Art has a way of transforming things. Old things. Things that are long overdue, practically begging, for transformation. Things such as Tunnel Street. Yes, that is the actual name of the three blocks long pedestrian tunnel that connects Broadway with the No. 1 train station at 191st Street. A train station, might I add, that is 18 stories down from St. Nicholas Avenue. An article published in the NY Times on March 9th, 1913 billed the tunnel as the “world’s first tunnel street.”
What ever it is, a tunnel or a street or both, it has seen better days. As a kid coming up in Washington heights in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the tunnel was a forbidding and downright despicable place. It was riddled with trash, crack vials, spent shells and was rat infested. In the summer, the walls would quite literally ooze dirty water. On top of being disgusting, the tunnel was also quite dangerous. In 1990 the 191st Street station was at the very top of the list of reported subway crimes, coming in 410th out of 469 stations.
A childhood friend of mine, Ed Corporan, who was only 17, was killed in the tunnel on Christmas Day in 1994 over some hood nonsense. The tunnel has had its share of death, darkness and despair. That is until recently, earlier this month the Department of Transportation culminated the renovation of the tunnel with an art project that has given an old tunnel a new lease on life. The DOT brought in such stellar talent as Francisco Carlo Jr. (Cope 2), Andrea Von Bujdoss (Queen Andrea), Nelson Rivas (Cekis), Nick Kuszyk, Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn. The result is a tunnel that is no longer an eye sore but a shining symbol of a community that has persevered through some really trying and turbulent times. Art to the rescue once again. Welcome to the Heights indeed!