The New York Transit Museum, located in a former subway station at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, announced Thursday that its longtime director, Gabrielle Shubert, will retire in September.
“This has been a dream job,” said Shubert. “We have never run out of topics to explore, revealing different aspects of New York City’s evolution through the lens of its mass transit systems. It’s the lifeblood of the city — New York would never have become the world’s center of commerce, culture and education without public transportation.”
The Transit Museum opened in 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial, as the New York City Transit Exhibit. The original display was organized by transit employees. It opened in the old Court Street subway station on July 4 and was originally designed to remain open only until Labor Day. It proved so popular that it’s been closed only once since then, for a two-year renovation between 2001 and 2003.
The station was originally the terminal of the Court Street Shuttle, which connected the area to the Fulton Street line, now used by the A and C trains. Due to low ridership, the shuttle ceased operation in 1946. The unused station was used for film shoots and storage until the exhibit opened.
When Shubert took over in 1991, the station had narrowly escaped a threat of closure. MTA New York City Transit was in a cyclical phase of budgetary constraint and had proposed closing the museum as a cost-saving measure. The museum staff asked everyone they knew to attend the public comment session at the MTA Board meeting. After an outcry of support, the MTA agreed to allow the museum to remain open but required it to become financially self-sufficient. Shubert, then a manager in the MTA’s Art and Design program, was appointed the new director.
Starting with a budget of $367,000 and a staff of three, the museum began a course of expansion and rebuilding. When most museums were cutting back hours, the Transit Museum added Sunday hours to generate additional revenue. The museum organized a nonprofit affiliate to help it raise funds and worked with the MTA to establish a second retail store in Grand Central Station. This has now become the NY Transit Museum Gallery Annex & Store at Grand Central, which welcomes almost 500,000 visitors per year.
“Gabrielle’s leadership has been integral over the past 24 years to the growth of the museum and its continued ability to reach new audiences through innovative programming,” said Paul J. Fleuranges, vice president of corporate communications with MTA NYC Transit.
The Transit Museum has become a popular destination for New York City families and urban enthusiasts (to say nothing of an extremely loyal group of train buffs who eagerly await the museum’s annual nostalgia train rides), as well as tourists who increasingly find their way there. It serves nearly 20,000 school children each year in group visits.
The Transit Museum also offers a variety of programs for youth and adults with disabilities, including a program that teaches young adults with special needs to travel independently on the subway and an after-school program for children on the autism spectrum, many of whom have a deep interest in the city’s mass transit systems.
As Shubert’s last project, the museum will open an exhibition in September showing how employees of the MTA’s operating agencies plan for, respond to and restore service after citywide crises. The show will focus on 9/11, the Northeast blackout of 2003, Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy
The Transit Museum charges $7 for adults and $5 for children and seniors. It is open from Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.