Sunday, January 30, 2011

Riding the El - 10 - Second Avenue


Episodes 1 to 9 of this series were all about the west side elevated lines. Now we'll go up the east side.

The collection of negatives I received have no photographs of the Third Avenue El except a few places where it shared track with the Second Avenue El. I think the photographer knew that the Third Ave El would continue past 1940 (it ran another fifteen years). But there are good views of the Second Ave El.

The Second Avenue El was an odd case. The Rapid Transit Commissioners of 1875 admitted that they granted the route only because construction of the Third Avenue El was in doubt because of lawsuits and political opposition from powerful people. Once the Third Ave line was complete from South Ferry to 129th St, at the end of 1878, the Metropolitan Elevated Railway (owner of the Sixth Ave El) was freed from any obligation to build the parallel line. And yet construction started two months later.

The Second Ave El proper ran from Chatham Square to 129th St, forming an alternate route to the busier Third Ave El between those points. Its trains originated on the Third Ave El branches at South Ferry and City Hall.

135-7. Front St looking north from Whitehall St.

We're looking out the front of a train that has just rounded the curve out of South Ferry.

Not a single thing in this view exists today. The el, all of these solid-looking buildings, and even this portion of Front St— all gone. The cross street behind the camera is Whitehall St, up ahead at the switch is Broad St, and the curve in the distance is at Coenties Slip, where the el snaked over to continue in Pearl St.

The train would have continued up Pearl St, New Bowery, Chatham Square, Division St, Allen St, First Ave, 23rd St, and finally Second Ave. As interesting as it would be to see some of that stretch, the photographer jumped forward to 50th St.

134-2. Second Ave looking north from 50th St.

The el widens to four tracks here because something interesting happens up ahead.

134-2 detail.

An uptown local departs, on the right. A train from Queens comes toward us, on the left. Yes, from Queens. Just wait.

We've seen the wonderfully lettered sign before that tells passengers they are forbidden to ride on the front or rear platforms of trains. But here, also, "employes" (is there an acute accent over the last 'e'?) "are cautioned against crossing the tracks"— not "forbidden" to do so, mind you, but cautioned.

134-3. Second Ave looking north from 57th St.

The point of view is the upper level platform at 57th St station. This platform is for trains from Queens, like the one approaching.

On the lower or main level, left to right, are the downtown local track (not visible), the center express track, and the uptown local track. Trains going to Queens take the uptown local track and make the right turn you see there under the train.

134-3 detail.

I think the sign at the front of the train reads "South Ferry / via / 2nd Ave", but what do you think? The train is made up of "MUDC" cars with enclosures with doors fitted over the former open end platforms.

The tall building in the center is still there, and the weather-worn painted sign for Day & Meyer, Murray & Young is still on it!

135-8. Second Ave looking north from 59th St.

The point of view is the front window of an uptown local train. If we turned right, we'd go onto the upper deck of the Queensborough Bridge. The train up above is coming off the Queensborough Bridge.

Here's the story. In 1917, as part of the "Dual System" expansion program, a new route was opened using two tracks on the upper level of the bridge, connecting the Second Ave El with the Queens elevated subway lines at Queensborough Plaza. From there trains ran to both branches, Astoria and Corona (later Flushing). This service continued for 25 years, ending in 1942 when the lower portion of the Second Ave El was closed. The upper portion, from here north, closed in 1940.

135-8 detail.

Under the el are the entrance kiosks for Queens trolleys, which used a little loop station under the bridge plaza. Their tracks ran in unpaved lanes on the outside of the bridge.

The signs for motor traffic read: "Commercial vehicles, pleasure car [illegible] use second lane / Trucks heavy or wide keep right".

134-7. Second Ave looking north at 86th St station.

This is the upper level at a "hump" express station. The original station is at the lower level, with two local tracks and side platforms, and a space between the tracks. The added third track for peak direction express trains rises up to this new level with platforms on both sides. Doors opened on the right-hand side.

134-7 detail.

An overweight person was a rarity in 1940. The image is blurry because it was taken from a moving train, but as well as I can tell these people getting on at 86th St well represent the German heritage of Yorkville.

I don't know what the man on the left side platform thinks he's doing.

134-8. Second Ave looking north from about 121st St.

