Christopher Street is one of New York City’s oldest streets: known as Skinner Road in the 18th century, it was rechristened in 1799 by local landowner Charles Christopher Amos with the name it holds to this day. Filled with historic architecture and noteworthy sites including the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park, the street remains relatively tranquil through much of its stretch in the West Village. Yet for a brief period in the early 20th century, from 1918 to 1940, it was also a mini-transit hub, with three stations serving three different modes of rail transit in a little over three blocks.
Ninth Avenue Elevated Line
The oldest of those stations, and the only one no longer extant, was the Christopher Street stop on the Ninth Avenue elevated line. This was the city’s first elevated railway, opening in lower Manhattan as an experimental single-track cable powered line in 1868. The company that owned the railway defaulted on its mortgage in 1871; the following year the line was purchased by the newly organized New York Elevated Railway Co., which quickly began to expand train capacity and extend the line uptown through Manhattan (reaching 155th Street by 1879) and toward the Bronx (by 1918).
The Christopher Street express station at Greenwich Street — the route the Ninth Avenue line followed in Greenwich Village — opened to the public on November 3, 1873. By 1940, the entire line was considered obsolete with the opening of the Eighth Avenue subway in 1932. This stop served the community until it closed on June 11, 1940, and was soon demolished with almost all of the other Manhattan stations on the line.
The grand entryway to the elevated station, modeled after a Swiss chalet, inspired two well-known artists to capture its appearance as it loomed over the small intersection. Berenice Abbott photographed the stop in 1936 as part of her work within the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration. Two years earlier, Beulah Buttersworth painted a wintry, slushy scene under and around the station. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt selected the artwork, Christopher Street, Greenwich Village to hang in the White House, and the painting now resides in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
A second station is also featured in Buttersworth’s creation: Just about 100 feet from the elevated is the entrance to the Christopher Street station on the “Hudson Tunnels” line, part of what is today the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) system. The network under Manhattan and into New Jersey was under the control of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Co., the last in a succession of companies set up to build rail tunnels under the river in a project that launched in 1873. Construction on the tunnels was completed by 1905. On February 25, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt activated the system, including Christopher Street and the three other original stations in Manhattan, by pushing a button in the White House. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took over operation of the H&M Railroad in 1962, rebranding it as PATH.
Following the attacks of 9/11 and the closing of the World Trade Center station, the Christopher Street stop became the busiest in the PATH network, resulting in overcrowding there and the next stop in Manhattan at Ninth Street and Sixth Avenue. The Port Authority proposed a new entrance for Christopher Street on the southeast corner of Bedford Street and for Ninth Street on the southeast corner of Waverly Place. Greenwich Village residents, elected leaders, and community organizations including Village Preservation opposed the proposal, as both were along narrow side streets with fragile 19th-century architecture and in historic districts. The plan never went through to completion, and the opening of a temporary World Trade Center station in November 2003 lessened crowding and the need for new entrances at the Village stations.
The last station to enter service on the street was the local Christopher Street-Sheridan Square subway stop at Seventh Avenue. It was one of many new stations built as part of the 1913 “Dual Contracts” that facilitated the construction of lines in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including one from Times Square to lower Manhattan that required the widening of Seventh Avenue (and resulting in the Hess Triangle near one of Christopher Street’s southbound entrances). The Christopher Street stop opened with the rest of the line on July 1, 1918. As was typical of early subway stations, ceramic-tile shields in the banner running along the station’s walls depict a local site or image of historical interest — in this case, the Newgate State Prison that was bordered by Christopher, Perry, and Washington Streets and the Hudson River shoreline, and demolished in the mid-19th century.
Another significant artwork in the Christopher Street station is “The Greenwich Village Murals,” crafted by Lee Brozgol and installed in 1994. Brozgol’s original concept for the series of ceramic panels on the platform’s walls was to showcase a famous local in each of the twelve spots available, but choosing individuals became difficult because “the village [was] so rich in amazing characters who shaped America,” he said. Instead, the artist decided to work with fifth- and sixth-graders from nearby P.S. 41 to select 40 people within four categories — Founders, Providers, Bohemians, and Rebels — that honor the community’s history of artistic and political activism.
Learn more about our communities rich transit history on our website.