DAY IN COURT Street BMT station

Downtown Brooklyn has a large, sprawling underground station, the Borough Hall-Court-Montague Street complex, consisting of three separate subway lines constructed at different times. There’s the venerable Borough Hall IRT station opened in May 1908, the very first subway station in Brooklyn; the other Borough Hall station, serving the IRT 7th Avenue line, opened in April 1919; and the BMT Court-Montague opened March 1920. The three stations are connected by intricate underground passageways, while the BMT station, being quite deep, contains an elevator to the “fare control” area and a short staircase to the street.

I was passing through recently, and grabbed just a few highlights, especially on the BMT side. There are many more.

In downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit decorated two of its stations with mosaic pieces depicting churches that are found when you climb the steps to the street. (the other one is at the Church of the Redeemer on 4th Avenue and Pacific Street). At the Court-Montague station entrance at Montague and Clinton Streets, there’s one depicting the Church of the Holy Trinity and the stained glass windows created by William Jay Bolton for the church, which was designed by one of NYC’s highly-regarded of ecclesiastic architacts, Minard Lefever, in 1848.

However, the church you find when you alight on the street hasn’t been called the Church of the Holy Trinity since 1969 when the Episcopal St. Ann’s Church moved out of a then-decrepit building at Clinton and Livingston Streets to this building, which along with its parish was renamed the Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity. For many years the church was a performance and arts center, hosting The Brooklyn Opera Society, the Brooklyn Philharmonia Chorus and also performers from the rock and pop world such as Marianne Faithfull and Lou Reed.













Here’s the church itself, and we see that the mosaic representation of the windows isn’t that far off. But there’s also something interesting at the subway entarnces themselves.

Four classic BMT entrance lamps are preserved here. The green light has a dual purpose. It’s an indicator that this entrance is open 24 hours a day. Howeverm green lights also served to demarcate Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) trains, with blue indicating Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT). After the 1960s this system broke down after most of these indicator lamps were removed; in the 1980s, green, red, and yellow lights were installed on these stanchions to show whether the station was open as an entrance all the time (green), red (never) or yellow (part of the time).

This is a newer specimen at Court and Montague, shot with a flash (left) and without, showing the true color (right). Someday, a point and shoot camera will be developed that will provide clear pictures in inadequate light without a flash.













The mosaic work at the BMT side of the Boro Hall-Court-Montague station is superb and among the most colorful in the whole system. Only the mosaics on the Canarsie Line (the L train) surpass it with more colors of the palette.

Subway mosaic plaques prove to be essential in researching the buildings that used to stand above their stations. I didn’t shoot one of the Court-Montague station plaques, which depict the old Kings County Courthouse, which was torn down long ago but stood a couple of blocks away at Boerum Place and Joralemon Street in the space now occupied by the Brooklyn Law School. The present Kings County Courthouse stands on Adams Street between Fulton and Tillary.

I did get one of the mosaic plaques on the IRT Borough Hall station serving the #2 and 3 lines. This one dates to 1919 and shows Brooklyn Borough Hall, formerly City Hall, and a great deal of puffy clouds.

Borough Hall looks nothing like this now, though. Even though the mosaic was installed in 1919, designer Squire Vickers chose to depict Brooklyn City Hall as it was before 1895, when Brooklyn was still a separate city and its city hall had a taller tower. The building got its present cupola after the tower was destroyed in a fire that year. Brooklyn has had this building at the ghost intersection of Fulton and Court Streets since the 1840s!


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