Exercises in the City Hall (1904)
The New York Times · Friday, October 28th, 1904
Mayor Declares Subway Open
Ovations for Parsons and McDonald.
While a great throng stood outside the City Hall and crowds were gathering around every entrance to the new Subway all the way up to Harlem, Mayor McClellan and the other principals in the opening ceremonies marched into the Aldermanic Chamber between cheering rows of invited guests promptly at 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon. From the Loop Station to One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street and Broadway the tunnel trains stood still at close intervals, awaiting the signal announcing that the exercises were completed.
Accompanying the Mayor was Coadjutor Bishop Greer, Alexander H. Orr and Archbishop John M. Farley of the Catholic Church came next, followed by ex-Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck and Rapid Transit Commissioner Morris K. Jesup. Then in double file marched Commissioners John H. Starin, Charles Stewart Smith, Woodbury Langdon, and John Claflin, August Belmont, President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, with John B. McDonald, the contractor, Chief Engineer William Barclay Parsons, Perry Belmont, Vice President E. P. Bryan, and General Manager Frank Hedley of the Interborough, Edward M. Shepard, ex-counsel of the commission, Albert B. Boardman and George L. Rives, the present counsel, Deputy Controller Stevenson, representing Controller Grout, and George W. Wickersham, lawyer of the Belmont syndicate.
President of the Board of Alderman Charles V. Fornes stood with his gavel ready behind the desk. The marchers, who had assembled in the Mayor's office half an hour before, seated themselves in reserved seats to his right. Behind them were the following Directors of the Interborough Company: Alfred Skitt, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Freedman, Gardiner M. Lane, Walter G. Oakman, George W. Young, William A. Reed, and John Pierce.
Crowd in City Hall.
Except for a few gallery seats, into which the police later admitted a score of women and their escorts, the Chamber was packed. It was estimated that fully 600 finally managed to get in. Policemen lined the walls, and there were ushers and doorkeepers galore. The main entrance was jammed from the start, and outside the halls were full of men, some of them ticket holders, who could not push their way in.
In the chosen list of women admitted at first were Mrs. William Barclay Parsons, Miss Parsons, Mrs. John B. McDonald, and Mrs. Perry Belmont. Throughout the room were scattered the City Aldermen and heads of departments, Judges of the high courts, prominent local politicians, and representatives of prominent social and business organizations. President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University sat besides Mrs. Parsons in the balcony.
Among the famous engineers present was Charles M. Jacobs, designer of the Pennsylvania Railroad's tunnel. H. H. Vresland and Paul D. Cravath represented the surface railway interests. There were many men well known in Wall Street among them--Jacob H. Schiff, Henry Clews, John C. Crimmins, William G. McAdoo, President of the companies which are building the two North River tunnels far down toward the harbor, and Douglas Robinson, President Roosevelt's brother-in-law.
The Chamber had been decorated hardly less elaborately than the exterior of the City Hall. From every window and corner hung National banners, and broad streamers fluttered from the balcony railing.
Chief Engineer Parsons received a big ovation the moment he entered the door. Contractor McDonald's entrance was another signal for enthusiasm, and a moment later Mr. Belmont's name echoed through the room. It was hard to tell which was the more popular with the audience, the chief engineer or the contractor. Every time the name of either was mentioned there was a new demonstration, and when their turns came for speaking the din was deafening.
It was 1:04 o'clock when President Fornes as temporary Chairman banged his gavel on the desk. Bishop Greer offered an opening prayer, in which he invoked blessings upon the new road, protection from accidents, and the growth of moral, material, and spiritual life in the city.
The Mayor's Prophecy.
Mayor McClellan was introduced then as the presiding officer.
"Without rapid transit Greater New York would be little more than a geographical expression," said the Mayor, "It is no exaggeration to say that without interborough communication Greater New York would never have come into being.
"The present boundaries of our city included ten years ago a multitude of independent and heterogeneous communities which would have continued in all human probability to work out their own destinies independently had not modern genius and modern enterprise afforded their population the possibility of movement.
"When the Brooklyn Bridge was opened Greater New York was born. Every addition to transit facilities has stimulated her growth, which can only reach its full development when a complete system of rapid transit shall be rapid in fact as well as in name.