View out the front of a train, probably the same train as the view at 86th St. 125th St station, seen in the distance, is at one level, not a "hump" station, because it was built new in 1915. The Second Ave El originally had stations at 121st St and 127th St, strange considering the importance of 125th St. When the third track was added in 1915, the opportunity was taken to establish a new 125th St station. The cross-platform transfer was useful since Second Ave trains diverged to two branches north of here.

134-4. Second Ave looking south from 125th St.

The same territory looking the other way, from the platform at 125th St.

134-4 detail.

The same switches as in 134-8. 121st St station in the distance. On the left, the familiar "Wines / Liquors" sign.

Castle on the Hudson with John Garfield and Ann Sheridan was released in February 1940 ; My Little Chickadee with W C Fields and Mae West in March. The Palace was not a first-run theater, if our photos are from May (or early June), but I like its arched shell anyway.

134-6. 125th St looking west from Second Ave.

The Third Avenue El was only a block away. It has a "hump" station at 125th St.

New ads here. Zemo's Soothing Lotion for irritated skin: Google it to see many magazine ads. We don't seem to need it any more. But Goodman's noodles! I think I cooked some last week.

We'll continue north next time.

Note: I added two images to Riding the El - 9. 134-1 shows the approach to Rector St station, and 139-7 shows the elevated railway in Battery Park.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Riding the El - 9 - Ninth Avenue


The Ninth Avenue El, lower Manhattan, May 1940.

134-1. Greenwich St looking south from Cortlandt St station.

Rector St was the last station downtown that was exclusively for the Ninth Ave El, and some trains ended there. The main line widened to four tracks north and south of the station to hold trains between runs. The tower controlling the switches was a familiar sight above the tracks.

Rector St station on the Sixth Ave El (see Riding the El - 1) was also a terminal for some trains of that line. One block south, at Morris St, the Sixth Ave El merged into the Ninth for the final run to Battery Place station and South Ferry station, both of which we will see this time.

138-6. Rector St station.

This was a very dark negative, a little beyond the camera's ability with (probably) a fixed exposure.

South of Rector St, our photographer gave some attention to the remains of the Morris St junction. As I mentioned in Riding the El -2, the Sixth Ave El was at a higher elevation, so at Morris St the Sixth Ave rails merely came alongside Ninth, and they ran side by side for a block before the actual junction at Battery Place. If you know how narrow Greenwich St is, you'll appreciate that a structure four tracks wide spanned the whole street almost building to building.

138-1. Trinity Place at Morris St, looking south at Greenwich St.

To the left of the train is the stub of the Sixth Ave El. The block behind it is being cleared to build the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

This is another amazing photograph, so let's check a few details before we go on.

138-1 detail.

Walt Disney's doppelganger, the well-kept but old car (even in 1940) in front of the shiny brass plaque of the Cunard White Star building, and some detail on the Sixth Ave stub : what more could you ask? A provisions truck with the same fancy gold lettering you can see today on Boar's Head trucks?

138-1 detail.

A man on a mission walks uptown as extras populate the well-dressed movie set. Dine in comfort at the Cozy Corner Eat Shoppe for the 25 cent or 35 cent special, or get a passport photo, or just pick up fruit from the stand.

138-1 detail.

Now we can geek out again on the elevated line itself. Uptown train to 155th St. Right under it is an 1880 column (from the rebuild of the original Greenwich St El) with extensions on top to raise the track level a little higher. I don't know the reason for that. Joining the Sixth Ave El to the Ninth was planned before the 1880 rebuild.

133-4. Greenwich St looking south at Morris St.

View from the rear of a train, showing the stub of the Sixth Ave El to the left of the Ninth Ave tracks. In the distance is Battery Place station and the tower controlling the junction.

The rails on the stub have not yet been lifted, the same situation we saw on the 53rd St stub in Riding the El - 7.

Above, a similar view seen in 1888 from a building window. That's the same block of buildings. From a collection of photographs in The First Elevated Railroads in Manhattan and the Bronx of the City of New York by William Fullerton Reeves, 1936.

81-8. Battery Place station, looking uptown into Greenwich St.

This is a photo from 1938 that was in Riding the El - 2. At that time the row of buildings on the west side of Greenwich St was intact. The switches here would have been gone in 1940.

138-2. Battery Place looking west from Broadway.

138-2 detail.

Under the el, we see Pier A and a ship that looks like some kind of excursion boat. The Miller Elevated Highway was called the West Side Highway from the beginning.

