No one would ever confuse the limestone structure at 370 Jay Street with one of Brooklyn's beloved landmarks. The building, which served as New York City Transit's headquarters for decades, is a bland, utilitarian piece of work; it's even been called the ugliest building in Brooklyn. But despite its less-than-charming exterior, the building has a fascinating history, one that's explored in "The Secret Life of 370 Jay Street," a new exhibit at the New York Transit Museum. In it, the museum uses vintage photographs, architectural maps, and even models of the building to tell its story. And the time is right for this sort of deep dive into the building: Soon, it will be transformed as part of NYU's forthcoming expansion into Downtown Brooklyn.
The building was designed by William E. Haugaard and Andrew J. Thomas, and when it opened, it was considered a paragon of postwar modernism. Over the years, as architects have focused on emphasizing form and function, the structure's imposing design fell out of favor. But one organization that has embraced the quirky structure is NYU, which will renovate the building and restore the limestone facade, rather than tearing it down and starting over from scratch.
And though it sat, unused and unloved, for many years, the building was once home to many of the MTA's most important departments, including the data processing room (pictured above), the lost and found, and the money room (pictured below), where the cash that moves in and out of the transit system is counted and recorded. The exhibit delves into the operations of those different units, while also telling the story of the building's rise, fall, and eventual rebirth.