"Every step in the direction of Interborough communication has tended to improve conditions not only the borough immediately affected, but benefits the city as a whole. The constant shifting of population among the boroughs, acting and reacting upon them, results in the increase of the population of them all.
"We have met here to-day for the purpose of turning over a page in the history of our city; for the purpose of marking the advent of a new epoch in her development. If this new underground railroad which we are about to open proves as popular and as successful as I confidently expect it to be it will be only the first of many more which must ultimately result in giving us an almost perfect system of Interborough communication.
The Borough Boundaries.
"When that day arrives borough boundaries will be remembered only for administrative purposes, and New Yorkers, forgetting from what part of the city they come and only conscious that they are the sons of the mightiest metropolis the world has ever seen, will be actuated by a united hope and united in a common destiny.
"Where so many have done so much and done so well it would be futile and invidious to distinguish among those who are deserving of praise. When fame inscribes her list of those who have deserved well of the city she must include the names of all who have had to do with this work, whether of the Chamber of Commerce, whether Commissioners, financiers, engineers, or contractors, for all have served the public faithfully and well.
"But the greatest honor and the greatest glory is due to the spirit of the people themselves, without which this stupendous work would never have been undertaken, and without which it could never have been brought to a successful conclusion."
Hesitating for a moment after finishing his prepared speech, the Mayor said:
"And now, William Barclay Parsons, Chief Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission, in accordance with the law, I ask you to state to me, as Mayor, and to the people here assembled, whether the work you have grandly performed is complete and ready to be opened?"
Parsons's Brief Speech
Mr. Parsons--who does not like to make speeches--blushed like a schoolboy as the audience applauded and would not be quieted, many rising in their seats to get a look at him and waving their handkerchiefs aloft.
"Mr. Mayor, Mr. Orr, and Mr. President," he said at last, "I have the honor and the very great pleasure to state that the Rapid Transit Railroad from the City Hall Station to the station at One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street, on the west side line, is ready and complete for operation."
That was all, and the cheering lasted much longer than the speech. The Mayor introduced Alexander E. Orr, President of the Rapid Transit Board, who, after declaring the tunnel an ideal railway and discussing the difficulty the commission had encountered in attracting capitalists to this method of civic transit interests, gave a list of the men whose efforts had aided chiefly in the fight for rapid transit since Abram S. Hewitt's plan was approved by the Chamber of Commerce, and later was adopted in framing the existing law. A few years ago, he recalled, subways were deemed impracticable.
"It is therefore with a feeling somewhat akin to gratitude," he continued, "that the commission makes record of the fact that on Jan. 15, 1900, John B. McDonald, neither a railroad man nor a financier, but a contractor identified with large undertakings, after making a careful study of the situation, had the courage of his convictions and made an acceptable tender for the franchise contract and lease, which the commission was empowered to grant. Immediately after the contract was awarded August Belmont became associated with Mr. McDonald and organized the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company, by which the Subway has been built. That the work has been rapidly, admirably, and willingly performed is certified to by our engineer corps, and when public inspection is made evidences of refinement, comfort, and safety will be observed which are not to be found anywhere in like structures. I am not in the confidence of Messrs. McDonald and Belmont as to the present or perspective financial outcome of their undertaking, but I am sure I express the hope of the members of the commission, and of every New York citizen, that their courage and enterprise may reap a very generous reward."
Orr's List of Worthies.
After complimenting the Chief Engineer, saying that, while the commission chose the route, "the merit of the plan construction and its supervision from beginning to end were Mr. Parsons's alone." Mr. Orr concluded:
"As long as this Subway is made to render service to the people of New York, the Chamber of Commerce, Abram S. Hewitt, John B. McDonald, August Belmont, and William Barclay Parsons should be held in remembrance as household words.
"And now, Mr. Mayor, on behalf of the commission, I beg to give you official notice that it is out judgment the Subway may be safely opened for passenger traffic from the City Hall station to the station on the Western Division at One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street, and further, that it is expected, in a very few weeks, the Eastern Division will be ready for operation as far as the station at Lenox Avenue and One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street. It is too early yet to estimate when the Subway will be completed to its northern terminal points, although the commission is satisfied Mr. McDonald and the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company are doing all in their power, in the face of very adverse circumstances, toward this desirable end.
