Taking Sony’s Pelham 1 2 3 Secret Subway Tour

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You have to give studios some credit when they try to find new and interesting ways to get journalists excited about their movies, and Sony certainly pulled out a wild idea from their bag of tricks to promote Tony Scott’s upcoming remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. It makes sense they’d want New York journalists on their side, since most of us had been affected at least one time or another while Scott was in the city filming the movie, either when he was shutting down streets or entire subway stations in order to make the movie.

After watching the movie at Sony’s private screening room and marveling at all of the New York City locations Scott was able to include in the film, we were met by representatives from the MTA who were going to abduct us for a few hours to take us on a “very special” subway ride to a few undisclosed locations. We were each provided with a backpack containing lunch (from Subway, of course), before we walked over to the nearby subway stop at 59th and Lexington, where the dozen or so journalists and bloggers walked to the end of the platform and waited patiently for what we told would be our own private subway car.

This station is on the “6” line that’s prominently featured in the movie, and sure enough, after another passenger train picked up the waiting commuters, we were met by our own special car that declared “No Passengers”… except us. With no clear idea of where we were going, we blindly boarded this abandoned subway car as it took off down the tracks. If you frequently ride the New York subway system, you’ll understand why this was such a momentous event for us, having two entire cars all to ourselves, as the train ran from 59th Street all the way downtown seemingly without stopping once. It was our fastest train ride ever, as we zoomed by the people waiting on the tracks, all of whom stared in disbelief, aghast that a nearly empty train wouldn’t stop for them. (Being journalists, we had to obnoxiously wave as we passed, something that never got tiring.) Each of us also got to spend a little time in the conductor’s cabin to see the tracks in a way that few straphangers ever have a chance.

We finally arrived at our secret destination, a station labeled “City Hall” on a colorful series of tiles, and we discovered that this was in fact the very first subway station ever built, the original Old City Hall station that was no longer in use. The amount of dust everywhere made it evidently clear how few visitors this station receives, although we imagined that if he wanted, Mayor Bloomberg could probably use it to get in or out of his office quickly, since there was a convenient set of stairs leading directly up to City Hall Park. From the tracks, we walked up a set of stairs to a small room used as a “waiting area” in the old days, since back then, passengers would be led to and from trains by the conductors. In the ceiling, there was an ornate stained glass skylight, which we were told could only be seen from the park if someone were to know where to look for it. We all were generally impressed by the tilework that adorned the station walls, showing an old school craftsmanship that’s long been replaced with modern art in the newer station designs. In fact, this unused station exists in a part of the 6 line that’s used as a circle for downtown trains to turn around before heading back uptown. Apparently, it’s one of the few lines that actually has a turnaround circle, rather than stopping at the end and then heading back the other way.

After roaming around for a bit, taking pictures and learning more about the history of the station from our hosts, we got back on another car and headed to the Brooklyn Bridge station where we exited the subway system and were taken into a secret room, which we learned was once inhabited, but it was now being used for storage. At a portal at the end of the room, we could look out and see the old entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge that had since been rebuilt.

There was a conspicuous stairway leading down further in the center of the room, but we were told not to go down there. Of course, being journalists, who are we to listen to instructions? A small group of us followed one of the trainmen with a flashlight into the dark and we fumbled around in the pitch black, starting to feel like we were in a bad horror movie as we wandered around in the dark, using our camera flash to light up sections and get some idea where we we going.

Fortunately, our main guide followed behind us and he knew where the light switch (!) was and when he switched it on, we were amazed by the space that was lovingly called “The Wine Cellar,” where they actually had stored champagne decades earlier. We walked through a few tunnels that showed signs of the original Brooklyn Bridge station before arriving in an absolutely enormous cavernous space, which one would really have to see to believe.

We spent a good amount of time exploring, impressed by the combination of natural cavern structures with portions that were clearly constructed, seamless merged together to create an area that’s often been used for film and television shoots due to the unique environment created. On the ground, we could see the leftover tracks from an attempted subway line that was meant to go across the Brooklyn Bridge but was scrapped because the incline was too steep for the older trains.

Things started to get really fun as we walked up an ancient dusty staircase to a raised area with a low ceiling and we could see a light in the distance, which we realized was the actual Brooklyn Bridge station where the cars waited to be loaded with passengers. We were led across a precarious ledge that took us to another area where we could get a closer look out over the train station. This part of the trip wasn’t as much fun because it was unlit, and we had to rely on the flashlight prowess of our fellow journalists, something I wouldn’t recommend. It was also a lot harder to get back to the previous section of the tunnels, but fortunately, our makeshift spelunking crew were able to get back without losing anyone of importance.

Anyone who thinks one has to go to Europe to see old architecture or buried ruins might be surprised by the empty cavernous spaces that lie dormant beneath the streets of New York and its subway system. Mind you, this area is just lying down there and the tour we were given has never been open to the public as far as we know, maybe because it would be far too dangerous to allow tourists to stumble around in that area. Realizing that journalists and bloggers are generally expendable, Sony was gracious enough to share this experience with us.

Fortunately, we were able to take pictures of everything we saw, which you can check out in our special gallery. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 opens on Friday, June 12.

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