New York City’s Prettiest Subway Station Is In The Bronx

One of the things I love most about New York City’s prettiest subway station is the way it unexpectedly appears out of nowhere. As you’re heading east along 180th Street toward Morris Park Ave in the Bronx, look north…

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…and all of a sudden, you’ll see a red terra cotta-roofed tower rise into view just above a rock ledge. Continue around to the front…

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…and the American flag is about the only indication that you haven’t been magically transported to a train station in Italy.

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This is the East 180th Street 2/5 station, and for my money, it’s hands down the prettiest subway station entrance in New York.

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Built in 1912, this was originally the administration building for the New York, Westchester and Boston Railway, which offered service between White Plains, Port Chester, and East 132nd Street (the inclusion of Boston seems to have been a flat-out lie). Below, the station in 1928:

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Designed to resemble an Italian villa complete with clay-tiled roof, the three-story stucco facade centers on a large clock…

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…with a bust of Mercury above…

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…and if you look closely, the initials for the old New York, Westchester & Boston line below:

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I love the decorative balconies and arched windows found on each of the 4-story towers flanking the central section:

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The railway never turned a profit, and finally went out of business in 1937. It was purchased by the city in 1940 and integrated into the IRT at East 180th Street. Below, the building’s loggia and plaza:

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The building motif continues along this wall, which blocks a portion of the track:

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From the side, I love how the outcroppings give the station the illusion of being perched atop a rocky cliff.

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If the building looks immaculate, it’s not by accident. In 2013, the MTA completed a 2-year, $66.5 million dollar restoration of the station inside and out. In particular, I love the gorgeous mosaics by artist Luisa Caldwell

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Inspired by the station’s proximity to the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden, three can be seen as you first enter the station: an elephant picking flowers…

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…a deer enjoying a snack…

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…and a mouse (or is that a rat?) nibbling on a petal:

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Be sure to head further into the station for a few more examples of Caldwell’s work…

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…including some old-school mosaic subway signs…

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…and this pair of images featuring a tortoise…

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…and a hare (which subway commuter are you?):

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Ultimately, the station is just another reminder…

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Never underestimate the Bronx.

-SCOUT

PS – Yes, yes, I realize the “subway” is actually elevated at this point; as I have yet to have ever hear a New Yorker refer to anything as an “el station,” I’m going by the official monicker of “New York City Subway.”

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40 comments

  1. “Boston” wasn’t so much a lie as an ambition that was never achieved.

    The NYW&B was expensively built with attractive stations and fast trains. Its downfall was that it never entered Manhattan, requiring a transfer to the el (New Yorkers did use to say that, but you’re right — not so much anymore) to get to Manhattan. The NYW&B charged lower fares than the New Haven, assuming that that would also attract business, but it never worked. People preferred a one-seat ride into Manhattan.

  2. Chicagoans calls theirs the “L” even when it goes underground. San Franciscans still refer to street cars when they are in tunnels. Probably not that odd to refer to the Subway when you’re on elevated platform.

  3. Only folks that were kids maybe in the 50’s and 60’s in NYC ever referred to the NYC above ground subway as “the el”. Otherwise we would be in Chicago present day… Above ground – below ground – it is all the subway within the 5 boroughs.

    • My father, who was a kid in the 50s and 60s in The Bronx, calls above-ground trains “the el.” I always thought he was talking about the L train until I moved to New York for college and realized that makes no geographical sense. But yeah, I’ve only heard his generation call it “the el.”

    • That’s very true Brenda, because I and all my friends still refer to the elevated lines as the “El-train”. All of us 1950 and 1960 era Baby Boomers!

    • “The el” short for elevated train.

    • My parents grew up in Queens and the Bronx, and I grew up in Queens (born in the early 70s) with both parents calling it “The El” where tracks were elevated in Astoria, and friends who grew up near the El in and around Ozone Park, and Jamaica also called it the El. I always gave directions to my mom’s house as “make a left under the el.” NYers knew what I was talking about.

    • This site made me grin, I don’t live in NYC anymore but I am a product of the 50s and 60s (born 1950)…and yes, I do remember referring to above ground as “The El”.

  4. Also the location of one of Berkowitz’s murders in Summer of Sam.

    • David also worked at the Post Office on Grand Concourse and east 149th street. Also, I was at the Bronx zoo when David made one of his attacks (1977).

  5. I want to take a ride on the 2 or 5 train to see this and those fabulous mosaics that decorate the station. Thanks, Scouting NY for bringing this to our attention. Although too extreme of a location to include on our Subway Art Tour (http://walkaboutny.com/the-tours/subway-art-tour/), it is great to know about.

  6. I used to use this station during the renovation and I am pretty sure those “old-school mosaic subway signs” are just recreations. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure I once saw a blank space one day, then a week later it “Uptown” appeared. Either way – awesome if they saved them, awesome if they spent the time to recreate them.

    The NYW&B has lots of remnants still around. Many stations are still in existence, being used as other things of course… one is now a house. Even looking at Google Maps, you can still trace routes of the old lines.

    • No, you’re right, I see how that could be confusing. The full sentence (not broken up by pics) is “Be sure to head further into the station for a few more examples of Caldwell’s work including some old-school mosaic subway signs” implying she did them.

