A SUBWAY STORY
I met Gary, a NYC-certified guide, at the City Hall subway Station, next to the entry to the Station, also next to the David Dinkins building. The Station itself is an exquisite design in ceramic tile.
I immediately found Gary to be a friendly person. I was consistently extremely impressed with his detailed knowledge..spewing out dates and facts from 100 years like we spell the alphabet. I’ve taken several guided-tours in NYC. This tour was/is the best, most interesting, engaging and informative.
We spent 1/2 hr. inside City Hall Station. Gary told me that the City Hall Station is known for the largest rats in NYC as reported by track workers. At this Station, Gary explained a great deal of background before getting into the train.
I learned about the IRT, BMT, IND and that the letter trains are notoriously a scheduling mess. Gary was an excellent guide, patient with questions, extremely knowledgeable and friendly, as well as friendly with nearly all the workers.
And so, his tales began and our journey advance
The Great Consolidation of 1898 – The Formation of 5 United Boroughs
New York was not always comprised of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island. In 1898 New York City, Manhattan, was a separate entity from the other boroughs.
Four of the boroughs were English planned out when they seized control of the area and created the colony of New York. Their 1683 map includes the counties of New York (Manhattan), Richmond (Staten Island), Kings (Brooklyn), and Queens (Queens). The actual City of New York was limited to the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. The rest of what is now the city was a hodgepodge of rural villages and farming communities. Before long, the cities of New York and Brooklyn had emerged. Since the late 1820s there had been some discussion of a unified city, with the New York State legislature voting in 1857 that the region surrounding New York City should become one more efficient body. They attempted to do so by government vote, in order to improve harbor facilities and link the systems of trade, but distrust of large projects killed the plans. The consolidation movement was the work of politicians both local, city, and state, most prominently the president of the “Greater New-York Commission” and “The Father of Greater New York” Andrew Haswell Green. He was a member of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, which provided him a platform to push his views.
Most New Yorkers were excited about the idea, partially due to fear that Chicago would surpass the city as the nation’s most populous. Brooklynites and other residents of outlying areas were hesitant. Newspapers and civic organizations published worry about the loss of local control and a threat to Protestant homogeneity. But ultimately, the promise of lower taxes via the consolidation of city services—and the bragging rights that came with living in the nation’s largest metropolis—won out.
Out of the consolidation of 1898, a city of 3 million was born. The state legislature set up a special committee to draw up a new city charter; finalized in 1901. The charter outlined the roles of the mayor, comptroller, and Board of Aldermen. It also created the five boroughs and the office of borough president. The main role of the five borough presidents was to vote on the Board of Estimate, which oversaw budget and land use issues. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Board of Estimate was unconstitutional. The justices reasoned it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because one borough president got one vote, although the boroughs themselves had widely disparate populations.
Since then, the boroughs have had little governing power, and the borough presidents have become primarily boosters, working to organize nongovernmental civic groups and nonprofits. The boroughs are now mostly names on a map—and sources of overwhelming sectarian pride for New Yorkers.
Proponents of consolidation referred to it as the formation of a “Mighty City”.
Change in the composition of New York City’s 5 boroughs was nearly unraveled in 1993 when Staten Island held a non-binding referendum on the issue of seceding from New York City to become an independent city, which was approved by the electorate. The Staten Island secession movement was defused, or at least deferred, by the election on the same ballot of Rudy Giuliani as New York City mayor, who had campaigned on the promise that Staten Island’s grievances would be addressed. Giuliani’s narrow victory over David Dinkins was aided by overwhelming support from Staten Island. Two of the borough’s biggest demands were closing the Fresh Kills Landfill and making the Staten Island Ferry free, both of which have since been fulfilled.
