37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the New York City Subway in the 1980s

By Adam Clark Estes on at

A few years ago The New York Times likened New York's underground system to "a house of horrors". But as a newly published set of nearly 500 photos show, New York City's subway system wasn't always so horrific. It's bizarrely beautiful in all its squalor.

The images come from contributions to NYCsubway.org, a two-decade-old site devoted to anything and everything subway-related. It's true that the subway was rough in the 1980s—the system saw 250 crimes per week, on average. However, it's just as remarkable how much it was a hotbed of culture and innovation.

New train designs were being tested, including the anti-graffiti Redbird cars. Those birds are now quite rare. Meanwhile, graffiti itself continued to change the world's understanding of American art.

But it's perhaps the most mundane photos from this new set that are most poignant. A man talks on a payphone. A conductor smirks out the window of her train. A worker mops the floor of a dirty carriage. A missing train sign, replaced by a piece of paper. A woman wears a red dress. It's almost peaceful, this little glimpse it a sometimes misunderstood chapter of the city's urban history. [NYCsubway.org]

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

37 Rare and Beautiful Images of the NYC Subway in the 1980s

All images via NYCsubway.org