Sketching the m.t.a. with a subway archeologist the new yorker electricity cost per month

The Nevins Street name panel, designed around 1905 by Heins & LaFarge, has unusually thin letters. Coppola first drew the station in the early nineteen-nineties. All art work by Philip Ashforth Coppola, from “One-Track Mind: Drawing the New York Subway,” © 2018 Princeton Architectural Press. Used with permission of the publisher.

What began as a pastime soon became an obsession. At six self-published volumes, and two thousand pages, “Silver Connections” is an exhaustive visual history of the underground transit system. Inside are Coppola’s ink sketches, with notes, of a hundred and ten stations. The drawings include meticulous keys to indicate the color of every tile. A selection of Coppola’s work has just been published under the title “ One-Track Mind.” Now seventy, he hopes to complete all four hundred and seventy-two stations by the mid-twenty-thirties. “My goal is to get the whole thing done before I go,” he said.

Coppola lives in Somerset, New Jersey, and works as a printing-press operator (he does his subway rounds on nights and weekends). He wears glasses and has a scruffy gray beard. He sketched Nevins Street in the nineties, just before a round of renovations, and he wanted to take another look. “They’ve concealed a lot of the stuff, so you can’t see what you used to be able to see,” he said.

Columbus Circle, one of Heins & LaFarge’s most elaborate stations, features a terra-cotta relief of the Santa Maria at sea. All art work by Philip Ashforth Coppola, from “One-Track Mind: Drawing the New York Subway,” © 2018 Princeton Architectural Press. Used with permission of the publisher.

On the platform at Nevins Street, Coppola explained that the station was redesigned, in 1905, to make room for proposed connections that were never completed. A lower platform was added, and then left unused. Coppola went down some steps to a passageway leading to the uptown track. It was brightly lit and smelled of urine. He beamed. At a metal door, he stopped and peeked through a hole. The abandoned platform, and the suggestion of ornate mosaics, was just visible.

One day, years ago, when he was first drawing Nevins, he found the door open, and he slipped onto the lower platform with his camera. “There were no lights, and I randomly shot three pictures. I got a good one of an initial plaque, and a vague shot of the name panel,” he said. “The panel here is more like the ones you see at Canal Street, Spring Street, and most other stations, after LaFarge”—Christopher LaFarge, the architect behind much of the early wall décor—“finally stopped doing different designs at each station.” There’s a terra-cotta relief of the Santa Maria under full sail at Columbus Circle, for instance, a bald eagle at Fourteenth Street, and a dignified beaver at Astor Place.

Coppola’s sketch of a rosette at the 181st Street I.R.T. station, in Washington Heights, has meticulous color labels, including “Lt. Peach,” “Dk. Peach,” and “Peach.” All art work by Philip Ashforth Coppola, from “One-Track Mind: Drawing the New York Subway,” © 2018 Princeton Architectural Press. Used with permission of the publisher.

Upstairs, on the functional platform, Coppola began to sketch the “Nevins” name panel, on the trackside wall. “I keep three colors on me—blue, green, and red,” he said, pulling out three pens. He squinted, toeing the platform edge as he sketched. A 2 train arrived, and commuters swarmed around him.

“When I started this, I did a survey,” he went on. He’d made a lapel pin that read “Subway Survey” and staked out four locations. “I’d ask people, ‘Are you aware of the subway-station art?’ Some people just said no, or they’d ask, ‘You mean the advertising? The graffiti?’ Some had a favorite station. One said that the Washington Metro is better.” Coppola raised his eyebrows, incredulous: “A shopping mall!” ♦ This article appears in the print edition of the May 7, 2018, issue, with the headline “Subway Archeologist.”