  7. it is indeed pretty…too bad the service isn’t nearly as pretty…

  8. My parents still refer to the elevated Astoria bound N Q line as the “El”

    • Yeeessss my parents say the same thing and I live in the bronx . they call the elevated #4 train the “EL” also lolol

  9. Growing up in Astoria we called it the El. That was late 70’s and 80’s

  10. Now lets see the ugliest one in the city… 205st train station… D line

    • Feliz, I see your 205th street station and I raise you 149th street/Grand Concourse 2,4, & 5 line.

      • I see your 149th St, and I raise you Chambers St J/Z.

        • I see your Chambers St J/Z, and I raise you 168th St, 1,A,C trains. Descending to the IRT tracks is like going to the deepest levels of hell…

        • the bowery J/Z is easily the worst anywhere. looks like someone forgot about it 30 years ago.

          • Believe me, 149th Grand Concourse is the same way. There’s four different levels to it: the ticket area, the 4 train platform, under the 4 train platform, and the 2 & 5 train platform. The 2 & 5 platform has the worst smell. The tracks are filled with garbage and stale water and it’s the creepiest place to be when there’s no one around.

          • Sadly, I second ij; I ride the 205th all the time. But heaven help me the times I need to transfer from the 2 (I live near Wakefield) to the 4…ugh. Worst place ever. Worst smell in a subway I’ve encountered short of a puking drunk. Tons of garbage. Dingy walk where no one is to get from the 2/5 to the 4. Just brutal.

  11. My dad was a NYC Transit officer working out of the district there in the 70’s. I spent many an hour sitting on the flag pole base waiting for him as well as milling about the station – great memories – Thanks! BTW Is there still a newstand in the middle?

  12. in nyc ‘the el’ seems to be a fading term from previous generations. i’ve come to accept that using it will just make people think you’re talking about the L train at this point. another fading new yorkism: referring to anyone who is hispanic as ‘spanish,’ though still in use. i frequently have mini conflicts with some hispanic friends who didn’t grow up here who don’t like my use of the term as i don’t like their coming here and telling a native new yorker how to talk! :p also johnny pump… fading new yorkisms are a thing!

    • Adding another confirmation, my dad grew up in the BX in the 50’s/60’s refers to the elevated subway lines as “The El” and he also calls fire hydrants johnny pumps, so I do too, just so those terms won’t die on my watch.

  13. Wait, $66.5 million!?!? For one station’s renovation?

  14. What a pretty station! The elegance of Italioan architecture transported into the Bronx. I must check it out the next time I’m in NYC. I’ve never seen anything like it on the London Underground.

  15. I’ve lived in this community for most of my life and that’s a big improvement. Back in the days that station was creepy and scary. Chances were one could get robbed on the entrance on 180th st. It was dark,desolate and the stench of 100 different urine specimens. The best part was the installation of elevators.

  16. I used to live across the street from that train station in Adams Street. I would go into the station every day to the newspaper stand for some candy. That was way back in the 1970’s. It looks wonderful today.

  17. “El” has faded because it could refer to an entire line only if no part of it ran underground: The Third Avenue El and the Myrtle Avenue El come to mind. I can not remember anyone ever calling the Flushing line the El if they were referring to it as a line or route.

    El is the word for the structure itself. You might refer to a “sandwich place under the el” or say “I like the view from the el.” But if you are getting on it to go somewhere, it is always the subway or the train.

  18. Re: the “El”: Elevated train lines permeated most of New York before subways came along; the 2nd Av., 3rd Av. (the most famous and longest-lived), 8th Av. and 9th Av. Els were the most prominent. The 3rd Av. closed and was removed in 1955 except for the northern section in the Bronx from 149th St. to Gun Hill Road, which lasted until 1957. The New York, Westchester & Boston terminated at 133rd St, and expected passengers to transfer to the 3rd Av. El there. The Myrtle Av. El in Queens is a rare remnant of an all-elevated line.

    Regarding the E. 180th St. Station, the remodeling of this masterpiece destroyed the integrity of it, even though it refreshed it. Those mosaics are new; I don’t know about the old-style subway signs, which may have been saved and rehabbed from the overhaul.

    Access to the Westchester’s own tracks, adjacent to the building, has been masked by the makeover; there are stairways to two long center island platforms for the four-track NYW&B. All the tracks have been removed, bu when the line was the Dyre Avenue Shuttle in the 1940s, it terminated on those platforms.

    Also, a major part of the station’s raison d’etre has been removed: a mile-long elevated viaduct south of the station to a point just south of East 177th St. and the Cross Bronx Expressway, where the right-of-way joined the New Haven line to the Hell Gate Bridge. The viaduct and right-of-way parallel to that rail line had been proposed as the northern route of the new Second Avenue subway until its partial removal for the new bus terminal (and it’s total removal a few years ago) What a waste of resources!

    The NYW&B, had it been allowed to survive World War II (it was scrapped for its steel for the war effort) would have been an important part of metropolitan area’s transportation infrastructure today. I confess to being a bit of a student of the railroad. Thank you for allowing me to clarify some of its history and current relevance.

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