Fascinating photos show the 20th-century construction of NYC’s subway system

Posted On Thu, February 13, 2020 By

Posted On Thu, February 13, 2020 By In Downtown Brooklyn, History, Museums, Transportation

Lexington Avenue, between 105th and 106th Streets, Manhattan, 1913. Photograph by Pierre P. Pullis, Lundin Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum

A new photo exhibit at the New York Transit Museum provides a unique look at the construction of the city’s subway system, as well as its enduring impact. Opening Thursday, Streetscapes & Subways: Photographs by Pierre P. and Granville W. Pullis shows what it was like before and after the subway system was constructed, as well as the architectural and cultural changes occurring simultaneously above ground.


4th Avenue & 10th Street, Manhattan, 1900. Photograph by Pierre P. Pullis, Subway Construction Photograph Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.


7th Avenue and 42nd Street, Manhattan, 1914. Photograph by Granville W. Pullis, Lundin Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.

At the turn of the century, the city hired brothers Pierre and Granville Pullis to take survey photographs of certain areas before and after construction as part of its planning process. Originally meant to document conditions at worksites, the brothers’ photos ultimately captured the transformation of New York into a modern city.


East River Tunnel construction, 1907. Photograph by Granville W. Pullis, Subway Construction Photograph Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.


Ashland Place & Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 1911. Photograph by Granville W. Pullis, Subway Construction Photograph Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.

The photographs were made with an 8 X 10 camera and glass plates, which were considered a more stable alternative to then commonly used sheet film. Pullis’ made the contact prints by laying the negative onto a piece of photographic paper. Because glass negatives were typically cleared and reused, it’s unusual that so many glass negative prints that were created before 1925 survived, according to the museum.


9th Street subway entrance, Brooklyn, 1910. Photograph by Granville W. Pullis, Lundin Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.


Willets Point Station, Queens, 1927. Photograph by Pierre P. Pullis, Lundin Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.


Workers in pump chamber, The Bronx, 1916. Photograph by Granville W. Pullis, Subway Construction Photographs Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.


Workers in the Greenpoint Tube, 1929. Photograph by Pierre P. Pullis, Eugene Casey Tunneling Collection, Courtesy of the New York Transit Museum

“The Transit Museum is incredibly proud to be the stewards of the Pullis collection, which is recognized as one of, if not the, most comprehensive repositories of images related to original subway construction in existence,” Concetta Bencivenga, director of the New York Transit Museum said.

“For more than thirty years, these brothers documented the ‘before, during, and after’ of subway construction, and by extension bore witness to the incredible transformative power mass transit had on New York City. This show is, in a word, remarkable.”

Starting Feb. 13, the exhibit will run through Jan. 17 of next year at the museum, located at 99 Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn. General admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children, and free for museum members. Learn more about the collection here.

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Photographs: Streetscapes & Subways: Photographs by Pierre P. and Granville W. Pullis, courtesy of the New York Transit Museum

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Neighborhoods : Downtown Brooklyn

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