Little known to most, the T has an underground labyrinth of long-abandoned tunnels from the early days of the nation’s oldest transportation system. In their current state, the old tunnels are nothing more than a cold, dark home to the city’s rats and perhaps Boston’s own version of the Ninja Turtles. However, two local architects have proposed a way to turn the tunnels into an interactive underground world – the Tremont Underground Theater Space, or TUTS for short.
TUTS founders Sapir Ng and Andrzej Zarzycki hope to turn the MBTA’s abandoned tunnels into a thriving, three-part underground attraction. The first part would be a museum detailing the history of the nation’s oldest subway system, complete with maps, trolleys and other tidbits from the MBTA’s glory days. Then, moving south down Tremont Street, the tunnel would be adorned with interactive displays of digital art. Finally, the gallery would end at an empty church off Tremont St. in Bay Village, which Ng says is the “ideal” space for community theater.
Ng and Zarzycki originally developed the TUTS plan for SHIFTboston Ideas Competition 2009 – and won. After a short hiatus, Ng and Zarzycki are back at turning their idea into a reality, and Ng says their main goal right now is simply to spread the word.
TUTS has thus far earned “lots of enthusiasm from various organizations and individuals,” including State senators and both local and national planning organizations, says Ng. Over the next few weeks, the co-founders plan to discuss TUTS with organizations in the Tremont neighborhood, such as representatives from Chinatown, the Theatre District, Emerson College and Suffolk University.
Eventually, Ng hopes to form a network called “Friends of the TUTS” and capitalize on a community that will rally in support of TUTS. After a recent statement from T spokesman Joe Pesaturo inviting the duo to pitch the project to the MBTA, Ng says feels confident that the plans could come to life: “If we can show them it’s viable, we can make this happen.”
Similar projects have certainly been viable in other cities, says Ng, pointing to New York City’s High Line, a public park running through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton and Montreal’s Underground City, a labyrinth of shops and museums under the streets. While the High Line took a decade to complete, Ng says the initial phases of TUTS construction could “happen in the next few months.”
The project would be funded by a combination of public and private funding, although Ng is fully-aware that the cash-strapped MBTA likely wouldn’t be able to contribute. In fact, he envisions charging a $1 fee by Charlie Card to enter the tunnel at Boylston. “That’s automatic revenue for the T,” he adds.
After hearing Ng’s enthusiasm for TUTS echoing through the phone, what initially seemed to me like a far-fetched idea has completely grown on me. While Ng and Zarzycki have full-times jobs, both have poured an extensive amount of energy and research into TUTS in their spare time and truly envisioned an innovative space for Boston’s abandoned space.
“If we prove that there is a need for such space…I believe the city and the MBTA would support the idea,” Ng concludes.