IRT Broadway Line Viaduct, formerly Manhattan Valley Viaduct

Cultural Landmarks of New York

The Broadway Line Viaduct represents an elegant solution to the challenges that Manhattan’s uneven topography presented to the construction of the city’s transit system. While most of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) was built by the “cut-and-cover” method—entailing an open excavation, installation of the subway corridor, and replacement of surface ducts and fill—the topography of some locations made other construction techniques more practical. Routes, like that beneath Central Park between 104th Street and 110th Street at Lenox Avenue, required tunneling. The sloping Manhattan Valley, on the other hand, necessitated an elevated structure. William Barclay Parsons, Columbia University-trained and the Rapid Transit Commission’s chief engineer in 1894, designed this viaduct, which was incorporated into the IRT system during its construction. The structure not only carries the subway lines over 125th Street, but also supports the steel- and wood-sheathed station centered above its arch. The granite-faced brick foundations extend thirty feet below street level and support the steel towers, flanked by plate girders, that carry the tracks as the ground rises toward 125th Street. Standard viaduct construction would have entailed costly realignment of the angled intersection of Broadway and 125th Street, but Parson’s design used a double-hinged parabolic braces arch for the viaduct’s center portion. Decorative elements, including iron lampposts and scrolled railings, preserve the station’s turn-of-the-century spirit. New escalators (the originals having been replaced) extend beyond the station, which is used by more than 6,600 passengers daily on both sides of the viaduct. The imposing masonry and elegant curves of the Broadway Line Viaduct and West 125th Street Station demonstrate the skill and ingenuity of the engineers who designed New York’s first subway system.


Cultural Landmarks of New York - From the book “The Landmarks of New York” (SUNY Press), a definitive resource on the landmarks history of New York City by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel.

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