Any remains of Beach's subway in Broadway?

Any remains of Beach's subway in Broadway?

In this second part on New York’s Beach Pneumatic Transit, I investigate whether any remains still exist. This post can be considered an update to what is currently known about the fate of Beach’s subway. As far as things go it does seem that there is nothing left of Beach’s subway. It was demolished to make way for the Lexington Avenue subway (now the NRQ Lines) and photographs of the time prove this.

The sumptuously grand waiting room at Warren Street is assumed to have been completely destroyed, certainly as a result of the Rogers and Peet fire of 1898. The construction of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit and the Interborough Rapid Transit lines between 1911 and 1917 clearly put an end to any remains of the Beach subway tunnel itself. The former subway car and tunnel was found in a dilapidated state as construction of those lines ensued and photographs were taken of these before any demolition of the 1873 works took place.

There’s some debate whether the 78 foot long ventilation shaft from the subway tunnel to City Hall Park (by the present Steven Flanders Square) still remains in place. The prognosis is this bit wasn’t affected by the building of those subway lines in the 1900s. The possibility of this being the most likely bit of Beach’s subway to remain has been disproved as I show below. The air shaft led diagonally from the Murray Street end of Beach’s line into a grille adjacent to a fountain by City Hall Park Row. The picture below of Beach’s son Frederick depicts the grille and confirms the air shaft emerged at this point.

Beach’s son Frederick stands by the distinct railings next to the grille. Source: J. Brennan 2005.

I could not find any pictures of the old fountain save that shown below. Its actually a crop of an image which can be seen on the World Building Blogspot’s pages. Its probably early 1900’s and clearly shows the drinking fountain in question with older railings behind. A depression surrounding Beach’s air shaft can be discerned, perhaps indicating the original grille was round, possibly smaller. It means the larger square grille seen in 1912 may have been temporary (a safety measure perhaps or a form of access in terms of building the new subway lines?)

The drinking fountain was later removed and the Nathan Hale statue placed here soon after, perhaps around the time of the first world war. The statue remained at this spot until 1999.

If there’s any possible evidence of the shaft surviving one should look at the pictures of Nathan Hale’s statue. Thus I examined many pictures depicting the Nathan Hale statue to ascertain claims that the grille was reduced in size and a manhole cover put in place. If correct that would mean possible access into the remains of the ventilation shaft.

Despite my searches I couldn’t find one single picture proving this to be the case. I did however find a photograph of City Hall Park dated 26th May 1912. It shows a large diameter cast iron pipe being laid through City Hall Park (I assume it’s part of the NY subway construction.) The pipe’s alignment clearly cuts through the exact spot where Beach’s ventilation shaft stood.

It follows therefore that the ventilation shaft was therefore filled in to make way for this pipeline.

The rumours of a lid covering the ventilation shaft can be discounted for once and all  by this image taken in 1926 ( a small sample is shown above.) Judging from the positioning of the statue, it seems it was placed on what would have now been the site of the infilled shaft. There’s absolutely nothing in the area that remains of Alfred Beach’s fabled pneumatic subway underneath Broadway.

Until at least 1999 part of the remaining railings and stone edging that protected the air shaft remained on site. These were removed around the same time Nathan Hale’s statue was transferred to its current location some distance away. This photograph from shows the statue in its last days at this former spot along with the railings.

The site where the air shaft/grille stood isn’t recognisable now. Google streetview (2013.)

I conclude with this selection from Joseph Brennan’s 2005 treatise on the Beach subway. It discusses other possible remains that have survived of Beach’s subway. The prognosis seems quite poor:

The chance of finding anything related to Beach’s subway is practically nil….