Goodbye to South Ferry

The old South Ferry station on the IRT is about to be replaced with a new, larger station, so yesterday I roped mary_wroth into a brief photo expedition to the old station.

I grew up in the public-transit wastelands of Staten Island, which even though it’s part of New York City is the only county in a 50-mile radius without a direct rail link to Manhattan. So, South Ferry was the closest thing I had to a subway stop; after a bus ride of anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and a half-hour ferry ride, I could head down the stairs to the cramped, curved platform, only big enough to fit the front half of a subway train, and take the the Seventh Avenue Local (that’s what my dad and grandfather called it; when I first started riding the trains the standardized color scheme didn’t exist yet and the number/letter system was used inconsistently) to magical places worlds away from my semi-suburban neighborhood.

It took me to 14th Street, where Baird Searles’ Science Fiction Shop was located, and the main branch of Barnes and Noble (a bookstore heaven to a kid who only knew the Paperback Booksmith and Waldenbooks in the mall; this was several decades before the advent of the superstores) was just a short walk away. To 33rd Street, to go to the wargame/D&D heaven of the Compleat Strategist. To Christopher Street, for an afternoon rummaging through the bins at Second Coming and the Record Runner and other stores long gone and forgotten even by me. (And no, Bleecker Bob’s, while still open, was never on the list — it was an infamous clip joint where $3.99 albums sold for $25 and the staff was rude.)

The unusual aspects of the station — the moving grates that covered the gap between the curved platform and the car door, the horrendous screech of the wheels as the train came into the curve — were all things I associated firmly with The Subway. I learned to walk between cars very early so that I could walk up to the first five cars if I got on at the back of the train. None of this was strange to me, although most subway riders have probably never experienced them. The only other station with the moving grates and the curves is Union Square and I don’t think any other platform in the system is too short for a full train. And there’s really no reason to use the South Ferry station if you’re not going to take the ferry.

It will be gone soon, replaced with a new station that’s bigger and brighter and can fit a full train, and has a connection to the Whitehall Street BMT station. Anyone who uses the station regularly will be much happier with the new one, but I’ll always be nostalgic for the old one. And oh so very glad that I don’t have to use it anymore.

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3 Responses to Goodbye to South Ferry

  1. harrietbrown says:

    Aw, you knew I was going to comment, right?

    Bleecker Blob’s – who could forget them? And didn’t you go to The Strand in the city and The Book Nook on Forest Avenue and Clove Lakes Bookstore on Staten Island? I seem to remember Record Runner in the city.

    I can’t believe they’re tearing the old South Ferry station down. Sure, it’s a piece of crap, but it’s OUR PIECE OF CRAP!!! I have so many fond memories of that station. Hopefully the MTA won’t run out of money while they’re renovating and they’ll be able to finish the project.

    • ken says:

      Well you know, given that my explorations did follow a particular subway line, I didn’t discover the Strand right away. I started going there later, around the time I discovered Forbidden Planet, which at the time still sold books, but that was also a time when science fiction conventions were full of authors and books instead of movie paraphernalia and comics.

      Record Runner is/was on Cornelia Street, in a tiny downstairs space. It’s still a record or rather CD store now, but of a very different kind.

      Clove Lakes Books! Yes, of course, and last I saw it was still there. I don’t remember the Book Nook, actually; the bookstore I spent the most time in was just off Forest Avenue, the Barrett Book Trader which has since closed. There was also a small and messy store on Jewett Avenue run by Harlow McMillen who was I think the son of Loring McMillen who was the borough historian at the time. I don’t remember the name of that store but it was a couple of doors down from Bennet’s Bicycles which is still there.

      The new station is almost done; I made time to get down there this week because I think it will be in operation by the time I get back. I don’t know what they’re planning to do with the old one.

      • harrietbrown says:

        I remember I got the Ursula LeGuin “Earthsea” trilogy at Forbidden Planet. The owners of Forbidden Planet, The Strand and Barnes & Noble and I forget – one other bookstore – used to have breakfast together once a week back when I worked in The Strand in ’84. Those guys – they carved up the book/media universe between them.

        Clove Lakes Books is still there, far as I know. Book Nook was owned by the mother of one of my friends. I’m sorry to hear the Barrett Book Trader closed. I just recommended it to sheelaghnagig. I remember that store off Forest on Jewett! I found first editions of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers in there! They were in crappy condition, but hey! first editions! I still have them. They used to have books all jumbled up in boxes, right? Is that where Mystikal Wonders is now (that shyster Adele, grr …)? That area went through a renaissance in the 90’s, then it went downhill. Obviously, I haven’t been there in a couple of years.

        Good times, good times!

        The new station is almost done you say? Where have I been? They weren’t even working on it last time I was in the city. Or wait, has the old one been operational while the new one has been under construction? (Dumb question, I know. Bear with me.) So where is the new station?

        Where’s Waldo? My god, man, what have you done with him?!?!?!?!

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