"I may also add for general information that we fully expect the portion of the Brooklyn Division, situated between the City Hall Park and the South Ferry, will be ready for operation some time during the coming Summer. It is already well progressed without having seriously interfered with the street traffic of lower Broadway."
Commissioner John H. Starin's speech was a review of the commission's history and trials. He complimented the active officials in the work and recalled the struggle of 1891-2, when the elevated interests battled to prevent the building of tunnels. The inside history of that hot controversy, he declared, would never be told fully.
Cheers for McDonald.
The mayor called on John B. McDonald, another bashful talker. A great outburst of applause was well under way when from outside the building came the sound of tooting whistles from every direction. It was a minute after 2 o'clock, and the downtown factories and river boats were heeding the Mayor's recent request to begin their demonstration at that hour. The exercises had lasted longer than was expected.
When the cheering died down, and while the din outside, with mingled cheers from the big crowd in the park, increased steadily, Mr. McDonald began to unfold a manuscript, and fix his eyeglasses. Before he read his speech he looked up and remarked:
"This" (pointing to the manuscript) "was not down in the contract, I assure you."
Then he read, in a voice so low that he could not be heard more than a few rows back, the following:
"The Rapid Transit Subway of New York City has been discussed so thoroughly that another word is hardly necessary to bring it freshly before the public. There are some aspects, however, which seem to invite further attention.
"First, the inception of this great work years ago, when the question of devising means to relieve the congested traffic of New York City was first taken up. Many, if not all, of the master minds which have evolved this great undertaking are now but memories in this great city. Theirs was the pioneer work; it involved intricate legislation and the education of the public to a realization of their wants and the possibilities which might be accomplished. The task was not an easy one, and great credit is due to these men of affairs of that date and period.
"Second, came the study of the problem from an engineering as well as a commercial standpoint. This consumed many years and was a Herculean task, presenting difficulties and conditions not met elsewhere in all the world.
"The narrow island of Manhattan, bisected by its streets, filled with water, gas, and heating mains, electric ducts, pneumatic tubes, sewers, surface and elevated railways, and with its buildings constructed on foundations varying from shifting sand below the tide line to hard and seamy rock rising to high altitudes, and with the Harlem River interposing on its north line--all these were obstacles which the engineer had to meet and conquer. It has been done.
"The discussion and final building of the Subway has been coincident with an evolution in public affairs in New York as marked as this great work. The city has grown from a population of 1,500,000 to 3,500,000, the buildings from six to thirty stories, and commercially the City of New York now stands in the front rank in the world.
"When the final work of preparation had been concluded and the Rapid Transit Commission had formulated their specifications, prepared their plans, and advertised for proposals, my work began.
Had Many Misgivings.
"It would be rank conceit to say that I did not approach this great undertaking with many misgivings as to my ability to accomplish the task, but I believed it practicable, necessary to the city, and after careful study determined to become a bidder for the work. After fair competition the contract was awarded to me."
"The work of organizing and giving a bond for the faithful performance of my contract finally resulted in bringing to my aid the distinguished financier, Mr. August Belmont, and his associates, and the [organization] of the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company, whose generous support and co-operation I have had in carrying out this important work."
When the contractor mentioned Mr. Belmont's name there was great applause. Mr. McDonald bowed to Mr. Belmont, who smiled back.
"In the subdivision of the work there were brought to my aid as sub-contractors men of means, ability, and experience not surpassed. What greater compliment can I pay them than to say, 'Behold their work,'" continued the contractor.
"A corps of engineers representing the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company was organized to co-operate with and assist the engineers of the Rapid Transit Commission in executing the work involved in this great problem. To their skill, fidelity, and untiring zeal I pay my sincerest tribute.
"To the Chief Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission and his associates, who are responsible for the plans upon which this great work has been constructed, and to whose skill has been added tact and good judgment in an unusual degree, there is due the highest praise and commendation.
