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Thread: Bronx Railroad Stations

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default Bronx Railroad Stations

    Streetscapes | Bronx Railroad Stations

    Where Ghost Passengers Await Very Late Trains


    Westchester Avenue station, shown in 1915

    Westchester Avenue station

    Morris Park station

    The Morris Park station is now the brightly painted home of a gun club

    Hunts Point Avenue station in 1915

    THE Bronx stations of the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad are like a string of pearls — a very broken string. Some have been lost, and others are being slowly crushed by the boot of time.

    Built in 1908 and designed by Cass Gilbert, those that have not been demolished are near collapse, like the Westchester Avenue station. It is a sublime glazed terra-cotta temple, its little tragedy now exposed on all four sides with the opening of the new Concrete Plant Park.

    A dozen stations were projected in 1904, when the railroad began upgrading the Harlem River Branch from the southern Bronx up to New Rochelle. But not all were built and, in addition to Westchester Avenue, three survive today: Morris Park, Hunts Point Avenue and City Island, which is a ruined shell. (The historian Joseph Brennan has closely investigated the stations and has posted his research at
    Gilbert, newly minted as a starchitect with the 1899 commission for the United States Custom House at Bowling Green, got the job of designing the stations, and gave them widely different styles.

    The Morris Park station was chunky and low, with arched windows framed by brightly colored terra-cotta bands that also ran under the eaves. Oddly shaped iron torchiers gave it something of the feel of the Secession style as practiced contemporaneously in Austria, although Gilbert was anything but adventurous.

    That said, his Westchester Avenue and Hunts Point Avenue stations are particularly striking. At Westchester Avenue the station projects out over the tracks, and so floats on a frame of steel. At street level, high above the rails, the main tower is a little display case of glazed terra cotta, cream-colored panels set off by colored floral medallions, lozenges and crisscross bands in gold, azure and dark red.

    It is hard to decipher from old photographs and present conditions, but the portion over the tracks looks as if the terra-cotta panels were framed in iron straps. These must have been painted, but are now pure rust, giving the building a strange, skeletal aspect.

    The Hunts Point Avenue station, just visible from the northbound Bruckner Expressway, bridges the tracks from one side to the other, along the avenue. French Renaissance in style, it might have been the royal stable of a French king. The delicate copper roof cresting had spikes big enough to impale an ox, and below run lines of little scalloped dormers.

    In 1909, The Real Estate Record and Guide noted the “marked architectural beauty” of the new stations. John A. Droege, in his 1916 book “Passenger Terminals and Trains” (McGraw-Hill) noted that “the ordinary wayside passenger station is not the proper field for the architect who wishes to rival the designer of the Paris opera house.” But he reviewed Gilbert’s stations in depth, apparently with approval.

    The railroad overestimated the potential traffic, and service ended in the 1930s. According to an article in The New York Times, the railroad was losing $25,000 per month on Westchester commuter service.

    In the interim, various enterprises have come to rest in Gilbert’s little works. The battered Morris Park station is now a gun club, slathered in paint.
    The ground floor of the Hunts Point Avenue station, a raggle-taggle line of shops, has disappeared under a mini-tsunami of roll-down grates and store awnings. But the roof is intact, albeit intact like a Georgian mirror that fell off a wall. All the roof cresting is gone, and the dormers are awash in paint and tar.

    A trip to the Westchester Avenue station is worth the cab fare, in part because right next door is Concrete Plant Park, a combination green space and industrial archaeology project that runs along the Bronx River. Two sides of the station are visible from the street, and two sides are visible on the park side, for a 360-degree view of this train wreck of decay.

    On the street side, the terra cotta is somehow intact, if not pristine, and the chimney still stands, but the red-tiled roof looks like a nubbly blanket attacked by an avenging army of moths.
    On the park side, the colors of the terra-cotta facade are still bright, but whole sections have peeled off. The exposed iron strap work leaves the body of the structure looking like an architectural X-ray, about to collapse onto the tracks below.

    The New York Landmarks Conservancy has red-flagged the station on its online list of endangered buildings for at least five years. It is hard to imagine coming up with the millions necessary to repair this polychromed temple, and even harder to visualize a realistic use.
    The conservancy’s Web site calls its condition “ruinous,” just one step away from what appears to be its final destination, ruined.

  2. #2
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Architects Imagine New Future for Bronx's Cass Gilbert Station

    by Sara Polsky

    The folks at SLO Architecture—they of the floating umbrella dome and a New Practices New York Award—are hoping to gather support for a new proposal: a makeover for the South Bronx's Westchester Avenue Station, designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1908. The station is currently in a state of extreme disrepair, and Amtrak, on whose Northeast Corridor the building now sits, has thought about demolishing it. SLO Architecture would prefer to turn the building into an entrance to Concrete Plant Park. One of the architects tells us: "Our proposal seeks to create this entrance to the park--with the idea also to provide much needed restrooms to the Park--while transporting part of the historical structure (the part that sits on top of the tracks) over to the Bronx River, within Concrete Plant Park, to become an amenity for the waterways and the Bronx River Greenway." The architects will be speaking about the proposal (shown above) at the Center for Architecture on Thursday.

    Here's the station now, as seen from the Lower Bronx River:

    [Photo by Chris Kannen via Fitch Foundation.]

    And here's another, wider rendering of the proposal:

    (click to enlarge)

    Official website: SLO []
    SLO Architecture coverage [Curbed]

  3. #3


    I don't care how bad shape it is in, there is never an excuse to take the wrecking ball to a Cass Gilbert building. Amtrak is a bunch of heathens.

