Image via Business Insider
Imagine this: You walk out of Port Authority after a long bus trip, and need to find your best friend’s apartment at 383 Madison Avenue. As you take your phone out of your pocket, a commuter with no patience for dawdlers rushes past you, bumping your arm, causing your phone to fall and smash into smithereens on the sidewalk. So what do you do? Luckily, there’s a mathematical formula that will help you estimate the cross street of any address in Manhattan, and all it requires is a bit of mental math.
“Sky Reflector-Net” by James Carpenter, Grimshaw Architects and ARUP, is the largest single work ever commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. Image: Patrick Cashin
The New York City subway system is beaming with amazing art installations–from colorful mosaics to the “Sky Reflector-Net” at the recently opened Fulton Center, which also boasts a new digital arts program on 52 screens. Of course, the subway system today is worlds apart from the one in 1970s (remember the images of graffiti covered subway trains?). But over the years, one group within the MTA has made our ride more imaginative–MTA Arts & Design (formerly known as MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design)–has slowly but steadily amassed an incredible underground Art Museum spanning across all five boroughs, pumping an artistic energy into the subway system.
As MTA Arts & Design approaches its 30th anniversary, Untapped Cities had the opportunity to talk with Sandra Bloodworth, who has been the director of MTA Arts & Design since 1996. Her latest book, New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design has just been released. She graciously talked about various topics including the early days of the organization, opportunities and challenges that have evolved over the years and bringing public art into New York’s public transit. The interview was conducted by Catherine Mondkar and Bhushan Mondkar and will be presented in four parts in the coming weeks. We begin the series by talking about the origin and evolution of MTA Arts & Design.
Herald Square seems packed full of retail, department stores, and office buildings today, but there’s a large apartment building at the corner of 34th Street and Broadway that was once the Hotel McAlpin. At its completion in 1912, it was the largest hotel in the world with a Turkish bath on the top floor and two gender-specific floors. Perhaps most of note was the Hotel McAlpin’s restaurant, the Marine Grill, for its terra cotta murals and cast iron entrance gate. In fact, the restaurant originally had a different name but was renamed the Marine Grill, in celebration of the subject matter of the murals–major moments in New York City’s maritime history from Henry Hudson’s arrival to Robert Fulton’s steamship. Thanks to preservationists, the terra cotta murals and the entrance gate are now embedded into the new Fulton Center Transit Hub.
A Toyota Camry NYC Cab in Columbus Circle (Image via Flickr via Edmond Low)
The iconic yellow taxi’s of NYC have been an everlasting icon of the city since the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company began rolling them down NYC streets in the early 1920’s. In its almost 100 year history, the taxicabs of NYC have gone through as many changes as the city itself, something we previously documented in our vintage photo column. What has never changed in the minds of New Yorker’s, is its iconic color: the very visible yellow that only NYC taxicabs seem to have. What many New Yorker’s are not aware of is that, the color of the NYC taxicabs that roam the streets of NYC (really Manhattan if we are being honest here) have not been the iconic yellow some of us grew up seeing.
As riders of the New York City City, we’re all familiar with the rats and supposed mole-people, the trash and mold, and have come to ignore–or accept–the many unpleasantries of the NYC subway. What we often forget is that the MTA had originally planned for a ride on the subway to be a luxurious experience, as evidenced by the glorious (and decommissioned) City Hall subway station. By combining art and technology, New Yorkers back in 1904 had high hopes for their new underground.
The original Interborough Rapid Transit Company pulled in artists to create civic works specifically to enhance the subway experience. At the time of the international Arts and Crafts Movement, architects and artists designed ceramic ornament for subway signage. The signs not only announced the name of the stop, but planners also hoped that color, design elements, and eventually illustrations would be recognizable by non-English speakers so that they could orient themselves. Most of the tile designs were done by Heins & LaFarge (1901–1907) and Squire Vickers (1906–1942).
There are constantly additions being made by artists, local schools, and others, but we’re sharing with you some of our favorite original Arts and Crafts/Beaux Arts-style ceramics from around when the subway first opened in 1904:
Image via Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance
Freight barges aren’t something we think about all the time but did you know there’s a floating train barge that crosses the Hudson River twice a day? It’s known as the New York New Jersey Rail car-float operation and just last week, the Port Authority approved a $356 million contract that will upgrade the system. The current floats transport 14 train cars at once, an equivalent of 56 semi-trucks, but the new cars will be able to accommodate 18 train cars. By crossing the Hudson, the floats take trucks off the highways and give freight a more direct route between New York and New Jersey. (more…)