Rehabilitating the Most Beautiful Subway Station in the City

02/15/2011 6:00 AM |

Many months ago, I watched a commuter at the Fourth Avenue-Ninth Street station chat with a track worker about the major-scale construction underway there. “You’re lucky,” the MTA employee shouted toward the platform. “When we’re done, you’re going to have the most beautiful station in the city.” But passengers who use this elevated F stop already have the most stunning station in the system—it’s just that decades of neglect and bad decisions have obscured its grandeur with darkness, grime, locked doors and corporate vandalism.

“When it was opened in 1933, the Fourth Avenue el station was a unique masterpiece,” Forgotten NY‘s Kevin Walsh wrote to me in an e-mail. Among other features, “it had an epic archway over Fourth Avenue and glass panes [that] allowed passengers to look up and down the avenue.” But by the time he got to know the station in the 1970s, when he would transfer there from the Fourth Avenue local as a high school student, it was already in the same poor condition in which it remains today. “Amazingly, the station hasn’t been maintained since then,” he wrote.

On his website, Walsh calls the station “The Masterpiece Nobody Knows,” citing features like the Art Deco stone work on its facade. “The girders that arched over the tracks from the platforms combined with sunshine streaking in from outside was almost reminiscent of European train stations and depots,” he writes. But when the glass that overlooked the avenue was frequently vandalized in the 1970s, the MTA decided to paint over them, forever after bathing the station in darkness. Half of the station was closed-off, while further neglect and apathy on the part of MTA officials allowed the station to descend into what the Brooklyn Paper routinely compares to a Turkish prison. What would it have been like to stand in the station in the 1930s? “No graffiti, everything was new, no dirt,” Walsh wrote, “and of course, the ability to look up and down Fourth Avenue.”

Late last week, the MTA announced it would open the long-shuttered entrance to the station on the east side of Fourth Avenue at a cost of $2.8 million. This is welcome news for safety reasons—Fourth Avenue is essentially a highway—but also for economic development: having an entrance on the west side of the street keeps pedestrians on that side, which translates into bustling business with blight across the street. The west side of Fourth Avenue between Tenth and Eleventh streets boasts a cute cafe, a liquor store, a laundromat and a salon. Across the street, shuttered storefronts surround a dry cleaner that often leaves half of its gates down.

I’m most thrilled to hear the east side will re-open for the sense of enormity it will restore to the station. But it’s not enough.

Here are five more improvements necessary to return the station to its illustrious intended state.