"To the members of the Rapid Transit Commission I owe and tender my most profound thanks. I have found them uniformly fair in their dealings, broad in their views, and faithful to a public trust of great magnitude, passing unscathed through the critical inspection of the great public without, so far as I know, one unfavorable comment. Of few public men can this be said.
"For the municipal officers of the City of New York I have only the deepest gratitude. They have aided and encouraged me under all circumstances, smoothing away and making easy rough places.
"To the press of New York, that censor of public opinion which has not only helped me by the truthful representation of facts, but by discouraging untimely and unwarranted statements, I am under lasting obligations.
"To the citizens of New York, the men who have borne almost without complaint the inconvenience which the construction of the Subway has necessitated, all praise is due. I scarcely believe that their patience and forbearance have been or will be equaled elsewhere, but I trust that the result will amply repay you all."
August Belmont Speaks.
"The Chair now has the honor to introduce August Belmont," announced the Mayor.
"We are here to celebrate the completion of a great enterprise," said Mr. Belmont. "If my financial associates and myself are entitled to credit it should be properly limited to our part in the undertaking. All identified with it may, I think, to a limited extent, properly boast, as they now put off the harness which they girded on with no spirit of overconfidence a few years ago.
"There is enough credit in the completion of such an undertaking to go around. To the Rapid Transit Commissioners for their part in evolving a plan; to the legislative and executive departments of this municipality, which urged, and to the members of the Legislature of the State of New York and to its Executive, who made possible the enactment of the requisite laws; to Mr. Parsons, who was responsible for the preparation of the engineering plans; to Mr. McDonald, who was the successful bidder for the contract; to Mr. Bryan, Mr. Hedley, Mr. Deyo, Mr. Stillwell, Mr. Gibbs, and Mr. Van Vleck, the able staff responsible for the best equipment and power house in existence; to Mr. Andrew Freedman, who was among the first to appreciate the practicability of the project, as well as to the financial interests involved, should be awarded their fair and redistributive shares of praise and credit for the courage, patience, industry, and intelligence that unitedly have carried this work to completion.
"Attempts to install an underground system of railroads in the City of New York began many years ago. There had been some legislation and even some work prosecuted under such legislation, but the legislation and the work alike were inoperative. Until the present project was conceived, no real progress was made. Although much time and thought had been wasted upon these previous attempts the resulting failures did not, as is frequently true of failure, furnish any suggestions for the guidance of those entering upon what, to all intents and purposes, was a wholly new undertaking.
The Obstacles Surmounted.
"Almost insurmountable difficulties stood in the path of the enterprise. The questionable right of the city to incur the obligations necessary to be assumed upon its part, the uncertainty as to the legal rights of abutting owners, the difficulties of carrying the Subway through soil occupied by innumerable obstructions of pipes and wires, the fact that the work had to be prosecuted without interference with the operation of surface transportation lines and general surface traffic, which required the uninterrupted use of the thoroughfares under which the Subway was to be constructed--all combined to give pause even to the most pronounced enthusiasm.
"Nor did the solicitude as to the success end with the decision to proceed. At all points in the progress of the work great care was at all times requisite lest by unwise counsels and decisions, either in the physical or financial prosecution of the work, there might result a collapse which would doubtless have deferred indefinitely the completion of a work so essential to the municipal well-being of this metropolis whose true development was hemmed in by the rivers at its very threshold.
"It was only by exhaustive preparation in almost infinite detail, both in the engineering and in the transportation and in the financial departments, that it has been possible for this enterprise to proceed to a successful termination without serious interruption or embarrassment and with credit to all identified with it.
"If any especial credit is due to my associates and myself, it is that the financial end committed to our care required the exercise of a kind of courage not frequently demanded for an investment. It was a new and untried venture. No one had yet been willing to assume the risk in order to enjoy the possible resulting benefits and profits. The dangers attending this undertaking were clear and unmistakable, nor was the outcome guaranteed by any experience upon which is was possible to rely. It was essential, before a decision to go forward could be reached, to eliminate, as far as possible, all apparent elements of probable failure.
