6 Train Turnaround

During all of my visits the last dozen years or so, there was something I just had to see in New York, but for various reasons, couldn’t.  One thing that always held me back was the sight of NYPD officers in the subway; wearing Kevlar and toting automatic weapons in those queasy years after 9/11.  Another hold back was from fear of detection and a possible fine by Transit Authority officials.

In October 1904 the first IRT stations of the New York Subway opened.  The jewel was the City Hall Station, a short curved, ornately decorated station located underneath City Hall Park.  It was cramped even when it opened and when ridership spiked during the interwar years the MTA had to build bigger cars and more of them.  This created a problem at City Hall because longer cars stopping in the curved station created big gaps for people stepping off and on.  Also there were more cars per train and they overlapped the short, now quaint station.

Considered too difficult to remodel, and with the Brooklyn Bridge Station very close by, subway authorities closed it for good on the last day of 1945.  It has now, 69 years after closing, spent most of its life in existence as an “abandoned station.”  There were plans in the ‘90s to open it up as an arm of the New York City Transit Museum but that never happened.  It’s now sitting in stasis, only occasionally opening for the “rail fan” paid members of the Transit Museum, for walking tours.1083,img_32432

I’d heard about this mysterious place back in the ‘80s, that apparently there was not only a super-secret preserved station underneath City Hall; but also this:  the 6 Train, when it got to the end of its run, would actually turn around in there before heading north again.  I wondered if anyone other than TA employees ever got to go inside.

Probably not, because in all my years of riding the trains, the motorman would invariably come by and kick you off at the end of any line (it happened to me a couple of times, falling asleep after work).  Trains usually sat there at the end of their route for almost ten minutes, all doors open, disgorging the last few (sometimes reluctant) riders.

In visits after 2002, I schemed to find a way to stay on the 6 Train after it let off Brooklyn Bridge passengers.  In reality there was not a lot of scheming to do, I’d see a cop or a TA employee and dutifully step off.  I tried a couple of times late at night, thinking I could kind of sneak by.  The automated call “Next stop, Brooklyn Bridge, this is the last stop on this train” would sound and the doors would open.

It would go like this:  sitting, sitting, getting a little nervous….two minutes, then three, and then the motorman walks by on the platform, makes eye contact.  Damn, I step off again with a sheepish “oh was that the last stop?” look on my face.

Repeatedly thwarted, I kind of forgot about it, I let it go.  I bought an old City Hall postcard on eBay for a couple of bucks.  Then, sometime in 2013, I heard from someone that they’d stopped kicking people off at the end of the 6 Line.  Apparently it was too much hassle; increasing numbers of riders were trying to stay on and see the old station.  For the motormen and cops it became like herding cats.  Cops had by then stopped with the Kevlar and the advanced weaponry too.  It was all part of New York’s years-in-the-making transition back to relaxation.  Hearing all this, I vowed to try again my next visit.

Finally I found myself back on the 6 Train.  It was June of ’14, and I was psyched and ready to really do this.  Heading south, there was Astor Place, then Bleecker, Spring and then Canal Streets, almost there….”Next and last stop: Brooklyn Bridge City Hall Station” I heard.  The doors opened and everybody got out, almost everybody that is.  Three forty-something guys were sitting in my car too.  They had a map, I heard German accents, they whipped their heads around as the doors closed on the 6, then looked down again.  I was excited, I could share this experience with these guys who had apparently heard about this too and would doubtless appreciate a tour guide, a real local.

After all, I just love talking to people about New York.

I sidled up to them as the car lurched forward, squeaking and scratching its way towards, what was for me, unknown territory.  I asked them if they were here to see the station.  Without waiting for an answer I told them the station dated back to 1904 and was the oldest one in New York.  I wanted to make sure they had the right background info. They looked at each other, kind of bewildered, but with a friendly aspect.  The train squeaked and swayed in the dark.  One guy held up his map, wordless.  “I know!” I said, “Isn’t this cool!?”

While I dropped another transit factoid on my new friends I suddenly saw a dim light through the window.  We’d only been underway from Brooklyn Bridge a few seconds.  “Oh crap here it is!” I stood up, fumbling for my camera and managed to snap off two quick pics.  Years of waiting and all I saw was an indistinct blur of archways.  The Teutons were poring over their map, never once looking up.

And just like that it was over.  We went back into darkness and soon after ended up on the northbound platform of the Brooklyn Bridge Station.  Here are the pics I took….yeah, they’re not that good.


An arch, some lights

IMG_3713I missed it.  I missed it because I was babbling to these guys who, I quickly realized, didn’t know or care about the awesome station through which we had just transited.  Immediately thereafter I realized that, unless they were from a part of Germany that had been blown to bits by B-17s about 70 years before, “1904” just wouldn’t sound that impressive.  These guys were from the Old World; their houses may have been older than this station.

And I don’t think they didn’t understand a word of what I said anyway.  I was kind of pissed at them for about a minute.

The doors opened and they got out at Brooklyn Bridge, nodding to me and smiling as they left.  I wanted to cross the platform and get on the next turnaround train but this was New York, man, and there was stuff to do and places I had to be.  I decided to do it another day.

Well, I never ended up back on the 6 and before I knew it was back home in Atlanta.  Maybe next time, I thought, easy to think because anyone can do it now.  Next time in New York it’ll be at the top of my list.  A good look at the City Hall Station through the front window of the lead car, because even without the distracting Germans I found that the side view was not gonna be that great anyhow.  From the front window this is what I should have seen……..

View from front of train entering station

View from front of train entering station

My only words of advice for those who want to see the original City Hall Station, just stay on the train after the last stop south and don’t mind any lingering tourists, they’re probably just lost.

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