Imagine how much easier it would be for alternative transportation with the L train apocalypse if there was a parallel subway line from Williamsburg providing another route to Manhattan!
In 1929, such a godsend of a line was not only planned but began construction; the plans did not get very far. The city dug out a tunnel that still sits under Williamsburg at S. 4th Street. Subway historian Benjamin Kabak described the tantalizing phantom subway line in his blog Second Avenue Sagas.
Kabak revealed the existence of the huge subway shell as part of his underbelly project. He claims that the envisioned subway tunnel was intended to accommodate four subway lines, which would have made it one of the largest stations in the city. Cruelly, the partially excavated tunnel sits just above the Broadway stop on the G line. The plans were tragically visionary: According to Kabak, both the Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue lines would have passed through this station, bound for multiple points east, south and north.
In September 1929, the Board of Transportation announced a subway expansion plan called the Second System, which is documented in Joseph Raskin’s book The Routes Not Taken, a Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subways.
One of the major hubs in this 100-mile subway expansion was the envisioned South Fourth Street Line, a six-track station in South Williamsburg. The South 4th Street Line was intended to be a major transfer and connection point for a second subway line, part of which years later became the Second Avenue line. According to Kabak, the shell was built into the ceiling of the Broadway stop on the IND Crosstown — a so-called provision statement — before the city even knew if it had funding to complete the projected line.
So what stopped this dream-of-a line from becoming reality? The plans were drawn up in 1929, the same year the Great Depression hit. For the following decade, there was no money in the city’s budget to even think about new subway construction. World War II then blocked any plans for subway construction and after the war, Robert Moses, the power broker whose plans shaped the modern city, favored highways over mass transit. The vision of another subway line faded into oblivion.
The South Fourth Street tunnel cannot even be correctly categorized as an abandoned line because a rail line never went through it. Lights were also never strung up below. Only a few parts were actually built: the excavated hole, some poured concrete and just a couple of unfinished stairwells that were later blocked up. Evidently, the excavated shell is a repository of really cool street art. Kabak refers to it as more of an abandoned dream than subway station, but what a teasing dream and how much more of a teaser will it be in April when the L line closes!