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City Hall is the original southern terminal of the first line of the New York City Subway, built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), named the "Manhattan Main Line", and now part of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. Opened on October 27, 1904, this station underneath the public area in front of City Hall was designed to be the showpiece of the new subway. The station is unusually elegant in architectural style, and is unique among the original IRT stations. The platform and mezzanine feature Guastavino tile, skylights, colored glass tilework and brass chandeliers. Passenger service was discontinued on December 31, 1945, although the station is still used as a turning loop for 6 trains.
In the years after the line's construction, increased subway ridership led to longer trains, and thus longer platforms, in the 1940s and early 1950s. City Hall station, built on a tight curve, would have been difficult to lengthen, and it was also quite close to the far busier Brooklyn Bridge station.
In addition, the new, longer trains had center doors in each car, which were an unsafe distance from the platform edge. At the South Ferry and 14th Street–Union Square stations, which had a similar problem, movable platform extensions were installed to fill the gap.
City Hall, notwithstanding its architectural grandeur, was never an important station. In its final year of use, it served only 600 passengers per day. The Brooklyn Bridge station, located a short walk away, at the opposite end of City Hall Park, was more popular, as it provided both local and express service, including trains to Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge streetcar terminal and Park Row station on the BMT elevated lines were above for easy transfers. At night, when City Hall station was closed, local trains continued to the loop at South Ferry.
Given the extensive renovations that would have been required to bring the station up to modern standards, the city decided to close it instead. The final day of service was December 31, 1945.
North of City Hall, the Lexington Avenue Line carries four tracks; only two tracks continue south. The local (outside) track on each side ends at a balloon loop beneath the express tracks. City Hall station is located on the west side of the loop. The southbound local track continues south next to the express tracks, and splits into two storage tracks and passes over the loop before ending.
In April 1995, federal grant money was sought to reopen the station as a branch of the New York Transit Museum, which occasionally ran tours of the station as part of its popular "Day 1 of the IRT" and "Beneath City Hall" packages. In late 1998, due to perceived security risks in the area around City Hall after terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the station was declared a "highly secure" area by the Giuliani administration. Plans for the museum annex were abandoned and museum tours ceased for several years.
On the surface, all that can be seen is a concrete slab inset with glass tiles, the skylights for the platform below. This patch of concrete is in the middle of a grove of sdogwood in front of City Hall, close to Broadway.
For the 2004 Centennial Celebration, one of the street entrances was restored (and presently resembles a modern station entrance), and the station was opened for the duration of the celebration. Otherwise, the station is now used only as an emergency exit.
As of 2006, tours of the station are once again being conducted by the staff of the Transit Museum, however at present tours are only open to registered members of the museum and require advance payment and reservations.
Despite being fairly obscure in the operation of the modern New York Subway System, the IRT City Hall station has amassed a few inspirations and cameo appearances within popular culture.
The references vary from replica sets to direct artistic inspiration.
- nycsubway.org — IRT East Side Line: City Hall (text used with permission)
- Abandoned Stations - City Hall (IRT)
- Forgotten NY - City Hall Station
- The IRT First Stations - City Hall