138-2 details.

Battery Place station was added to the existing structure in 1883. The station house was described as Queen Anne style, a usually very elaborate "gothic" style of residential architecture. Panels on the stairway and platform included jagged sunburst circles.

133-3. Battery Place station looking south.

The sunburst panels show the original length of the station over streets. The additional section with pipe railings was added a little later after lobbyists had taken care of the Parks Department.

Near the center of the picture, there appears to be a movable gap filler along the platform, because of the curve. This is the only one I know of on the elevated lines. There are gap fillers for the same purpose at 14th St (Lexington, 4 5 6) and Times Square (shuttle, S) and until recently at South Ferry (Seventh Ave, 1).

139-7. Elevated railway in Battery Park, looking south.

The elevated railway ran over Battery Park from Battery Place to South Ferry, close to State St. Construction over park land was controversial from the beginning, and while the courts finally permitted it under the charter of the first elevated railway, no further elevated railway franchises ever allowed routes over park land. As built in 1877, this section had three tracks for the narrow trains of the original Greenwich St El. As rebuilt in 1880, it was a slightly wide structure for two tracks.

It's hard to believe the wooded view above is in lower Manhattan, but you can see the South Ferry terminal in the distance, to the right of the control tower.

138-4. South Ferry station looking southeast.

South Ferry was a four-track terminal opened in 1879. Originally the west pair of tracks was for the Ninth Ave El and the east pair for the Third Ave El. Each pair of tracks had an island platform between them.

The gratings in the foreground show the location of the subway South Ferry station.

A similar view from about 1880. Albumen print mounted on cabinet card.

The two stairways seen on the left, the station house, and the platform canopies were all almost unchanged 60 years later. The open walkway next to the station house had been enclosed.

The station was named for the ferry to Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, called the South Ferry. Its fancy wooden house can be partially seen under the el to the left of the stairway. The ferry house at far right is the Staten Island Ferry to Stapleton and Tompkinsville. The smaller middle building under the elevated station house advertises boats to the north shore of Staten Island and to Manhattan Beach (the east end of Coney Island). The sign above the station house reads New York Elevated Railroad, original owner of the Ninth and Third Ave Els, which was consolidated after 1880 into the Manhattan Railway.

138-5. South Ferry station looking northeast.

There was barely enough length for a station here. The platforms had to curve left and right at the ends. The near platform is of course for the Ninth Ave El, which curves into Battery Park close to State St.

138-4 detail.

The stairway and the kiosk gave access to the inner loop track subway platform. It was open only Monday to Friday daytime, and it was closed at the time this picture was taken. The white sign on the left begins "Interborough Rapid Transit Co / Lexington 4th Ave Subway / East Side Line" and the rest of it probably explains what times trains use this platform. There's another big white sign to the left of the el stairway.

138-5 detail.

Economically hidden under the el stairway is an entrance to the main subway platform on the outer loop track, which had "Interborough Subway / West Side Line" service at all times and East Side service nights and weekends.

The woodwork posts and canopies of the el stairway are all original. The hand-lettered sign "to Up Town Trains" with the pointing hand also looks very old.

138-5 detail.

The top of the same stairway. The woodwork trim on the landing (lower left) matches the base landing, but the top, where the two stairways join, is in a different style. The roof appears to be canvas, the same material used to roof the wooden elevated rail cars.

138-5 detail.

Would you eat at the Bean Pot Cafe (left) or the Coastal Cafeteria? The bus says "Welcome to New York", like the one in a picture at 155th St. This is Whitehall St. Ferry off frame on the right.

138-4 detail.

The boy on the left posed for the classic "Slow Children" traffic sign!

The brick building behind them was for two federal government facilities, the United States Barge Office and Bureau of Immigration. For the latter office, there was a ferry behind the building to Ellis Island.

That's the end of Manhattan. We can't go any farther downtown by land. But we can go up the east side. The Second Avenue El was going to close too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Riding the El - 8 - Ninth Avenue


It's the Ninth Avenue El, May 1940, the month before it closed. Last time we got from 59th St to 30th St. This time we'll head down Greenwich St to lower Manhattan.

A little background will help you understand what we'll be looking at.