  4. #4
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    On the Rails in North NJ


    Quote Originally Posted by BPC View Post
    I don't care how bad shape it is in, there is never an excuse to take the wrecking ball to a Cass Gilbert building. Amtrak is a bunch of heathens.
    They get 1.5 Billion a year to operate 3,700+ miles , compared to the 80 billion Highways and you have stations that end up like this... Hunts Point , Parkchester , Morris Park , and Co-Op city will be restored as part of a Metro North Expansion later this decade , its possible that they might add and restore Sunnyside , City Island , Pelham Manor and South Rochelle Stations which would do a wonder for businesses in those areas and city Island would have a quicker way to Midtown.

  5. #5
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    100 Years Later, a Railroad Landmark Is Revived


    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    Mercury, the swift god of travel, appears on the facade of the New York,
    Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the Bronx, as he does at Grand Central Terminal.

    You already know. A notable New York City train station — ornamented with a handsome figure of the god Mercury, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, once daunted by bad fortune but handsomely renovated not long ago — has reached its centenary.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    Entrance arcade.

    What you may not know is that the centenary was last year.

    Because this isn’t a post about Grand Central Terminal. It’s about the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building at East 180th Street and Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx, built in 1912. The railroad went out of business in 1937, but its distinctive home serves as the entrance to the East 180th Street station for No. 2 and No. 5 trains.

    And it received a kind of 100th birthday gift last year: a $66.6 million renovation by New York City Transit.

    “It’s not often that we get the opportunity to do work at a facility that has the historical and architectural significance of the East 180th Street station,” said Thomas F. Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, the arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that is in charge of the city’s subways and buses. “There was a collective effort to achieve the objective, to restore it to historical significance.”

    The collective effort was led by Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects, which designed the renovation in association with Weidlinger Associates. “We thought of the restoration of this major historic landmark as a significant gesture of respect to the Bronx,” he said. “It is the only New York City subway station that is entered through a formal, landscaped plaza and free-standing National Register building.”

    Such a building posed many challenges, Mr. Prendergast said, including finding workers skilled enough to restore stucco walls and clay roof tiles, the kind of workers who predominated when private railroads had the money and incentive to build public spaces well.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the
    Bronx now serves as the East 180th Street station on the No. 2 and No. 5 lines.

    Money was indeed abundant on the New York, Westchester & Boston, which was controlled by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which was effectively controlled by J. P. Morgan. The Westchester had a Y-shaped route system. Its west fork ran as far as White Plains, its east fork as far as Port Chester. (Despite the name, it never went close to Boston.) The main stem was in the Bronx, terminating at East 132nd Street, with a connection to the Third Avenue el.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

    Extravagant sums were spent on construction: about $36 million for a 20-mile line. The idea was to carry commuters in almost deluxe comfort aboard all-electric coaches traveling on carpet-smooth track beds, with no grade crossings, as far as the Bronx, where they would then pay only a nickel to complete their journey to work on the el. Underscoring its commitment to quality, the railroad hired Alfred T. Fellheimer, an architect who also worked on Grand Central Terminal as a partner in Reed & Stem, to design its four-story administration building. It resembles an Italian villa.

    “Given a choice between Grand Central and a higher fare or the Bronx terminal and a lower fare, passengers by the thousands were expected to switch to the Westchester,” Stan Fischler wrote in “Uptown, Downtown: A Trip Through Time on New York’s Subways” (1976). It was also expected that the seemingly inexorable uptown march of commerce would reach the Bronx, placing the railroad’s handsome administration building near the heart of the city, rather than on the outskirts.

    Neither vision materialized. The Westchester, which began running in 1912, never turned a profit. It was one of the first holdings to be liquidated when the New Haven filed for bankruptcy in 1935. Service on the line ended two years later.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    The lobby has two retail areas, including one at right.

    But the ghosts of the Westchester endure, most prominently in the administration building and in the 4.25-mile right-of-way from East 180th Street to Dyre Avenue in the Bronx, which was acquired by the city in 1940 to serve as the Dyre Avenue line.

    The building’s old upstairs offices are still used for railroad purposes, now by employees of the transit agency’s rapid transit operations, signals and structures divisions. Two attractive retail spaces with plate-glass fronts flank the ground-floor lobby. One is to be occupied this year. The transportation authority will issue a request for proposals for the other space.

    The general contractor for the renovation was Citnalta Construction Corporation. The plaza was redesigned by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. The Arts for Transit program commissioned work by Luisa Caldwell.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    The newly renovated passage between
    the railroad building and the subway platform.

    The project included rehabilitation of the existing building, reconfiguring the plaza to include a ramp, installing an elevator, improving pedestrian circulation and reconstructing a dank passageway between the administration building and the passenger platforms into an inviting, light-filled corridor.

    What the project did not include — at first — was a clock under the figure of Mercury, where one had once been. No money was budgeted for this extra touch. But then Michael Gargiulo, the president of Citnalta, visited the site. “He didn’t think it looked right without a clock,” said Matthew Blitch, the vice president of the company.

    The contractors learned that they could buy a 45-inch diameter clock with Roman numerals from the Electric Time Company of Medfield, Mass., for $8,000. That cost, and the labor to install it, were Citnalta’s extra contribution to the project. “It adds so much to the facade of the building,” Mr. Blitch said. Whether it adds to or subtracts from straphangers’ anxiety is another matter entirely.

    David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
    The new mosaic murals in the station are by Luisa Caldwell.

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