M.T.A. presents plans for new Fulton subway

By Gal Beckerman

The Corbin building at 11 John St. may have to be razed to build the new Fulton Transit Center.
The soot-covered Corbin building on the corner of Broadway and John St. is a classic of Renaissance Revival Architecture. Built in 1889, it has a brownstone and terra cotta facade that is intricately etched with ornamental swirls. But in the ground beneath this hulking and fading beauty is one of the most illogically constructed subway connections in New York City: the Fulton St. station.

In order to fix the station and build a new $750 million Fulton Street Transit Center, local preservationists fear the Metropolitan Transportation Authority might also be threatening this treasured piece of historical architecture that sits on top of it.

This was one of the few fears expressed at a public hearing last Tuesday night at the Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House organized by the M.T.A. to discuss plans for the new transit center. The projected development would replace what even those critics of the plan referred to as the “byzantine” or “maze-like” Fulton station.

William Wheeler, the M.T.A.’s director of the Fulton project, described the goals of the improvements. The new transit center would hope to alleviate many of the problems with the present station, most notably its lack of visibility. There are currently only a few entrances to the station and they are difficult to locate.

To solve this problem, the M.T.A. proposes building an above-ground transit center at the corner of Broadway and Fulton. The conceptual drawings of this new space, which can be viewed on the M.T.A. website ( show a streamlined building constructed mostly of glass. Wheeler emphasized that these drawings were not final plans, but only temporary models.

Other improvements would include making the connections between subway lines more clear and direct. To comical effect, Wheeler showed one of the confusing Fulton station signs that asks subway riders to loop around to find their desired platforms. The source of this problem can be traced back to the building of the current station between 1905 and 1932. It was constructed by different companies who were in competition with one another and had little interest in weaving their work together to make convenient passage from one line to another.

As part of the reshaping of the underground space, a pedestrian concourse will be installed beneath Dey St., extending from Broadway to Church, and connecting the N/R lines to the Fulton Transit Center.

Wheeler said the proposed completion date for the project was the end of 2007, with most of the work beginning at the end of 2004.

The concerns registered by the preservationist organizations, five of which have organized themselves into a consortium called the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, focused on the above ground transit center that is proposed for the block of Broadway between Fulton and John St. The center, which in drawings appears as a complete replacement of all the existing buildings, would necessitate the demolition of the Corbin building. Because the building has not yet been landmarked, there would be no legal obstacles to tearing it down. They are hoping, instead, that maintenance of the building is included in the plans.

Ken Lustbadder, a conservation consultant for the Preservation Fund, urged the M.T.A. to “make Corbin proud,” by finding a way “to integrate or incorporate the Corbin building into the design.”

The environmental impact report issued by the M.T.A. contained no mention of the effect the construction of the new transit center would have on what preservationists call the “historic resources” of the area. In addition to the Corbin building, which would be directly impacted, these groups are worried about the consequences for the large number of both landmarked and non-landmarked buildings in the immediate vicinity. St. Paul’s Chapel, parts of which date from 1764, where George Washington worshipped, is directly across the street. Preservationists fear these structures could be affected by the vibrations and commotion that would accompany construction.

A more general apprehension was expressed by a local resident and a real estate broker who deals with property along the Fulton corridor. They spoke of a need to maintain the integrity of the area’s unique character.

The only other main complaint, besides the preservationists, came from those who wanted the project to be even more ambitious than planned. A few speakers, including a representative of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, asked that the new station extend all the way to Water St. so that it may meet up with a future Second Avenue subway line. Another local resident proposed an underground commercial arcade extending from the South Street Seaport all the way to the Winter Garden.



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