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City Hall Station, Wicked, and miniatures in NYC

At the end of March we flew across the country to visit an old subway station.

But this wasn’t any old subway station! This was City Hall Station in NYC. Tickets for visiting this station, in a tour called “Jewel in the Crown,” go on sale several months ahead of time, are only available to New York Transit Museum members, and immediately sell out. I bought a membership to the museum back in 2017 and snagged a pair of tickets back in December, at which time declared, “We have to be in NYC on March 25th.”

When MJ and I started planning this trip we realized that we’d never actually been to NYC together. For work? Yes. With friends? Yes. With other people we’ve dated? Yes. Together? No! So what seemed like a ridiculous jaunt across the city actually turned into a nice getaway together as he selected a nice hotel in Times Square and we got to enjoy some great meals, a Broadway show, the visit to the subway museum and a stop by a new miniature exhibit.

The subway station was what brought me there though. Open from 1904 to 1945 the station was designed to be the masterpiece of the subway system, and as wikipedia describes:

The platform and mezzanine feature Guastavino tile, skylights, colored glass tilework and brass chandeliers. The Rafael Guastavino-designed station is unique in the system for the usage of Romanesque Revival architecture.

The station is curved and was built to only accommodate five cars, half of the standard ten car trains today, which played a part in the reason for the closure. The station is a loop, and today the 6 train still goes through the station to turn around, and as a result only goes through in one direction and doesn’t stop.

We selected the Sunday afternoon time slot for the tour. It begins at City Hall where you spend about a half hour above ground learning some local NYC and NYC transit facts. Most notably we heard the tale of the Beach Pneumatic Transit. Built where our tour started back in 1869 it can technically take the title as the first subway in the city, even though it was a demonstration that ran only 312 feet and ran on pneumatic power, a technology that did obviously did not catch on for subways.

In order to reach the subway station, we went down into a modern station nearby and waited for a 6 train, which they coordinated with MTA to stop for us. When our train came, they piled the whole group into one car and a couple minutes later we stepped out onto the platform at the old station.

The first thing to understand about this station is that it is indeed an abandoned station. Though they do literally keep the lights on, with maintenance crews in there to switch out light bulbs, and an eye out to make sure it’s not vandalized, the station has aged. It takes some imagination to look past the dirty, broken glass ceiling decorations and the aging tile work to appreciate how it looked while in operation during the first half of the 20th century. Still, when comparing it to the other subway stations in the city, there’s stark contrast. Even with age, the tile work is breathtaking, and it’s quite novel to see chandeliers and the glass work in an NYC subway station, whatever their state is.

During our visit we got to see the 6 train come through twice. The squealing of modern trains through the station is incredible, as I captured in this video.

The tour concluded with us getting back on the 6 train and being let off on the other side of City Hall. I enjoyed the whole thing a lot, I’d like to do it again some time.

More photos from the old City Hall station tour: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157665089548327

The station was Sunday afternoon though, we got into NYC Saturday morning! We flew business class on an American Airlines Transcontinental flight. These are three-cabin planes, which amounts to about half the real estate of the plane going to the premium cabins. For us, it meant we could get lay flat seats and sleep for a few hours on the overnight flight. I even skipped the in-flight meal that was served so I could get the most out of sleeping. The plane deposited us at JFK and we took the subway to our hotel in Times Square. Our luggage was dropped off and we put our names in so we could be notified when our room was ready and we got an 11AM brunch near the hotel. Our room was ready soon after, nap time!

Since we had tickets to a broadway show, we booked at 5PM dinner at The View, a revolving restaurant at the top of the Marriott Marquis. Lobster and steak were had as we got to take in the views and watch the sun set.

The show we ended up going to see was Wicked. It had been on my list for some time, and didn’t disappoint. We both had a wonderful time. We walked back to our hotel after and enjoyed some cocktails at the hotel lounge.

Sunday began by checking out of the hotel and then going to meet a local friend for brunch. Then we were off on the subway tour! The tour was over by 3:30PM and we made our way back up to Times Square and over to Gulliver’s Gate. Gulliver’s Gate was an unexpected surprise, I didn’t know it existed, and yet it’s the “Largest Interactive Museum of Miniatures in the World!” We learned of it when our hotel offered free tickets since the exhibit is new (appears to have opened in August 2017). After reading about it, we gladly accepted the tickets. Now, you may remember I went to Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg back in November. This is similar. Miniatur Wunderland was more densely packed and had a lot more trains, but both were re-creating parts of the world in miniature, including miniature airports.

The world of Gulliver’s Gate spans 5 continents, though I suspect Australia is coming soon, look what I saw! NYC itself and major parts of the Holy Land for Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Israel and Saudi Arabia are the most thoroughly represented. You can see Niagara Falls and a working Panama Canal. Doctor Who makes an appearance at Stone Hedge and goodies like that throughout the exhibit make it a lot of fun. It is also interactive, they give you a physical key to run various extra things, like watching Hajj participants circle the Kaaba, peer into the pyramids in Egypt, activate the The Large Hadron Collider at CERN or simply make some helicopters take off or ski lifts move.

In all, we spent a couple hours there inspecting the layouts, and could easily have spent longer.

More photos from Gulliver’s Gate: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/sets/72157665089568377

We had dinner at a nearby French cafe, Un Deux Trois, which we got to enjoy even more thoroughly once the crowds there for the Broadway shows cleared out. I had some really delicious steak tartar. From there it was time to depart, via train. We collected our luggage and made our way to Penn Station where took an NJ Transit train down to Trenton, where we summoned a car to take us over to the townhouse in Philadelphia.

In all, a really nice weekend, and the break we needed together after all the chaos of moving.