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.



  1. 134-3 I especially love. Maybe because my surname is Howard. :)

  2. A section of the 3rd Ave El South of Chatham Sq became the 2nd Ave El tracks after the Chatham Sq Station and junction was rebuilt. The lower level of the double deck Chatham Sq station was used exclusively by the 2nd Ave El because 3rd Ave El tracks on the lower level were directed to the Park Row platform of the Chatham Sq Station and from there to the lower level of the double decked City Hall Terminal. The 3rd Ave El Park Row platform replaced the former original North Chatham Sq station platform which was replaced by the ramp to the upper level. The 2nd Ave El had a junction to the lower or its original South Chatham Sq platform. The junction also went under the 3rd Ave El upper level tracks to its own Chatham Sq Park Row platform and on to the upper level of the City Hall Terminal. An interesting junction was created where the 3rd Ave El upper level and 2nd Ave El lower level tracks joined again North of the Franklin Sq Station to become the original two track structure to South Ferry. I have several images of the massive double deck structure structure South of the Chatham Sq Station. However, I have not seen any images of the junction of the upper and lower level tracks North of the Franklin Sq Station. I was wondering if the 2nd Ave El tracks North of that junction were retained as lay-up tracks until the 3rd Ave El structure South of Chatham Sq was removed in 1951.

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