Bay Ridge

Construction at Bay Ridge station rips through historic tile work

November 15, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A local history buff is blasting the MTA after its contractors ripped through century-old mosaic tile work while renovating the 86th Street station in Bay Ridge.

“MTA’s contractors have seriously damaged, removed and cut through the original 1916 mosaic tile work from when this station opened 103 years ago,” Kelly Carroll, director of advocacy and community outreach at the Historic Districts Council, told the Brooklyn Eagle Thursday, shortly after she first noticed the wreckage.

“When I was coming home last night, I saw that, on half of the wall, contractors cut all of the tile completely, and it wasn’t even cut in a straight line, which tells me there’s no preservation plan here,” Carroll said. “And looking at a lot of the pieces themselves, you can tell they’ve been bludgeoned. It’s very evident to me that nobody working in that station was given any direction from anyone to be mindful of the destruction of the artwork.”

Though the station has been made over time and time again, Carroll recounted that, until this week, at least two spots within the station were still home to the terminal’s original tiling.

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“Around the booth and along the stairs as you descend from 86th Street and Fourth Avenue,” she said. “There’s a criss-cross pattern and those are the ones from 1916 when the station — originally the first and last stop on the line — opened.”

The most recent construction at the terminal began last June, when the MTA moved forward with a plan to make the station Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

The project — slated to continue through next summer — technically dates back to 2004 when the neighborhood’s 95th Street station was chosen as one of 100 key stations to get an elevator. Thirteen years later, the MTA decided to transform the hub one stop over, instead.

Photo: Kelly Carroll

But Carroll’s frustrations have nothing to do with the plan. Rather, it is the execution that has her wishing the tiles — and the now-visible terra-cotta fireproofing behind them — had some sort of protection.

“There is so little left of the original tiles along the R line in Brooklyn in general, and in this station what is left, in my opinion, should not be discarded or destroyed,” she told the Eagle. “Manhattan’s stations’ tiles are cherished, why should this be any different?”

There is an added irony in it all, Carroll said.

“The Transit Museum and the MTA itself sells merchandise with that exact tile work on it,” she said, “so it’s this weird thing where [the MTA] is proud of the artwork that’s below our city, but then [their] contractors are destroying it.”

A spokesperson for the MTA has since contended that the agency’s contractor has been instructed to leave the tile untouched, where crews can.

“This project is making the 86th Street station fully ADA accessible with two new elevators and an additional new stairway to reduce crowding — critical upgrades that require some station surfaces to be demolished and rebuilt,” the rep said. “The contractor is instructed to leave existing decorative tile undisturbed wherever possible, and any other tile will be painstakingly recreated to match the original installation, down to size, texture, thickness, and even grout color and width. When the project is done we will return to the community a fully accessible station even more beautiful than it was before.”

Councilmember Justin Brannan’s office told the Eagle it has reached out to the MTA and is looking into Carroll’s concerns.

Update (Monday, 11:20 a.m.): This article has been updated to include comment from the MTA.

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