The 1930s Bus Station Hidden In A Times Square Hotel

The other day, I received an email asking if a bus station, dating to the 1930s, still existed at the Hotel Carter.

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A hidden bus station from the 1930s? In Times Square?? I’d never heard of this before (in fact, I only knew of the Hotel Carter as one of the dirtiest hotels in America) but I had to investigate.

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The Hotel Carter was known for much of its life as the Hotel Dixie. Opened on April 22, 1930, the Dixie was indeed home to a bus depot: the Central Union Bus Terminal, which at the time was the largest enclosed bus station in New York. Buses entered beside the hotel’s entrance on West 43rd and proceeded underground:

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Today, that space has been turned into a parking garage:

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After descending underground, buses would rotate on a 35-foot turntable, then proceed into a designated berth. A waiting room for passengers was off to the left:

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Here’s a drawing of what the waiting area used to look like in the 1930s.

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Could any of this possibly still exist?? Last weekend, I headed out to Times Square find out:

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As I came down the ramp, I immediately arrived at the original bus turntable. I doubt it still works, but how cool is it that this wasn’t just paved over?

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Surrounding it, I could also see where the berths would have been, though the ceilings seem lower now.

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But what about the waiting room? Based on the plans above, I was sad to see cars parked where the waiting room should have been – it must have been demolished. Then I noticed something…

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That’s a very unusual floor to be parking cars on:

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Then I realized: they’d left the waiting room floor:

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I know it’s not much, but I love that this remnant still exists from over 80 years ago, a time when you would’ve found passengers sitting on wooden benches here waiting for buses.

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Whereas the checkered flooring would have covered the main waiting room area, the white linoleum area seems to match up with the ticket office and where passengers would pass into the main terminal:

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Based on the plans, the newsstand would have been situated about here:

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At the top of the existing columns, you can see detailing that seems very out of place for a grungy parking garage – but would make plenty of sense for nice bus station:

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The detailing stretches far back:

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Before leaving, I wanted to see if the stairwell that once took passengers down to the waiting room still existed. According to the plans, the double doors would have been on this faux-marble wall. Sadly, that’s only a closet.

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Unable to compete with Port Authority, the Hotel Dixie’s bus terminal closed in 1957.

Try as you might, you can never fully erase New York City’s past, and I like to imagine that late at night, a tourist picking up their car might look over and see the ghostly phantasms of passengers waiting for a bus that will never come.

Very special thanks to reader Mike M. for starting me on this investigation.

-SCOUT

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49 comments

  1. I can just barely remember a similar bus station from, say, 1962 when I first came to college in New York, but I think it was a bit further north, also on the west side.

  2. Jamsire Ernoir

    Interesting post. The Barclays Center has the same rotating floor for buses, players cars, etc.

  3. I have to wonder how pleasant that space was as a bus station. Looks cramped and low ceiling height.

  4. I pass the Hotel Carter every day on the way to work and never knew about this. Awesome!

  5. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked by this garage, looked down the ramp and wondered what that circle was – thanks for the great post!

  6. Just curious…when you do your thing in private spaces (or even public, I guess), what do you do/say to get access? Do you have a special Scouting badge? Or do you work on a “beg for forgiveness, than ask for permission”.

  7. Col. John R. Stingo, whom AJ Liebling writes about in the Honest Rainmaker, lived in this hotel. http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/086547396X

  8. Unless those are your cars or you have made arrangements with the owners, you should probably blur the license plates.

    • What would someone do with a plate number? You know, like the thousands we see everyday.

      • They might notice one that belongs to a spouse… a spouse who ordinarily wouldn’t have any business being in or near a grungy hotel car park.

  9. The Carter was also home to a very stylish nightclub in the 40’s which by the 1960’s had become the Bert Wheeler Theater. On a recent trip I looked for it – I think part of the space is now offices near the entrance.

