Woodlawn (IRT Jerome Avenue Line) - History

History

In the 1840s, the Harlem Railroad made the first rail connection between Manhattan and what became the Woodlawn neighborhood, a connection that still exists via the Woodlawn station on what is now Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line. At that time, like much of the western Bronx, it was still rural and heavily farmed. Residential development didn't start until after the opening of the cemetery in 1865. As a rural cemetery, at the time of its opening, it was as much a park as a burial ground, a popular place to visit for strolls and picnics. By the 1890s the surrounding neighborhood was well-populated with working-class Irish and Italian immigrants.

Those residents had regularly been lobbying for a subway connection. They got it when the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) expanded via the Dual Contracts, creating the Jerome Avenue, Pelham and White Plains Road lines. These opened many areas of the Bronx to residential development, making them desirable places for commuters to live.

Vickers, chief architect for the subway system, designed the station in 1917. The use of ornamental concrete was in keeping with his dictum that, in any location where an elevated subway line intersected a major boulevard or was close to a scenic asset such as a parkway, it should be sheathed in it. As a result, it serves as a visual focal point for the area and connects the commercial areas on either side of the street. Its interior is also decorated with the ceramic tilework that characterizes many of his stations above and below ground.

The station opened on April 15, 1918. It was named after Woodlawn Road, the former name of Bainbridge Avenue, but is most often associated with Woodlawn Cemetery, whose main entrance is just up the street. Woodlawn Road was renamed years ago, but the old name persists to this day on some signs.

Woodlawn became even more densely populated after the station opened. The cemetery, which had lobbied for a stop nearby, benefited as well. It opened a sales office to deal with the demand for burial plots. The subway's connection to Harlem led to many Harlem Renaissance figures such as Duke Ellington and W. C. Handy being buried at Woodlawn.

The 1991 death of John McNalley at the station triggered an investigation into whether it could have been prevented. McNalley, in his 50s, had been reported as having difficulties as the train passed the Burnside Avenue station, six stops south. The train continued north; transit police were notified of the situation at Fordham Road. By the time paramedics were able to reach McNalley he had died from cardiac arrest. Transit police officers claimed that their calls to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority command center urging the train to be stopped were ignored. Their union president called for police to be given the authority to order a train stopped in an emergency.

In the mid-2000s the station was renovated, as were others on the line. The second story was added above the mezzanine. Inside, the newsstand was restored. At that time Albright's work was installed in two stages.

External images
Panels from Children at Play

Albright, a Queens College graduate and city native who has been commissioned to do several public artworks in the city, is primarily a painter and muralist who focuses on everyday members of the community. Children at Play was her first work in glass, and she spent time at a Philadelphia glass fabricator to understand the process. She took much of her inspiration from watching her son and his friends play, and also visited the station's vicinity extensively.

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