Just like the rest of New York City, our 115-year-old subway system consists of many layers, each of which provides a glimpse into a sliver of the city’s history. However, even abandoned underground spaces don’t stay neglected for long.
While some of NYC’s old tunnels and stations seem to have been neglected for good, many are reused—like the abandoned tunnel below Central Park that became part of the Second Avenue subway—and repurposed, as graffiti canvases, art galleries, party spaces, or even a VIP entrance to one of New York’s most luxurious hotels.
Read on for the history of 10 of the city’s most intriguing abandoned tunnels and stations.
1. Track 61, Grand Central Terminal
87 E 42nd St
New York, NY 10017(212) 532-4900
Track 61 is a special platform beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that allowed guests with private rail cars to have them routed straight to the hotel, where they could take a private freight elevator to enter the building. (Conveniently, the Waldorf was constructed directly above the tracks of the old New York Central Railroad, which connected the city to Chicago and the Midwest tracks.) Famous VIPs who used the entrance include World War I General John J. Pershing, who was the first to use the platform in 1938; President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used the entrance to help conceal his paralysis from the public; and Andy Warhol, who held an “underground party”on the platform 1965. The street-level freight elevator entrance is still located at 101-121 East 49th Street.
2. Myrtle Avenue Tunnel
The Myrtle Avenue Station, part of the Fourth Avenue BMT line servicing the D and N between the Manhattan Bridge and DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn, was closed in 1956 when the DeKalb station was rebuilt in order to reduce congestion. In 1980, artist and filmmaker Bill Brand used the station to create his own version of the zoetrope, an early stop-motion animation device. He installed 228 painted panels on one side of the abandoned platform and a slitted lightbox on the other to create Masstransiscope. Straphangers can see the 20-second “movie” today from northbound B or Q cars leaving DeKalb Avenue Station on the express track.
3. Old City Hall subway station
New York, NY 10007
City Hall was the first NYC subway station to open to the public in 1904, as part of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) system, and was designed by architects George Lewis Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge (who constructed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine). Rafael Guastavino (of Guastavino arch fame), and Gutzon Borglum (the sculptor who worked on Mount Rushmore, NBD), also worked on the station, which boasted spectacular arches, skylights, and even chandeliers. Service at the station was discontinued in 1945, when it was deemed impractical for lengthening by the IRT, and abandoned in favor of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge stop. Today, the New York Transit Museum offers tours of the station for its members, or you can catch a glimpse for free if you stay on the downtown 6 as it switches from the downtown to the uptown track.
4. Atlantic Avenue tunnel
130 Atlantic Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Stretching for a half-mile from Columbia Street to Boerum Place in Cobble Hill, the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel claims the distinction of being the world’s oldest subway tunnel—recognized by Guinness Book of World Records in 2010—and was once described by Walt Whitman as “a passage of Acheron-like solemnity and darkness.” Originally constructed in 1844 to improve street congestion and safety issues, the tunnel was sealed in from 1861 until Brooklyn local Bob Diamond rediscovered it in 1981. Diamond ran tours of the tunnel for the public from 1982 until 2010, when the DOT abruptly canceled his contract of use. However, those looking to catch a glimpse of the tunnel can see the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the its alleged coal room at Brooklyn Heights speakeasy Le Boudoir, where parts of the tunnel have also been incorporated into the bathroom.
5. East 18th Street subway station
Park Ave S & E 18th St
New York, NY 10003
The abandoned East 18th Street station was part of the first IRT subway system that opened in 1904 along the 6 line. The MTA closed the station when they started a platform extension program in 1948, and decided to lengthen platforms at 14th Street and 23rd Street instead. You can catch a brief glimpse of the station from the 6 (and the 4/5 if a local train isn’t passing by) between 14th and 23rd Streets. Though now, as Untapped Cities reports, the station is covered in graffiti, its original incarnation possessed a glass ceiling and decorative elements designed by Heins & LaFarge, who also designed the City Hall Station.
6. South 4th Street subway station
Broadway & Union Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11206
This station was originally planned as part of the South Fourth Street Line, a key part of a 1929 plan that would have linked Williamsburg to Manhattan with two separate tunnels and four tracks beneath the East River. However, World War II halted the construction before track was ever laid. In October 2010, street artists Workhorse and PAC unveiled “The Underbelly Project,” an expansive underground street art exhibition inside the station. According to the New York Times, which received an exclusive tour of the project, the exhibit displayed work from 103 street artists from around the world, who worked on their pieces during the night over the course of 18 months. Today the station has been abandoned once again, but a film on the Underbelly Project is coming sometime in 2019.
7. West 91st Street station
Broadway & W 91st St
New York, NY 10024
Located a few blocks from the 96th Street Station on the 1/2/3 line, the 91st Street Station was another casualty of platform extensions, closing in 1959. You can see the station today while riding the 1 train, and the 2 or 3 if no other trains are in the way. In an illuminating 1999 New York Timesarticle, writer Andre Aciman got to visit the station and observed: “The platform was filled with trash: broken beams, old cardboard and a litter of foam cups. This wasn’t just the detritus of a subway station, but the leftovers of mole people.”
8. Worth Street station
Broadway & Worth St
New York, NY 10013
Located between Canal Street and Brooklyn Bridge on the original Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) line—underneath the sidewalk on the west side of Foley Square—the Worth Street Station was closed in 1962 during the city’s platform lengthening initiative (the Brooklyn Bridge station’s platform was extended north instead). The station—and nearby Worth Street’s—namesake was General William Jenkins Worth, a prominent leader in the Mexican War during the 1840s. People looking to pay homage to Worth today can visit his tomb at his Worth Square Monument at Broadway and 24th Street.
9. Nevins St, lower level platform
Brooklyn, NY 11201
The lower level of the Nevins Street station was initially constructed as part of a 1905 redesign of the IRT/Eastern Parkway line station, intended to allow connections on a Brooklyn-bound local track. Though track was never laid, the lower level was tiled—likely around 1918, according to Joseph Brennan of Abandoned Stations. In 2016, artist Phil America used the abandoned platform as the site for an art installation condemning American gun violence. There are doors that lead to the unused platform in the underpass at the Nevins Street stop today.
10. J/M/Z platform at Canal St
New York, NY 10013
This platform was closed when the MTA decided to reconfigure the BMT Nassau Street Line in 2004. They took this eastern pair of tracks out of service, and re-opened the south end of the station so the northbound end of the track could run into the western platform. According to photos taken by the LTV Squad (a group of NYC urban explorers), there’s also an old subway entrance down there, with a 1990s-era token booth intact.