"With all this I am entitled to add, I think, and I add it with no inconsiderable pride, the initiation and prosecution of the work have not evolved any excess capitalization. The capital represented by the par of the stock issued, together with the obligations issued by the city, represents substantially the cost of the investment for construction, equipment, and installation of the Subway and the railway.
"It is my judgment, too, that the claim is not extravagant that the plan for and the execution of this work have set an example which can fitly serve as an object lesson and a standard for similar quasi-municipal projects.
Safeguarding the City.
"In this case the city of New York was by appropriate legislation authorized to extend its credit by the issue of municipal securities, for the building of the Subway, but that was the limit of its participation. Even this risk was reduced to a minimum, because municipal securities were to be issued and the proceeds devoted to the payment for the Subway, only as results, rigidly required by contracts, were forthcoming from the contractor.
"The city had before entering upon the undertaking, a substantial guarantee of performance by the contractor. Added to this protection there was demanded a much more substantial guarantee, not only that the interest upon these securities to be issued by the city would be met, but that, through the accumulation of a sinking fund to be provided by the private interests, the total municipal capital invested would be ultimately repaid. In the end, the Subway, constructed at the expense of the city, will be redelivered to it free of obligation.
"At a time when there are so many ill digested and ill considered plans under discussion, having for their object not only municipal ownership, but municipal operation of transportation lines, the State of New York has reached the true solution of this problem--that municipal participation is justified to the extent of furnishing credit for the construction of such a work, but should stop short of the operation of the property when constructed. To private interests should be committed the risks and the burden as well as the profit of constructing, equipping, and operating the road, the latter not being within the governmental functions or other legitimate province or municipality.
"That the enterprise in its results has been conspicuously successful should be the subject of cordial congratulation by all citizens. These congratulations should not exclude a due recognition to those who imperiled, not only large sums of money, but reputations--whether that reputation was professional, or commercial, or financial--in what was not only a new, but what might easily have been a hazardous undertaking.
The Banking Problem.
"I think I am entitled to take you frankly into my confidence and say that nothing inn my career has given me greater pause than the question as to whether I should permit my firm to assume financial leadership in this undertaking. It was not alone on account of the large sums of money it was necessary for me personally to risk in the new venture. Comparatively, that was not of first importance, for it was essential in a work as vast as this to secure extensive co-operation on the part of other financial interests, entitled morally to look to me in large degree for its success, which no preliminary investigation, however comprehensive and intricate, could assure with absolute certainty.
"My associates and myself, however, had complete confidence in the exhaustive preliminary investigation, conducted at great length and with great care, and having assured ourselves that the work could be completed within the estimates, we were willing without hesitation to assume the further risk, supposed by many at the time to be the main risk, that the growth of the City of New York would be insufficient to justify the providing of these new facilities for transportation.
"Now that the work has been completed and the Subway, or, rather, this splendid arcade, is formally opened, although not a passenger for hire has yet been carried upon its tracks, being entirely assured of the success of this enterprise, we have in contemplation plans for still further adding to the rapid transit facilities of the system of elevated and subway lines now united.
"This great metropolis has now rid itself of the bonds that heretofore have limited and impeded its growth, and has included within itself, in all but legal description, a vast adjacent territory.
"To all who have contributed toward such a result this must always be a permanent satisfaction and pride.
"May I now add this thought? As this Subway is now dedicated to the public, shall we not wail of still another opportunity and pledge ourselves to see to it that [as] this Greater City, now made possible [by] the construction of the model public work[,] there shall be a lasting and an increasing civic pride which shall be the type and standard for the municipalities of this land, and perhaps of other lands."
Subway Declared Open.
The benediction, pronounced by Archbishop Farley, was very brief. When it was over, the Mayor said:
"Now I, as Mayor, in the name of the people, declare the Subway open."
August Belmont then walked to the chair and, while the audience cheered, handed to the Mayor a mahogany case, saying:
"I give you this controller, Mr. Mayor, with the request that you put in operation this great road, and start it on its course of success and, I hope, of safety."
After requesting every one to remain seated while the officials passed out and posed for a picture, Mayor McClellan declared the meeting adjourned. At 2:19 o'clock the audience, headed by the special guests, left the City Hall for the loop station, there to board the first train.