  10. This was fantastic! Great detective work!

  11. Very nice discovery. I wonder what else is out there from NYC’s past that is hidden away?

  12. I like the turntable gizmo. Have you ever looked into the abandoned subway stations along Pitkin Avenue out in Queens? We snuck into one of them as kids. When my dad found out he gave it to me.

  13. I haven’t been there in ages, but at the corner of 33rd & Park (NW corner) is a small restaurant in the corner of the building. I was told, that the location originaly housed the waiting room for a private rail siding for the Vanderbuilt Family’s access to the Long Island Rail Road. The room was covered in tile and we were told at the rear of the space was a ramp to a lower level that was trackside. Don’t know if you ever checked it out

  14. Google Image search the Hotel Dixie and you’ll see that checkerboard flooring in some of their long-since redone interior spaces.

  15. This is fascinating – thanks for the post! I wonder if the turntable was functional for the life of the station? It seems like one of those futuristic things that stops working after a few years and isn’t fixed due to expense or lack of parts.

  16. I remember the bus terminal as a kid. My uncle worked there and would operate the turntable. When my mother and I were going to visit my aunt and uncle in the city, my uncle would tell the Trailways bus driver. The bus would stop in front of our house and beep the horn for us. When we arrived at Hotel Dixie and the bus pulled onto the ramp, my uncle would turn the bus 360 deg 3 or 4 times to give me a ride before he stopped it in front of the proper berth. His wife, my aunt (my mother’s sister), worked at The Dixie Cafe, and we would go there for a bite to eat after our 2 hour ride from Kingston. I have loved NYC ever since!

  17. I came across an album of an early 80’s musical the other day & it read “From the NY production at the Carter Theatre.” Yep. A room off the lobby of THE CARTER that had been used for banquets had a short life as a theatre – so it goes to prove that these old spaces possess all kind of interesting history. Thanks for this neat illustrated story!

  18. Was there a motor to power the turntable, or was it so finely balanced that a couple of people could turn a bus by hand?

  19. In the Minneapolis Armory, cars are parked directly on top of the basketball court for the 1950s Minneapolis Lakers. Yes, they eventually became the L.A. Lakers.

  20. I love urban archaeology, thanks so much for you hard work

  21. What was filmed in that hotel with Gwynet Paltrow?

  22. No more bus depot but the same mattresses in the hotel.

  23. In the 1970s, Michael O’Donoghue wrote a National Lampoon parody, “Eloise at the Hotel Dixee.” It would seem possible that it was a tribute to this establishment. I can just see Al the Counterman snarling.

  24. The bus depot turntable reminded me that the magnificent Chanin Building at E.41st St. and Lexington Ave. also had a similar turntable many years ago.

  25. Did you also check to see if the 42nd Street entrance to the waiting room still exists?

  26. my theatre group did a play at the Carter back in the 1980s… wish i had known about this “hidden” new york artifact. its’ the kind of thing that fascinates me. i would have gone down to look.

  27. Similar thing at the Ansonia Hotel.
    What used to be the pool area of Plato’s Retreat became a garage. The same telltale flooring can be seen.
    http://nypress.com/when-the-ansonia-was-plato%E2%80%99s-retreat/

  28. Great story. I see on the plans that there was an entrance and exit ramp. Are both still in place today or just the one as shown?

  29. Excellent ! Next bus to ….

  30. New York is amazing city ;) I would like to spend a day in 1930s NYC… Because in same time NYC changed so much and in the same time NYC didn’t change…

  31. Loved the article! Delayed reply for Tom Stetz 8 Jul:
    The bus station you remember was probably the one at 50th & 8th;
    ground level of what is now the Capitol Apts, a low income Seniors’
    residence. In the 50s & 60s it was a YWCA. I stayed there when I first came to live in NYC. My first visit to NYC, in the late 50s,
    I arrived at the 50th & 8th station.

