IND 4TH AVENUE. An unacknowledged masterpiece

by Kevin Walsh

The Fourth Avenue IND elevated station opened July 1, 1933, and has pretty much been allowed to decay ever since. In my opinion, the MTA doesn’t know what it has, since it combines classical and Art Deco styles in a seemingly effortless manner. Hopefully, the MTA will wake up soon and realize it has a jewel in its crown.

The IND, planned in the 1920s and built throughout the 1930s in the teeth of the Depression, is really only half finished. Other lines reaching out to the eastern sections of Queens and southern parts of Brooklyn were also in the works, but World War II halted construction–and it never got restarted. An odd sign here and there hints at the expansion that never took place.

Manhattan as seen (1999 view) from the Brooklyn-bound platform of the IND Smith-9th Street platform. The Smith-9th and 4th Avenue stations, the only elevated IND stations as originally built, are quite different, but both can be considered crown jewels of the subway system. If only the MTA would see it that way.

To take the four-track subway over Fourth Avenue the Independent Subway fashioned this viaduct that’s both functional and beautiful. Note the Art Deco-era embellishments on the bottom of the trestle.

Until the early 1970s the windows that faced the platforms were not painted over. The girders that arched over the tracks from the platforms combined with sunshine streaking in from outside was almost reminiscent of European train stations and depots. After the early 70s, vandalism combined with a general lack of upkeep prompted the MTA to paint over the windows rather than deal with their care.

Can there be any benefits from neglect? Well, three of the original IND pencil-shaped subway signs have been allowed to remain in place at Fourth Avenue.

There are only two stations in the entire IND that were purposely built to be elevated lines. Those are the Smith-9th Street station (today serving the F and G lines) and the Fourth Avenue station (currently serving the F with a transfer added after WWII to the Fourth Avenue BMT line (R).

Above we see the massive station exterior seen from 10th Street near 4th Avenue in Park Slope. Notice the elaborate decorative work that’s the trademark of 1930s public works.

Also a factor in compromising the viaduct’s appearance is the intrusion of commercial realities. The city has sold space to advertisers on this bridge for many years.

If you’re not familiar with this area of Brooklyn, it may be a bit hard to believe, but the IND at this point quickly dives back underground, where it stays until it connects with the older Culver Line at Ditmas Avenue. The reason is geography: the land slopes sharply upward here (the Slope in Park Slope.)

Why elevate two stations in the first place? It was considered more architecturally sound to elevate the subway over the then-busy Gowanus Canal rather than tunnel under it. As a product of that construction, the Smith-9th St. station is the highest elevated station in NYC, rising a full 87+ feet above the street. It takes two escalators to get up and down.

In 2011, Fourth Avenue is on the list of stations that are to be rehabbed by the MTA and the work has commenced. Here’s hoping they can restore the windows to their original splendor, and make the connection between the IND and the Fourth Avenue BMT a little easier. You currently have to hike three flights of steps, and blind corners are a mugger’s paradise.