In one case in which modern MTA actually clarifies matters instead of duplicating previously existing signage or muddies the transportation waters, a 1980s vintage sign in the 45th Street station on the BMT 4th Avenue Line makes clear that the southbound trains are going to 95th Street, instead of “up town.” There is a corresponding mosaic on the Manhattan-bound side proclaiming it “down town” which makes more sense, as its trains are heading for the Brooklyn Borough Hall area and later, Manhattan. But in 1915 (when the 4th Avenue Line was built) thinking, “up town” meant south, toward 95th Street. None of the line’s builders are alive today, so canvassing them is impossible on the matter. 


By the 1930s, when the Independent Subway was constructed, the modern notion that “uptown” meant “north” had been crystallized and solidified. That did not prevent the MTA from installing a modern sign with virtually the same wording, because standardization is the ultimate signage goal. At least the IND mosaic wasn’t removed or covered, which also happens. 

Maybe I’m just being hardheaded and, of course, south to 95th Street is “up town.” Comments are, as always, open.

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6 Responses to GOING UPTOWN, Sunset Park

  1. Alan Gregg Cohen says:

    I always associated directions with the cardinal points of the compass; thus up is north (colloquial “up north”), down is south (as in “down south”), out is west (as in “out west”), and back is east (as in “back east”). Also a comparative are the words lower and upper where upper usually means north and lower usually means south.

  2. Edward says:

    “Uptown” can mean different things in different cities. It can mean north, it can mean up the river, it can mean up the hill or it can mean higher numbered streets. It just so happens that in Manhattan (but not Brooklyn) it means all those things. Harlem is north of Midtown, up the river from Midtown, parts are at higher elevations than Midtown, and the streets have higher numbers.
    I think whoever designed the 1915 signage thought of “uptown” in terms of the numbers of the streets increasing, or going “up”. Under that logic, 95th Street would be uptown from 45th. Much of the area was still developing 102 years ago, and it probably seemed a logical term to use at the time, especially if the designer was using Manhattan as an example. I’ve never known of anyone, however, that actually referred to Bay Ridge or Ft. Hamilton as “uptown”, so the term probably never went beyond the BMT planners.
    Most Brooklynites, then as now, spoke in terms of neighborhoods.

  3. jerry friedman says:

    I also like how “Up Town” was two separate words in the older sign. Shades of the “Any Time” versus “Anytime” discussion on your subsequent “No Parking” post!!

  4. The Cheese says:

    I recently had a discussion with one of my neighbors (in Southeast Portland, Ore.) about which direction “up the street” was; he said that it obviously was to the north, while I said it was equally obviously to the south (my reasoning being that the street numbers get bigger as you go south) thus “up”. I backed this with noting that, according to my reasoning, heading north puts one in the direction of “downtown” which sealed the deal.

  5. Nirmal says:

    When I lived in Lehigh valley area, we rarely used uptown/downtown. Once in awhile, but usually pointed more to a certain area – grape street, the south side, main street, Lehigh street etc. when I moved to NYC I learned the meaning of uptown/downtown, going ‘into the city’ meant. U learn a whole new vocabulary in NYC lol

  6. Larry says:

    I live in the Uptown section of Seattle which is North of the downtown core near the Space Needle and Seattle Center complex…

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