You could be the lucky owner of an old Redbird subway car currently parked in Queens, which the city put up for an online auction at an opening price of $6,500 Thursday.
The the scarlet transit artifact, named car #9075, is the last of its kind and once transported visitors to the World’s Fair in Queens in 1964.
For most of the last two decades, it’s been on display on a lawn outside Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens since its retirement from service in 2003, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is now seeking a new home for the old bruiser.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of history that is so intrinsic to the city’s identity,” said DCAS Commissioner Dawn Pinnock in a statement on June 23. “That blazing red subway car is as memorable and iconic as yellow taxi cabs, and now it could be yours.”
The vintage train cars ran on what is now the No. 7 line from 1959–2003 and were originally blue to match the theme of the World’s Fair. During the 1980s, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority painted them Tuscan red to combat graffiti, before replacing them with stainless steel versions.
After their retirement, the Redbirds were shipped offshore and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean to become barrier reefs.
But #9075 was spared the aquatic fate in 2005 when then-Queens Borough President Helen Marshall reportedly bought it at a steal for $1 and set it up as a visitors’ center outside Borough Hall on Queens Boulevard and 82nd Avenue.
“When I found out that these cars were being lowered into the Atlantic Ocean to form a barrier reef, I asked the Transit Authority if we could rescue one for use as a tourist information center,” Marshall told the Queens Chronicle at the time. “The agency complied with our request and I am grateful for their cooperation in moving this relic of Queens history to a suitable home.”
The borough president’s office worked with the non-profit Queens Economic Development Corporation on the project, dubbed the Queens Tourism Center, to attract visitors from across the globe to the World’s Borough.
But the center’s location off the beaten tourist path between Borough Hall and the Queens Criminal Court did not draw a lot of foot traffic.
“You could go in and learn about Queens, but very few people ever went there,” said Rob MacKay, the Queens Economic Development Corporation’s director of public relations for marketing and tourism.
“If anyone was about to be arraigned… you could find out what was going on in the borough,” MacKay joked. “The Queens Center mall or one of the airports would have been a better place for it.”
MacKay walked past the mass transit relic daily heading to the office, and he always liked the Redbirds, having lived in an apartment overlooking the elevated 7 line tracks.
“For a long time I lived right on the fifth floor of a Woodside apartment and it went right by my building, so I had an affinity for the redbirds,” he said.
The center finally closed the doors in 2015.
During its later years, the decommissioned train counted an average of 12 visitors a day, most of whom were not tourists but Queens residents on jury duty, former Borough President Melinda Katz told the Queens Courier back then.
Bidding will last for 10 days through the website of DCAS’s Public Surplus division and the winner must take the car in “as is” and “where is” condition, meaning they will also have to arrange for transport of the 51-foot, 36-ton carriage themselves.
If the price is too steep, rail fans can always visit the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, which has a Redbird on display among its stable of old subway cars.
DCAS, which manages city properties and its vehicle fleet, also auctioned off an old Staten Island Ferry boat to “Saturday Night Live” cast members Colin Jost and Pete Davidson in January, and MacKay proposed that the latter celebrity’s girlfriend could put in a bid for this piece of Big Apple history.
“Maybe Kim Kardashian could buy it and do her photo shoots in there,” he said.