Underwhelming . . .
This seems to be the consensus among the people I know in Brooklyn (and much of the Brooklyn blogosphere), and I have to concur. Especially after 8 years and $108 million ( 2 and half years late and $16 million over budget). The soaring windows are a nice touch, as is the limestone thing at the top of the stairs, but atmosphere, grandeur, the public space that should be a part of any train stations, are sorely lacking. This is the gateway to Brooklyn and the soon-to-be-constructed Atlantic Yards?
I admit that I was excited, almost despite myself, to see an actual train station finally re-opening where the original Atlantic Station was torn down in 1988. For years after I first moved here in 93, this was a pit in the ground, with a little tin shack to mark the station entrance. You’d descend a filthy stairwell into bedlam – crashing trains, harried crowds rushing though tunnels where the crumbling, mildew-stained concrete walls, blaring announcements and, eventually, a continual backdrop of jackhammers and construction hoardings. It went on for so long I began to think of the noise and unpleasantness as the station’s natural state, and would only go down if I absolutely had to.
So the new station is an improvement on all that. Still – eight years for a few steps, a glass front, some limestone, and three arches leading into a shopping mall?
Because the station, if you can call it that, is part of Atlantic Terminal, a dark and deeply unlovely mall whose chief aesthetic achievement is that it is marginally more atmospheric than the Atlantic Centre behind it, a mall which strives to have no atmosphere at all. When I tried to take a photograph inside Atlantic Terminal, a harried, nervous looking security guard came out and said: “no pictures – they can put you in prison for that,” though I don’t know what ‘they’ are worried about, since, well, it’s a mall. Outside, on Flatbush, is some of the worst traffic in Brooklyn and, traversing the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic, where heavy traffic barrels down six lanes off the Manhattan Bridge then veers north, south and east into Brooklyn, is a deeply unpleasant and even dangerous experience. The Atlantic Yards, and the basketball arena, will only make the traffic, and the notion of being anywhere near that traffic, much, much worse.
The Atlantic Terminal is owned by Bruce Ratner, the same dude behind the aforementioned Atlantic Yards development, which promises to bring a section of mid-town Manhattan to central Brooklyn, and pretty much over-run the two neighborhoods I’ve lived longest in New York, Fort Greene and downtown Brooklyn. From the time I lived around the corner, up behind what was the Daily News Plant, the area has been a pit, so some kind of development is welcome. But if the Atlantic Terminal is anything to go by, Brooklyn is in a lot of trouble.
And the original Atlantic Station? It had an open concourse, benches, and big glass panels on the roof which must have let in the same slightly milky light you find animating the beautiful Victorian stations in England. Like so much fine architecture – the original Penn Station is most notorious example – it was allowed to decay, then someone thought they could make money by developing the site and station was declared beyond repair and torn down. Before construction could get started, the last recession kicked in, the developers ran out of money and left the pit I discovered and wondered about five years later. Thus, thus, has been the way in so many of our cities . ..
You can see photographs of the original station at arrts-arrchives.com (thanks to Brooklyn Born for telling me about the site).
All that remains of the original station is this lonely adjunct, marooned on a traffic island across the street, serving I don’t know what function.