  32. Great article and photos. Amazing that any remnants from the terminal were left partially intact.

  33. Say, you got a nice article.Really thank you! Will read on…

  34. I swear to god, Scout, you make life worth living. What a great find!

  35. Those were great days. In my teens I worked at a dairy farm in Wallkill Ny in the summers. I always rode the short line bus from the Hotel Dixie. The turntable with the buses was always thrilling to me. Your pictures are great. You bring back memories. Do you also have pictures of the swimming pool at the Hotel St George in Brooklyn?

  36. Joe, I probably knew your uncle, that is if he was later employed by Trailways in the baggage department after the Dixie closed.

    I drove many a bus into that terminal during the mid 50’s and got a kick out of going into, and out of the terminal. Sometimes, the expressions on the faces of the folks in the right front seats when you swung wide to go into the driveway, were priceless pictures of horror, thinking they were going to smash into the wall. On several occasions that I know of, Short Line would have so many folks on the bus that the driver had to let some off so he could get up the grade to the street. That was in the days before all of the present regulations were in place. If anyone walks by the entrance, and looks closely, they might still see the scrape marks were a mirror struck the wall.

    • Chuck, If I remember correctly, after the Dixie closed, my Uncle Ed and Aunt Lil moved back to Kingston. I also loved going to their apartment in the Whitby on 45th St btw 8th & 9th Ave. We used to walk there through Times Square and stop at some at an amusement center and play Pokerino. They used to know some of the actors and actresses that were on Broadway at the time too – a lot of them stayed in the Whitby. My sister said one of them was Tony Curtis. I know I was introduced to some of them, but was too young to know who they were. All great memories that sealed my love for New York!

  37. Sorry, didn’t check my spelling – ‘where a mirror struck the wall’

  38. Great info! My late father (1920-2013) was a Short Line bus driver in the early 1940’s before he was “invited” to join the US Army in 1943. He would have been 21 in 1941. I only recently found out that he used to drive a daily commuter run to/from the Hotel Dixie and he described the turntable to me. I was able to show him photos from your site. I learned this from him because last August 2012 I visited Times Square and was later telling him about my visit. It was then that he told me about driving to NYC from upstate (probably Monroe or Middletown). He would usually do a round trip, and on occasion he would drive to Monticello or Liberty from NYC. He would travel on Route 17, and said even in those days he would drive at 55-60 mph.

  39. Love your work! I am currently researching New York in the 30’s my grandfather was in Broadway and lived there from 1931-1936 we never found any information on what he was doing! Love your little insight into a old New York.

  40. Ruben Iglesias

    The Chanin Building had a similar, but smaller turntable for motor coaches located within the confines of it premises as well, although that one seems to have been completely obliterated. Still, you may want to check in to it as a follow up to this story.

    Regards,

    Ruben Iglesias

  41. Archie Cogollos

    Amazing…I have a picture of my momwhen she was strolling down the street. In the background..Hotel Dixie…..soo I googled it…and low and behold…there’s this incredible article…Sooooooo…I check her picture again and there is on the canopy..an s depot..the year 1947 ..she was Olgita at 22yrs old….thx….ciao Arch

    • I actually remember the place. I lived in Bayonne, and the Boulevard bus New York route went to the Hotel Dixie. i have clear memories of the turntable and the terminal. When the PA bus terminal was opened, the Red & Tan line from Bayonne went there, and I stopped taking the one to the Dixie. I think the fare was 35¢. The Red & Tan buses were newer and much more comfortable so we all gave up on the older Boulevard Gray buses.

  42. Glad you posted this.

    Just found a copy of handwritten wording on an old telegram form sent from Hotel Dixie, Room 901, telephone number “Wiscon 7-6000,” that my great-aunt sent to her brother-in-law in Kezmarok, Slovakia, regarding her safe arrival in New York.

    It is brief, and the words are in German, although her English was perfect. (Her brother-in-law’s wasn’t.) It is dated Oct 31, 1931, when Hotel Dixie must have been in its heyday.

    Thanks to your photos/postcard, I now know what it looked like!

    Madeleine

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