The Greenwich St and Ninth Ave elevated railway, the first one in the city, was primitive compared to the other three lines that opened only a few years later. Very lightweight construction limited trains to a few small passenger cars, with bodies only 40 feet long and 6 feet wide, pulled by small engines. The stations had stairways to the street on only one side of the structure, and passengers walked across the track to get to the other platform. The company upgraded the line to standard in 1880 with a substantial amount of new construction replacing the obsolete portions.

In Greenwich St, the original structure from 1870, the track over the east curb line, was replaced, along with the older segments of second track built up to 1873 (the second track was originally a series of discontinuous passing loops). The later portions of second track built from about 1875 on were retained, which was apparent from below because of a different type of column, as we will see.

133-2. Greenwich St, looking downtown at Christopher St station.

As narrow as Greenwich St is, the two tracks centered over the curb lines had more space between them than was needed for a third track. Beyond the station, the third track was centered between the side tracks with an open space on each side of it. In the station, there was room between the tracks for the center track and an island platform.

133-2 detail.

"Passengers are forbidden to ride on front or rear platforms of trains": a statement that becomes much more interesting with the creative lettering. The same today would just be lines of Helvetica white on black, bah. I like the triangular "front or rear" especially because there's no particular reason for it.

Many of these buildings were there when the el went up. Far left: the dog presides.

133-2 detail.

The tower controlled these switches. Sign on building: Vita Herring is still in business. The station sign mentions prominently the connection to the Hudson Tubes, which must have been the reason to make this an express stop.

139-5. Christopher St, looking west at Greenwich St.

I have to rate this one of the outstanding photographs of this series.

Under the el you can see the New York Central "high line" (over properties on the west side of Washington St) and beyond that the Miller Elevated Highway. Both are now gone, although some of the high line remains north of here. The row of houses on the left is also gone now, but the other blocks we see here are still there today.

139-5 detail.

The Christopher St PATH station still has its marquee, but not a good rapid transit connection. The el and the "tubes" had their own newsstands. The dealer has a broom, so he can keep his bit of sidewalk clean!

Check the bus stop sign with the arrow pointing up.

139-5 detail.

They don't build them like this any more. In fact people would have said that in 1940. If this was in color you'd notice the stained glass borders in the windows. Hidden in the decoration is N Y E R R in a circle, for the owner in 1880, New York Elevated Railroad.

139-5 detail.

Daily life goes on.

133-5. Barclay St station.

One of a series of lower Manhattan stations sited to be handy to railroad ferries. The Barclay St ferry went to Hoboken Terminal. This was a local stop, so you can see the space between the center and side tracks.

133-5 detail.

Ads. Serutan: It's Natures spelled backwards! I remember the slogan but not what it was for. Oh, real relief from constipation, it says there. Great. I do not recall Glostora and Astring-O-Sol at all.

Nowadays Doublemint Gum could not claim to be healthful without FDA approval, but at least the copy writer used the right word. (Food isn't healthy unless it's still alive.)

133-5 detail.

It's the woman with the hat! So it's Kellogg's Corn Flakes that make her smile. I've got to say, I never thought of corn flakes as being as "cooling as a breeze", did you? At least they are healthful. Not like Camel cigarettes, which according to the ad would also make her "extra cool".

137-8. Greenwich St looking northeast near Liberty St.

How do I know where this is? I happen to have another photograph with Schulte's store in it, and that one identifies the location as being near Liberty St. And where's that, you ask? Liberty St is now the southern side of the World Trade Center property. So nothing you see here exists today.

And for the direction? The near side has a four-part column that spreads out four ways at the top. That's old style, circa 1876-1878. The far side has the newer column from 1880 with two parts, so that's the east side of the street, where the original elevated railway was.

137-8 detail.

This looks like a movie set with extras, doesn't it? Action! What's the young man with the newspaper doing, striding so confidently across the street? What's about to happen? We will never know.

Well, I was going to get all the way to South Ferry this time, but I think that's enough for now. You'll have to wait.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Riding the El - 7 - Ninth Avenue


Once again we are going back to May 1940 to ride the elevated railways, while we still can. The Sixth Avenue El had closed in December 1938, and the Ninth Avenue El and upper Second Avenue El closed in June 1940.

The unknown photographer took at least three trips on the Ninth Avenue line with camera in hand. Here and next time I will sort the pictures into geographical order, covering the line from 59th St down to South Ferry.

133-8. Looking uptown at 59th St station.