During the mid-1800s, Manhattan became over populated and by 1865, lower Manhattan had become one of the most dangerously congested placed on earth. New York then was a haphazard town of 60,000 people packed south of Chambers Street on mostly Colonial-era streets. In 1869, Alfred Beach developed the Albert Beach Beach Pneumatic Transit, which was the first attempt to build an underground public transit system in New York City. Beach put up $350,000 of his own money to build a tunnel to create the Pneumatic Transit. It was developed as a demonstration subway line running on pneumatic power. There was only one tunnel train that held twenty-two people which only went one block. The transit was not powered by electricity, instead it was a pneumatic subway system. The only people who rode this transit were the middle and upper class. These individuals only rode the train for its novelty, but people were not convinced that the transit was safe. The subway line had one stop and a one-car shuttle going back and forth, it was not a regular mode of transport. It lasted from 1870 until 1873. One reason for its failure was that Boss Tweed refused to support the project. Although this transit was not successful this paved the way for the subway system even though Beach’s tunnel train had nothing to do with the construction of the subway system that was to come.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, plans were being developed to construct a subway system that required 1.7 million cubic yards of earth. Workers had to relocate gas, electric and water lines. On October 27, 1904, the subway system was inaugurated by the New York City Mayor George McClellan.
As businesses and populations grew, the subway system became heavily used and within four years, nearly a million people a day were riding the subway and the city had embarked upon a massive expansion program, adding six hundred miles of track in ten years, giving New York the largest transit system in the world. Dependent on the subway, New York had to install several hundreds of tracks, giving New Yorkers accessibility to take the subway in any part of the city.
“Boss” Tweed—was an American politician most notable for being the “boss” of Tammany Hall. At the height of his influence, Tweed was the third-largest landowner in New York City. Tweed was convicted for stealing an amount estimated in 1877 at between $25 million and $45 million from New York City taxpayers through political corruption, although later estimates ranged as high as $200 million. Tweed’s NYC influence and cronies stole millions from New York City; the construction cost of the New York County Courthouse, begun in 1861, grew to nearly $13 million—about $178 million in today’s dollars, and nearly twice the cost of the Alaska Purchase in 1867. “A carpenter was paid $360,751 (roughly $4.9 million today) for one month’s labor in a building with very little woodwork … a plasterer got $133,187 ($1.82 million) for two days’ work.
Unable to make bail, he escaped from jail once, but was returned to custody. He died in the Ludlow Street Jail.
THE BIRTH OF THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY
August Belmont, Jr. – The Founder of The New York City Subway
August Belmont bought the New York City Subway for $37 million, which is 1.1 billion today. Belmont had his own IRT subway car. It was custom made by the Wason Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts. The Mineola was wood paneled on the inside with a kitchen galley, servants call system, toilet (there were no sanitation regulations; the toilet did not flush. It was a hole direct to the subway track floor; use of the bathroom was discouraged while the train was not moving), electrical heating, a fancy desk for Belmont and a place for repose. Belmont used the Mineola to entertain guests and would go from the Hotel Belmont on a private track to Grand Central and on to his racetrack at Belmont Park. An agreement with the Long Island Railroad for transfers at Atlantic Yards gave him access to anywhere along the Eastern seaboard.
Belmont’s foul temperament was his main failing. The fat little banker was arrogant, pompous, mean-spirited and quick to anger. He sometimes flew into a rage when not treated with the dignity and respect he thought was due. Belmont passed away in 1924. His subway car was in storage and later sold for scrap. Belmont also loved horse racing. He created Belmont Racetrack, which he dedicated to his father.
The first subway opened in 1904 at City Hall. The fare was $0.05; it stayed at $0.05 for 44 years. The first Stations were downtown and City Hall. In 1918 during Belmont’s ownership of The New York City subway, the deadliest train crash in the history of The New York Subway system. The crash took place on November 1, 1918; at least 93 people were killed with over one hundred additional injured. The wooden IRT detailed en route to Prospect Park on an s-curve meant to be driven through the narrow tunnel at 6mph. The train was being driven at 40 mph. The first car fell into a concrete partition. There were no survivors in the first car.
The problems began early in the day with a motorman strike. Despite a flock of trained operators, the IRT went through with service anyway. An untrained dispatcher was forced to take over this particular train. The dispatcher, 23-year old Edward Luciano, never operated a train with passengers before. He also had the flu and was still recovering from the death of a child the week before. There was great confusion in the subway system during the strike. Luciano had trouble shooting several past Stations and several signal operators sent Luciano‘s train in the wrong direction.
