If you are a regular subway rider, you know that climate control in subway stations is theoretical, at best. The New York Transit Museum, housed in a decommissioned subway station in Brooklyn, had no air conditioning or heat when it closed for renovations two years ago. Climate control is still spotty, but the spiffed up museum is much more comfortable now; it even sports a computer resource center, a vast improvement over the olden days of 2001, when the entire museum staff shared just two phone lines. For most visitors old and young, the highlight of the newly renovated museum is the display of vintage subway cars that you can board. (You can test the seats, compare changes in lights, doors and handles, or straps). Before air conditioning, ceiling fans cooled trains. Even the ads on the walls have been preserved. Trains date back to 1904, when they were made of wood, through the 1960s. Since the museum was once a subway station (to be part of the never built Second Avenue line), the trains are on a live third rail, so caution must be exercised. There are also electric and diesel locomotives, which cannot be boarded. A new permanent exhibit, “On the Street”, traces 175 years of surface transportation; there is a traffic intersection, with vintage walk/don’t walk signs (our favorite, the walk/wait signal; little wonder it didn’t go over well in New York City), and cabs of two buses that kids can “drive”. The fronts of two trolleys (which cannot be boarded), parking meters, and a vintage box for The New York Times are also on display. In another exhibit, you can push a variety of buttons, learn about new and old diesel technology, or “drive” a hybrid car and see how the insides work. Visitors can also study how subways were built, and try to lift wheelbarrows filled with debris. In a reverse bird’s eye view, museum goers can peer up and see what’s between a subway ceiling and the street above — in this case, a house. Kids who now have to pay for the subway (those over 44 inches) will enjoy going through a variety of antique turnstiles (for free), tracing the evolution from wooden ones, which accepted nickels, to the modern versions made of stainless steel. Even if you don’t use the lunchroom to eat (there is no food for sale, but you are welcome to bring your own.), be sure to check out the display of old subway signs, which name such obsolete trains as the QB, EE and RR. The theater is also worth a look, even if there is no movie or video showing. You enter through the front of an R46 train; lining the walls are posters from movies and TV shows shot in the subway. A new room for workshops has also been opened. The museum will also be restarting its popular nostalgia family rides in vintage subway cars that can still run.
Info: Where: Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn When: Open Tuesday-Friday, 10am-4pm; Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5pm How much: $5 adults, $3 seniors and children 3-17; free under age 3 Getting there: Underscoring its name, the Transit Museum is very convenient to public transportation. You can take 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains to Borough Hall; M, N, R to Court Street; A, C, G to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street; or A, C, F to Jay Street-Borough Hall For more info: (718) 243-8600; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/museum Note: There is also a new exhibit at the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex, in Grand Central Terminal. Through November 16, you can see “Transit Views: Selected Prints by the New York Society of Etchers”. There are examples of Intalgio printing, a hand press, etching, aquatinting and engraving on display. The gallery annex has free admission, and while the exhibit may not be worth a special trip, it is a pleasant diversion when passing through Grand Central. The annex, along with the store, is open Monday-Friday, 8am-8pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 10am-6pm. — Judy Antell