From the Victorian ironwork at upper right to the Deco apartment house in the center: a New York story. The stone hulk at left is the Church of St Paul the Apostle, still there although nowhere near as dark as it looks in this photo. The structure with corner turrets a block north was the Twelfth Regiment Armory. But the purpose of this picture was probably to document the peculiar track-level platform area with the two sheds.

133-8 detail. Sheds.

The sheds are standing over a section of the original Greenwich St - Ninth Ave El, which was completed to 61st St in January 1876 as a one-track lightweight structure supported by columns along the west curb line of Ninth Ave. Although the tracks were relocated in 1880 to a conventional elevated structure over the center of the street, some of the old structure was left in place north of 59th St station, and it stayed there to the end. Charles Warren located a view from street level that you can see here.

133-7. Ninth Ave looking uptown toward 59th St station.

This was taken from the front window of an uptown local train. In both pictures you can see in the distance the 66th St hump express station. The center track went up to run between a pair of platforms located over the local tracks. This was an artifact of adding the center track to an existing structure in 1915-1916. The original station with side platforms, much like what we see here at 59th St, was left in place for local trains.

The next point of interest is the junction with the Sixth Ave El at 53rd St. There are a few views of the 53rd St route in Riding the El - 2 including one where you could see the junction in the distance (photo 81-2). Now we'll take a look at it, a year and a half after the Sixth Ave El was closed.

132-7. Ninth Ave looking downtown toward the former 53rd St junction.

To run to Sixth Ave, you had to be on the right-hand track and take a left turn at 53rd St. The center express track goes up and over the junction. Notice there are switches to allow for Sixth Ave trains running express north of this point, controlled by the tower on the right.

132-8. Ninth Ave looking downtown beyond former 53rd St junction.

This view shows where the junction was. In the foreground, the third rail, running to the left of the track we're on, still has a gap where the turnout was! And the same is true on the right-hand side of the uptown track. Downtown to Sixth Ave crossed uptown from Ninth Ave at grade, just like you would if you took a left turn driving in a street.

The tower on the right controlled the switches and the crossing. It looks like something was removed from the structure near it, but why any of it remained in 1940 is not clear. Up ahead, the express track goes back downgrade, and in the distance is 50th St station.

The wooden platform at extreme left was at the acute angle of the junction, as you'll see in a moment. 

133-6. Ninth Ave looking uptown at the former 53rd St junction.

From another ride: now we are on an uptown local. This is the wooden platform in the acute angle of the junction. The crossing has been removed, and by now the railing along the edge of the el looks as if it's always been there blocking the curve.

The photographer had still missed the money shot in two tries. He got it next time.

138-7. 53rd St at Ninth Ave, looking southeast.

The last remains of the Sixth Ave El, seen from a Ninth Ave El express train up on the hump.

I have never seen a photograph of this view. Compare the X shaped iron at the right-hand side of the previous view and the bottom of this one.

Does the S sign mean stop? I don't know why the track is intact on the curve, or for that matter why the structure in 53rd St was just being removed here so long after the el closed. This was probably the very last section standing.

138-7 detail.

Don't miss this. That building has a door on the third floor, with a little wooden stairway and bridge leading onto the elevated structure! There must be a story here.

UPDATE: It was Substation Number 3, providing a 600v DC feed to the third rail. The bridge carried electrical cables to the structure.

132-7 detail. Ninth Avenue west side, looking downtown.

Two meat markets on this block. I like the deco neon "Wines Liquors" sign. Shave and a haircut 40 cents: not two bits? This isn't as sharp as the views we had around 155th St, but remember, this was from a moving train!

133-1. Ninth Ave north from 30th St station.

The 34th St hump express station is in the distance. The 1934 western addition to the General Post Office is behind the train, in the double block from 31st St to 33rd St. The big hole on the left is the open railroad cut west of Penn Station, which to this day has not been built over.

We're on the uptown end of the downtown platform at 30th St station. The first segment of the first elevated railway in 1870 ended at 30th St, where it connected to trains of the Hudson River Railroad. Although most of the mainline trains were diverted to Grand Central in 1872, a decreasing number of local trains continued to run to 30th St until sometime in the 1910s. That's why the el had a station here, only four blocks from the major cross street at 34th St.

Next time, we follow the el down Greenwich Street to South Ferry.