What you are seeing in these pictures is “City Hall Station” in New York City, which was opened in 1904 and decorated as the crowning achievement of that city’s mass transit system. They felt very proud of their underground, and they wanted to top off the massive building project with a beautiful station, and this is it. Unfortunately, technology and progress made the station obsolete and dangerous, and in 1945 it was shut and boarded, and slipped into obscurity and then it was forgot by everyone except employees of the New York City transit authority.
I have always been fascinated with forgotten places like this. Once a week I get the idea that I want to do some urban exploration, and then I forget about it because I don’t have the means to get around. Now that I’m going to train for the car, my wish to explore these places are rekindled with a sense that now it might be possible. You could say that I am, at times, morbidly curious, and this wish for urban exploration is part of that. There’s something very romantic about the idea of exploring places that are forgotten.
These are the places that people in times past poured sweat, labour, anxiety, and often love into – and then those people left. They died or moved or just moved on. But their work remains, even though people who aren’t attached to the place either ignore the work, or they slowly forget about the work as the daily life pass by with much more immediate concerns.
Imagine walking into a place like this, years or decades after the last person set his or her foot there. Imagine turning on the light, and seeing architecture, decoration like this. Wouldn’t it make you hold your breath, and wish that the moment of seeing it for the first time would last forever?
Looking at these images, I can almost hear the echoes of my heels on the stone. If I’d been there, I’d wonder about the people who have walked there, in that immense contrast of being totally alone in a place designed for large crowds. And now that I know that there is this beautiful place, hidden beneath New York City, I want to go there. I want to stand there, before it caves in or is demolished to put up the foundation of another glass and steel corporate palace.
There is romance in forgotten and lost places, but like all romance it’s fleeting and ephemeral. It doesn’t last long, and while it lasts there seems to me that there should be a duty to record it, visit it, recognise it, and preserve it.