Downtown Manhattan was the only developed area, only heavily populated due to business and trade. Downtown was becoming a booming area for Dutch traders and finance. It was at this time that the phrase Bankers Hours was coined. Later, the subway line and tunnel were extended uptown as the uptown developed. The original subway lines were the IRT (numbered trains) and IND; the IND was discontinued.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want the public to see him in a wheelchair. When he traveled to New York City, he arrived in a private subway car made especially for him. The subway car was bulletproof and ended under the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. When FDR died, the subway car was abandoned underneath the Waldorf Astoria and the tunnel was closed. The subway car remains there today.
City Hall Station was the first Station opened. It was designed grandly. White ceramic tile was used for the walls to create more light underground. . The IRT line ran from the gorgeous now decommissioned City Hall subway Station up to Grand Central Terminal, across Manhattan then north along Broadway to upper Manhattan.
Grand Central Station
The Station was once above ground.
Ceiling constellation is night sky when Cornelius Vanderbilt was born .. but it’s backwards. The chandeliers are 24k gold. It is unconfirmed, but it is said that the clock face above the information booth is opal; if true, it’s worth $21 million now.
There is an acoustic anomaly in the walkways of Grand Central Station known as the Whispering Gallery where one can face the ceramic wall in one corner and be heard by a person in the ceramic wall corner diagonally across. The legend is that this anomaly was discovered when a military man leaving for service was saying goodbye to his wife in one corner of the Station and his whispered loving goodbye to his wife was heard by a traveler in the opposite corner.
Times Square Station
Originally Longacre Square where people would go to reshoe their horses. It is the world’s most-used Station and takes in 66 million fares a year. The Knickerbocker Hotel once existed above Times Square Station; the Station was named “Times” Square upon The New York Times moving into the Knickerbocker building. The word ‘Knickerbocker’ was used to refer to a person of Dutch origin. Although the newspaper was only in this location for 8 years, it continues to be named Times Square Station.
There was once an underground stairwell in Times Square Station that allowed passengers to walk underneath the subway to the opposite side track. Later, the stairwells were closed, but eroding pavement shows signs of where the stairwell once was.
Manhattan is 2000 acres landfill. Al of Battery Park City is landfill. The word “Manhattan” is an American Indian word meaning “land of many hills.” Manhattan is actually a hilly terrain; the terrains drops 125th St. significantly.
The New York City Subway is the world’s largest metro system with the most Stations; it is one of the world’s longest with overall 236 miles of track.
Those using the subway today do so while breathing in very toxic air; the subway system is filled with “steel dust”. Steel dust is created by a subway car’s wheels grinding against steel tracks. The steel dust is constantly created.
The original subway Stations were built with ceramic mosaic-tile designs in each Station; the mosaic design reflected the Station area; for example, the Station to the Brooklyn Bridge has tile mosaics of a bridge.
There was once no Park Avenue, rather the street was called 4th Avenue. As the success of Grand Central Station’s grew under Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ownership, 4th Avenue became more populated as the population grew and moved further and further uptown. The street grew in prestige over the years, synonymous with the wealthy residents of the Upper East Side. In 1959, the New York City Council changed the name of Fourth Avenue that ran from 17th Street up to 32nd Street to Park Avenue South in order to please businesses which wanted a piece of the esteem now associated with Park Ave. This left only a very small area of the original Fourth Avenue. It still exists at the base of Union Square and runs down to Cooper Square at Eighth Street.
Knickerbocker and John Jacob Astor
The Knickerbocker opened October 23, 1906 by John Jacob Astor, New York City’s first millionaire, and quickly became a part of the New York social scene. The $3.3 million hotel contained 556 rooms and luxurious restaurants and bars on the first three floors with seating for 2000 for after-theater dinner. The bar became so popular that it was nicknamed “The 42nd Street Country Club”.
The martini was said to have been invented by the hotel’s house bartender in 1912. According to the story, one Martini di Arma di Taggia mixed dry vermouth and gin together and the mixture gained the favor of John D. Rockefeller. (In reality, Rockefeller was a lifelong abstainer from alcohol and tobacco. The actual origin of the martini has been traced to a different drink called “the Martinez”.)