Wednesday, December 17, 2008

South Ferry Station

"It’s not the cry of the dodo bird, but it’s about to vanish forever," wrote the New York Times last week, "and it goes something like this: 'Passengers, you must be in the first five cars in order to exit at South Ferry.'

"It is the cry of the No. 1 subway train conductor. Hundreds of times a day for decades--sometimes garbled, sometimes virtually inaudible, sometimes ringingly clear--it has serenaded downtown-bound straphangers as they approached the line’s terminus at the tip of Manhattan: the anachronistic, 103-year-old South Ferry station, where the truncated and sharply curved platform has room for only half the cars on the train. But one day next month, the last cry will die upon a conductor’s lips as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority opens a new South Ferry station directly beneath the old one."

a sign that will soon vanish

I rode the #1 to South Ferry this weekend to hear the conductor's cry for the last time. Sadly, I got the garbled, inaudible version, but I did get to run from car to car at Rector Street, the conductor pointing out the open window with a gloved hand, saying, "This car, this car."

I took some shots of the soon-to-be sealed platform. Its replacement, according to the Times, "will be spiffy and a bit sterile," like "a new hospital wing." As goes the rest of the city, hushed under a stark, iPod-white blanket of cleanliness. 2nd Ave Sagas has a full slideshow, revealing decorative glass and stainless steel--because everything in the city now has to look like a condo, like a Cemusa, etc.

The old South Ferry platform is grimy, curved, and foreshortened, wreathed in safety chains beneath a low ceiling on which ancient rosettes and figure-eights still blossom in their peeling paint. On the walls, dating back to 1905, terra-cotta plaques show a man working the tiller of a sailing vessel, navigating between blue sea and blue sky, a cornucopic festoon above his rigging.

What will happen to the old platform's details? Will they be entombed like the beauties of buried City Hall? Or dislodged and framed as artifacts in a museum?

A century from now, will anyone bother to save, or even worry about saving, the plain black-on-white lettering of the new South Ferry?


Ken Mac said...

A century from now the only thing left to pay tribute to the New York we love will be our blogs. So better put it in your will to keep paying the webmaster!

zincink said...

I used to pour sweat in the summer waiting and waiting. Us ladies used to have to watch our heels get caught in that yellow contraption that moves closer to the train so we don't fall through..

bye bye south was fun watching everyone run to the first five cars.

L'Emmerdeur said...

Like zincink, I take exception to your views on the modernization of the subway system.

Having seen the glory that is a modern subway system in Athens, with the massive, climate-controlled platforms, marble floors and wide escalators, I can tell you more such stations would be a joy.

However, I do agree that the artifacts from the old stations should and must be preserved. In Athens, as they were digging the tunnels, they would stop every few feet so that archeologists could remove countless ancient artifacts. They then created displays in the various stations for these artifacts, turning many stations into miniature museums.

I can't see why something similar couldn't be done here.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, short platform fans, the 145th Street station on the 3 train is still a 5-car stop. And the conductor's instructions to move to the front cars (which typically begin around 116th) are almost always inaudible!

So make the scramble up to Harlem; the MTA has no plans to lengthen the platforms but you never know... if a terrorist attack struck Upper Manhattan money could fall out of the sky for such a purpose.

Anonymous said...

beautiful post, Jeremiah - BN

Anonymous said...

interesting read, however the last line annoys me. Of course no one will be trying to save the tile with the generic South Ferry words. But they will be trying to save all of the other artwork int he station., which is much more impressive than a small terracotta boat covered in grime. You make it as if the entire new station is a waste simply because no one will want to save the name plate, regardless of what the new station has and the old station lacks.

Earl Grey said...

I really can't understand why the design committee wouldn't simply use some of the old stations features in the new station. It would be so easy to just move the old terracotta, and beautiful bronze artwork to the new station in a tasteful pastiche of styles and history. This way the most interesting parts of the old station would live on not just in a museum removed from their original context, but would continue to fulfill the originals artists intent. The new must not necessarily destroy or ignore the old!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Earl Grey and wondered as well what would happen with all the great tile. They withstood 100 years of commuter traffic pretty darn well. I wonder how the new white station will look in the next 100.