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Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 7:29 PM
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JAMES KEIVOM/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

The $88 million Harlem RBI DREAM charter school, which kicked off classes in August, is the first major new school building to open in the neighborhood in three decades.

Yankee star Mark Teixeira will join Harlem RBI founder Rich Berlin, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others Thursday for the official opening of an $84 million charter school and affordable housing development project in East Harlem.

The DREAM charter school, which kicked off classes in August, is the first major school building to open in the neighborhood in three decades, said Berlin, whose organization operates the school.

Slugger Teixeira pledged $1 million to the undertaking.

 

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Mercury, the swift god of travel, appears on the facade of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the Bronx, as he does at Grand Central Terminal.
Mercury, the swift god of travel, appears on the facade of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the Bronx, as he does at Grand Central Terminal.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

You already know. A notable New York City train station — ornamented with a handsome figure of the god Mercury, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, once daunted by bad fortune but handsomely renovated not long ago — has reached its centenary.

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Entrance arcade.
Entrance arcade.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

What you may not know is that the centenary was last year.

Because this isn’t a post about Grand Central Terminal. It’s about the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building at East 180th Street and Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx, built in 1912. The railroad went out of business in 1937, but its distinctive home serves as the entrance to the East 180th Street station for No. 2 and No. 5 trains.

And it received a kind of 100th birthday gift last year: a $66.6 million renovation by New York City Transit.

“It’s not often that we get the opportunity to do work at a facility that has the historical and architectural significance of the East 180th Street station,” said Thomas F. Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit, the arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that is in charge of the city’s subways and buses. “There was a collective effort to achieve the objective, to restore it to historical significance.”

The collective effort was led by Lee Harris Pomeroy Architects, which designed the renovation in association with Weidlinger Associates. “We thought of the restoration of this major historic landmark as a significant gesture of respect to the Bronx,” he said. “It is the only New York City subway station that is entered through a formal, landscaped plaza and free-standing National Register building.”

Such a building posed many challenges, Mr. Prendergast said, including finding workers skilled enough to restore stucco walls and clay roof tiles, the kind of workers who predominated when private railroads had the money and incentive to build public spaces well.

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The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the Bronx now serves as the East 180th Street station on the No. 2 and No. 5 lines.
The New York, Westchester & Boston Railway Administration Building in the Bronx now serves as the East 180th Street station on the No. 2 and No. 5 lines.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

Money was indeed abundant on the New York, Westchester & Boston, which was controlled by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, which was effectively controlled by J. P. Morgan. The Westchester had a Y-shaped route system. Its west fork ran as far as White Plains, its east fork as far as Port Chester. (Despite the name, it never went close to Boston.) The main stem was in the Bronx, terminating at East 132nd Street, with a connection to the Third Avenue el.

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Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

Extravagant sums were spent on construction: about $36 million for a 20-mile line. The idea was to carry commuters in almost deluxe comfort aboard all-electric coaches traveling on carpet-smooth track beds, with no grade crossings, as far as the Bronx, where they would then pay only a nickel to complete their journey to work on the el. Underscoring its commitment to quality, the railroad hired Alfred T. Fellheimer, an architect who also worked on Grand Central Terminal as a partner in Reed & Stem, to design its four-story administration building. It resembles an Italian villa.

“Given a choice between Grand Central and a higher fare or the Bronx terminal and a lower fare, passengers by the thousands were expected to switch to the Westchester,” Stan Fischler wrote in “Uptown, Downtown: A Trip Through Time on New York’s Subways” (1976). It was also expected that the seemingly inexorable uptown march of commerce would reach the Bronx, placing the railroad’s handsome administration building near the heart of the city, rather than on the outskirts.

Neither vision materialized. The Westchester, which began running in 1912, never turned a profit. It was one of the first holdings to be liquidated when the New Haven filed for bankruptcy in 1935. Service on the line ended two years later.

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The lobby has two retail areas, including one at right.
The lobby has two retail areas, including one at right.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

But the ghosts of the Westchester endure, most prominently in the administration building and in the 4.25-mile right-of-way from East 180th Street to Dyre Avenue in the Bronx, which was acquired by the city in 1940 to serve as the Dyre Avenue line.

The building’s old upstairs offices are still used for railroad purposes, now by employees of the transit agency’s rapid transit operations, signals and structures divisions. Two attractive retail spaces with plate-glass fronts flank the ground-floor lobby. One is to be occupied this year. The transportation authority will issue a request for proposals for the other space.

The general contractor for the renovation was Citnalta Construction Corporation. The plaza was redesigned by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. The Arts for Transit program commissioned work by Luisa Caldwell.

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The newly renovated passage between the railroad building and the subway platform.
The newly renovated passage between the railroad building and the subway platform.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

The project included rehabilitation of the existing building, reconfiguring the plaza to include a ramp, installing an elevator, improving pedestrian circulation and reconstructing a dank passageway between the administration building and the passenger platforms into an inviting, light-filled corridor.

What the project did not include — at first —  was a clock under the figure of Mercury, where one had once been. No money was budgeted for this extra touch. But then Michael Gargiulo, the president of Citnalta, visited the site. “He didn’t think it looked right without a clock,” said Matthew Blitch, the vice president of the company.

The contractors learned that they could buy a 45-inch diameter clock with Roman numerals from the Electric Time Company of Medfield, Mass., for $8,000. That cost, and the labor to install it, were Citnalta’s extra contribution to the project. “It adds so much to the facade of the building,” Mr. Blitch said. Whether it adds to or subtracts from straphangers’ anxiety is another matter entirely.

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The new mosaic murals in the station are by Luisa Caldwell.
The new mosaic murals in the station are by Luisa Caldwell.Credit David W. Dunlap/The New York Times