Evolution of NYC Subway Tile (708712)

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Posted by GP38 Chris on Mon May 17 23:21:25 2004

After this thread, I thought I would sort of start a new thread about the evolution of NYC subway tile. Hopefully I am not missing anything, like I first did in a response in the above thread:

-It all started in 1904 with the bas reliefs and elaborate mosaics at the Contract One stations:

-In the late teens and 1920's, one of the first evolutions was the loss of the bas reliefs and changing to all tile (mosaic) decoration which came into play during the dual contracts:
(This is actually the mosaic replacement of one of the destroyed bas reliefs when they made an underpass at 28th St)

Typical Dual Contract tile:

-In the 1930's came the first major evolution in tile decoration with the dawn of the IND. The classic IND tile reflects heavily the clean crisp simpicity of the depression era. As Pig stated, the IND classic design is actually a play on the already simpified Dual Contract tile. There was still a colored ceiling band, although now without mosaic, and the name tablets had a simplified mosaic design. Instead of the mosaic monograms in the tile band, the IND had repeating simplified tile monograms (or name) matching the simplified tile ceiling band:

Next came the local IRT extensions on the Lexington Line between Grand Central and Union Square and the Downtown sides of the local stations between Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge. These stations are clearly influenced by the IND, although a little more elaborate (remember the IRT was still a private company). The design is sort of a marrying of the IND look to the old Dual COntract look. These extensions do not match the original stations, however don't really clash with it either. At the same time, they added column encasings at these stations with the same font as the mosaics on the extensions. These column encasings sort of pulled together the old part of the stations with the extensions, making very attractive stations.
It is very easy to see the IND influence in it:

1930's tile column encasings:

-With the 1940's came the war. The post WWII stations still retained the IND look, although it had evolved a bit into the "new style" IND tile. Gone was the small shiney tile, and a larger rougher sort of tile replaced it, although the classic IND look was still very noticable:

-The early 1950's saw the "new style" IND tile change to verticle positioning:

-This brings us finally to the late 1950's and to the platform extension tiles which were the start of the thread linked above. This is a further evolution of the IND tile. The colored band and repeating names remained, although they were moved into the band, and the mosiac name tablets finally left the walls after almost 6 decades:

-Then came the late 1960's and early 1970's which finally lost the look of the IND (and the foundations of the IRT and BMT too). The "tile" evolved from the "new style" large tile to a simplified polished "refrigerator (cement block) tile" look, which is actually very much like the "new IND style" tiles as they were done in a tile fasion as opposed to the standard way you would "build a cement block wall". Still gone are mosaic tablets, just like the "1950's extension tile", but the color was actually taken away from the ceiling band and now placed where the station identification was placed:

-The late 70's and early 80's brought the end of consistency, and many different tests and looks came into play. While I find 49th Street rather interesting, some of the others are quite bad, such as 137th St and Hoyt: Interestingly, many of these renovations are also somehow connected. Just as the Broadway line's late 60's refrigerator tile covers over the old walls with a brick or block type of wall, so do the 70's and early 80's renovations. Examples would be old Cortlandt IRT, 49th St, Hoyt, 137th St, etc. So in all the "mayhem" there is still a design element that links it to that era, just like all the tile design before it had been connected:

-The 1980's also brought some of the worst design, and probably the most simplistic such as some horrendous renovations such as 23rd Lex in the fare control area. The 80's also brought floor tile (also at that station), and a more modern look, such as the Archer Ave stations. Even the Archer stations do have a connection to the "block" look that was common in the late 70's and early 80's"

-But renovations finally began to turn around as it was finally realized what a gem much of the artwork in the subway was. They still kept the "block syle" of the 70's, but actually preserved the mosaics, such as at Wall St and 51st Steet:

-Finally, the 1990's (well 1989) brought back a new phenomena....reproduction! The first reproductions or creation of mosaics were quite primitive, but the thought was there. The "simplicity" of just throwing up a metal sign was finally over. And Essex Street (and a small section of tile band at Graham Ave on the L by a utility room) led the way to the "repro" look, although is once again connected to the style before it....the cement block/brick look:

Finally, this brings us to the late 90's and the 2000's. Today, they have restored old mosaics where they could or recreating ones damaged as needed, removing the mistakes of the past. They have gotten quite good, and sometimes even recreate mosaics that were never even there to where they should have been!

(exact repro of 1930's extension tiles on 1950's side)

(photo by Broadway Junction)

So basically, every type of tile throughout the decades does have a chain that sort of connects all the different styles. Let's see if the 2nd AVe subway will have at least one link to them as to not finally break the chain after 100 years....


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