The 91-foot-high Smith–Ninth Street station is the tallest elevated subway platform in the city. I learned that factoid the wheezy, whiney way, through years of scaling its often-frozen escalators, sometimes just a few steps behind a heavy-breathing fellow straphanger who, I couldn’t help but notice, could send me toppling down the stairs if he did happen to collapse under the pressure of exertion.
Though sometimes frightening, the impressive height of the only route to Red Hook is a fact I’ve often used as an excuse for its decrepit state, where peeling paint chips fall like lead-laced snowflakes and real snowflakes trickle in through holes in its tar-paper–covered exterior.
“Just think about how high the maintenance guys must have to go to fix things,” I’ve told friends who avoided the dumpy station, instead taking the F to Carroll Street.
But now, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepares to move forward with the long-awaited and much-needed repair of the station, it’s time to do something with the extra feet that give the otherwise frumpy station its glamour. With height comes potential (you learned that when you were 14 — when the tall, gawky girl in the last row of the class picture one day transformed into a beauty queen). Now it’s time for the MTA to learn it, too.
One local group, the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, has already starting thinking outside of the train trestle. The GCCDC idea? A platform-level restaurant. Think Windows on the World with interior design by Neckface, the artist who has left his mark on the station over the years.
Laugh if you want, but dining a la (Metro)card is a great idea. Not only would it give Brookynites a great view, but a portion of the money would go into a public fund to pay for the station’s upkeep, according to Bob Zuckerman, the director of the Gowanus-area non-profit.
Already, the idea has been well received, especially in Carroll Gardens, where other, lower vantage points have been lost to the glassy apartment towers that are rising fast over the smokestacks and quixotic neon signs which for so long ruled the skyline.
“A wine bar that high over the warehouses and the waterfront would be very romantic,” said station commuter Alan Chin, hastening to add that he believes that the stop needs a paint job before the Prosecco is uncorked. “I don’t like dodging paint chips,” he said. “Not even after a glass of wine and a beautiful sunset.”
And Zuckerman, who trudges off the F at Smith-Ninth every workday, did agree that the restaurant isn’t the top priority for a station long in need of a bottom-to-top (very high top) renovation.
“My priority,” he said, “would be an elevator.”
Ariella Cohen is a freelance writer who used to live in Red Hook.
The Kitchen Sink
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