Architects of the NYC Subway, Heins & LaFarge: The Tradition of the Great Public Works, Part I – 3/19/2007 – 7/8/2007
We do not normally reproduce press releases on AGINY, but the subway is so integral to NYC, and the design impacts so many people every day, that we are reproducing this press release, and encouraging our friends and readers to stop by the Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex in Grand Central Station and see these exhibitions, opening March 19, 2007.
Chandelier from City Hall Station Station opened 1904. Material: Bronze. Image credit: New York Transit Museum
Architects of the NYC Subway, Heins & LaFarge: The Tradition of Great Public Works, Part I (3/19/2007 – 7/8/2007) and Architects of the NYC Subway, Squire Vickers and the Subway’s Modern Age, Part II, (7/30/2007 – 10/28/2007)
Be sure not to miss two new exciting – consecutive – free exhibits at the New York Transit Museum entitled, Architects of the NYC Subway, Heins & LaFarge: The Tradition of Great Public Works, Part I (3/19/2007 – 7/8/2007) and Architects of the NYC Subway, Squire Vickers and the Subway’s Modern Age, Part II, (7/30/2007 – 10/28/2007). Culled from the extensive collections of the New York Transit Museum, The New York Historical Society, the
Episcopal Diocese of New York, The Bronx Zoo / Wildlife Conservancy Center, and private collectors, more than sixty historic artifacts, architectural drawings, and photographs will display, the vision of the subway’s first architects, John L. Heins and Christopher G. LaFarge and the subsequent work of Squire J. Vickers at the Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex in mid-town Manhattan.
From 1901 to 1908, John L. Heins and Christopher G. LaFarge not only designed the first subway stations, but also the control houses, power substations and ornamental kiosks, in the popular Beaux-Arts style, evoking classical architecture using ceramics, metal, and wood. Because Heins & LaFarge began working more than a year after
subway construction began, their primary duty was to decorate and make beautiful the stark
utilitarian spaces built by engineers achieved by using ceramics, terra cotta relief’s and unique
station plaques to identify and adorn each station. Says Roxanne Robertson, Director of Special Projects,
“The crown jewel of the subway is the old City Hall Station which was designed by Heins and LaFarge. Visitors are still inspired by the arched tile ceilings, skylights, and brass chandeliers. This station still has the feeling of entering a grand cathedral and remains the NYC subway’s most spectacular space.”
Elements adorning the subway also included ceramic tiles, mosaics, terra cotta reliefs, sconces, iron railings and circular air vent covers. Examples of brass ticket booth grilles and metal exit signs in the exhibition are graceful, with their function masked by the beauty of design and materials. Design drawings of Manhattan’s control houses for 72nd, 103rd Streets and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue show three similar structures with decorative arches, glass, metal, and terra cotta. Architects of the NYC Subway… also presents a dozen pieces of these original station ceramics. Because an immense amount of ceramics had to be designed, fabricated, and installed in less than three
years, numerous companies were hired to produce these pieces. The work of the noted ceramics firms Grueby Faience Company of Boston, Atlantic Terra Cotta of Staten Island and New Jersey, and Rookwood Pottery Company of Cincinnati, are also represented in the
Architects John L. Heins, Christopher Grant LaFarge, and Squire J. Vickers determined the aesthetics of New York’s subway system. These men created the decorative motifs that adorned the subways, allowing each station to be unique while contributing to its overall style. In 1907, Heins died of meningitis. Though he would work as an architect until his death in 1938, LaFarge worked on the subway only until 1908. Architect, Squire J. Vickers, was then hired and become the architect responsible for New York’s subway station’s design elements for the next four decades.
In addition to being business partners, John L.
Heins and Christopher Grant LaFarge were friends, classmates, and brothers-in-law. The two met as architecture students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studying a curriculum based on the French school of Beaux-Arts classical approach to architecture, but also stressing logical planning and design. They graduated in 1882, and in 1886, formed their own New York City firm. Heins & LaFarge specialized in ecclesiastical and residential buildings.
Today they are best remembered as the original architects for the Cathedral of Saint John theDivine. They began the cathedral project in the 1890s and would continue with it for two decades. During this time, Heins would also be appointed the State Architect of New York, responsible foroverseeing the design and construction of all state buildings.
In the first years of the new century, Heins & LaFarge continued with the Cathedral, but also designed the New York City subway stations and the Astor Court Buildings of the Bronx Zoo. Though these important civic projects might seem, at first, to be disparate, Heins & LaFarge used similar architectural elements and fabricators for each project. The Guastivino Fireproof Construction Company fabricated magnificent arches for the grand City Hall subway station, the Belmont Chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and the Elephant House of the Bronx Zoo. The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company produced ceramics for numerous subway stations and the Lion House at the Zoo. Pieces of these Zoo and subway ceramics, including examples taken from the 33rd Street, 110th Street, and 116th Street subway stations, are featured in the exhibitions. An architectural drawing for the Zoo’s Monkey House shows a frieze with classical design elements that can also be seen in subway station ceramics.
Architects of the NYC Subway, Heins & LaFarge: The Tradition of the Great Public Works, Part I, at the New York Transit Museum, 212-878-0106, March 19, 2007 – July 8, 2007, at the New York Transit Museum’s Gallery Annex at Grand Central, Monday-Friday, 8 am – 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 6 pm. Admission is Free. These exhibitions are made possible, in part, with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Additional support: Major sponsors: ARUP, Daniel Frankfurt, P.C., and Parsons Brinkerhoff. Supporting Sponsor: STV. Sponsors: FXFOWLE ARCHITECTS, PC, and Domingo Gonzalez Associates.
New York Transit Museum
- City Hall Station – 1986 visit and 2006 visit – from forgotten NY. Many photos
- City Hall Subway Station – photos on Flickr from Triborough
- City Hall (IRT East Side Line) – from nycsubway.org. Many photos
- City Hall Station – from MIT.
- New York Transit Museum – Wikipedia
- Exploring the old City Hall station: new tours on tap – from Newyorkology
- Roger Shepherd has some good photographs and discussion of the ceramic tiles used in the subway
- The New York Subway: Its Construction And Equipment