanted to give our visit a twist. Before going to Hudson Yards, we'd try to find New York's oldest train station.

It wasn't easy. Many of the original subway stations have been abandoned or replaced. After some online sleuthing, I figured out that the oldest remaining "transit structure" is located at or around the Van Siclen Avenue station on the J-Z line in Brooklyn. Now, this isn't a technically subway station; it's an elevated platform. But the structure is roughly 130 years old.

Courtesy of the NYC Subway site:
The portion of the el from Pennsylania Avenue (3 blocks east of Alabama Avenue) to Van Siclen is unrebuilt, mostly cast iron el structure dating back to 1885, the oldest remaining transit structure in the city. Van Siclen was the terminal of the original el; remnants of a three-track terminal/turnback portion of el is visible just east of the station. The following section, from Van Siclen to Crescent Street, dates to 1893.
So Elliot and I took the F train to the L, and then got off at Livonia Avenue. I figured we could walk from there to our destination. Unfortunately, I got my Van Siclen stops confused (there are stations by that name on the 3, the C and J-Z). So we walked a good distance through gritty East New York before I found the right spot.

At last, we reached the J-Z Van Siclen station, which may or may not be New York's oldest transit station (it's at least adjacent to the oldest stretch of track still in use). As I photographed the scene, a guy shouted the F-word repeatedly. (Ear muffs!) I'm pretty sure I was the only transit tourist in the neighborhood.

There's not a whole lot to recommend the Van Siclen station. It looks like most el stops in Queens or Brooklyn. It does have some attractive stained glass, but I don't think that dates from the 1800s.

We took the J back into Manhattan, switched back to the F and then to the 7. Along the way, Elliot saw a beer-swilling man throw up in the train.
"Maybe he's allergic to something, Daddy." 
"You could say that."  
Finally, we reached the sparkling new Hudson Yards terminal. It's an impressive sight, especially after hanging out in a rusty el station across town.

The station is gleaming and white, with touchscreen displays and gorgeous mosaics decorating the ceiling.

Most amazing: It has a functional bathroom! (Okay, the paper towels were already gone, but at least it didn't smell like urine.)

Elliot's verdict (and mine): The newest station in New York trumps the oldest.

Score one for progress over nostalgia.