Sunday, March 6, 2011

Riding the El - 13 - 110th St


I see that I wrote back in Riding the El -2, when I was still working my way through the 1938 photographs:
You know, the view everyone took was at 110th St, the 'suicide curve', where the el ran high above the street. But not this guy.
I was wrong. By May 1940, he couldn't resist.

At 110th St, the elevated railway crossed from Columbus Ave (the continuation of Ninth Ave) to Eighth Ave.  Street level drops about 60 feet from 105th and Columbus to 110th and Eighth, and to minimize the grade at track level, the elevated railway ran very high around the double curve and gradually downhill over Eighth Ave, reaching a normal height by 125th St. The high curve and the elaborate ironwork under it captured imaginations as soon as it was built.

Above is an aerial photograph of 1924, from New York City Map, showing that both of the curves were built cutting over private property. Farther downtown, the el stayed over streets and made some tight turns, but this far north, in the 1870s, land was still cheap, and the elevated railway company spent a few dollars. The result was that trains could take the curves at speed, adding to passengers' delight.

The fun was somewhat ruined in 1903 when a station was added in the middle of the curve. You can see it in the image above. Local trains now had to slow to make the new stop.

Above is a mosaic of pages from the J W Bromley's Desk Atlas of Manhattan, 1916. It shows that access to the station was by way of a brick building on the north side of the street. Most of the building was Manhattan Railway Substation 4, but along the street was a five-story brick tower with four elevators that carried passengers to station high above.

The tower was still there into the 1980s. I remember seeing it. Did I take a picture? No. The brick had patches on the street side near the top, where it once opened to the elevated station. It's gone now, along with the small buildings to its east at the circle, replaced by a large residential building.

What you can still see are the three apartment houses on the east side of Columbus Ave with curved walls, and the "one story stores" that were once under the tracks.

139-2. 110th St station looking northeast.

There's the top of the tower with its tiled roof. You can see how sharp the curve was. And see the tops of the buildings on Eighth Ave? They're six stories.

139-2 detail.

No ads for Mulsified here, but we've got Ruppert beer, Dr Lyon's powder with no pumice and some amount of safety, and Del Monte canned pineapples. And a man carrying a brown paper package tied up with string— the way they used to do it before someone invented shopping bags.

139-1. 110th St station looking northeast, below track level.


This must be the view from the cross-under between the elevator tower, left, and the uptown platform. I find the slim cylindrical iron columns and the horizontal lattice bracing a little unsettling, and I'm only looking at the picture. I know this stood for 61 years under the stresses of moving trains. It still doesn't look strong enough, does it?

139-1 detail.

A closer look at the iron. The Phoenix column, mainstay of the Sixth and Second Ave Els, was made of four parts bolted together.

Madame Alice, cleaner and dyer, has her sign projecting past the column. Next door they have pies.

139-1 detail.

I underexposed a second scan of this negative to bring out that bright area on the right. There are some great cars in the street and in the gas station on the northeast corner. But mainly, check out that truck for Jacob Ruppert's Beer with the open bench seat!

Above is a picture from about 1905, looking west on Cathedral Parkway (110th St). This gives you a good look at the station and the combined elevator tower and electrical substation. The buildings are beautifully designed— notice the arched doorway of the substation— but were almost immediately hidden behind cheap billboards and, later, one-story commercial buildings.

It looks as if the elevator had two stops near the top, one for the mezzanine crossing under the tracks for the uptown side, and then a higher one at the level of the downtown platform.

The entrance was originally an open pavilion with arches. The side would eventually be obscured by stores.

This image was made by the Detroit Publishing Company. Their archives can be seen at the Library of Congress web site.

Here's the Eighth Ave curve in the nineteenth century, looking east from 110th St. The station and buildings were years in the future. 110th St had not yet been widened yet either. If the construction in the foreground is for its transformation into Cathedral Parkway, the year is 1894.

West side engines ran with boilers north. Trains ran engine first, but the engines were not turned at the terminals, so the engine on the downtown train in the background is leading with its coal bunker. Notice the height of the apartment buildings on Eighth Ave.

(Photo print from my collection)

139-6. Posted notice.

I don't know where our photographer came across this ancient notice with its references to bad coins and ticket collection. The Manhattan Railway Company owned the elevated railways up to the end in 1940, but they had been leased to and operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company since 1903. This sign was at least 37 years out of date.


I'm sorry to say that's the end. I've gone through all the negatives.

I found a Sixth Ave picture that I somehow missed posting, so let's go out with that. It's 1938, and we're running uptown, just out of the curve from Third St into Sixth Ave, approaching Eighth St station. On our right buildings have been cleared for a construction site for the Sixth Ave Subway. The World of Tomorrow is on its way.

82-6. Sixth Ave looking north from Waverly Place.




  1. The 110th St Curve, the Coenties Slip Curve, The Grand Central El Shuttle, a 2nd Ave El trip over the Queensboro Bridge, all noted items of NY City Transit History, which are disappearing into the lore of the City. Fortunately, we have photographic evidence of most of those scenes and a few of the real early historic views of NYC Rapid Transit, thanks to your efforts through your Beach Pneumatic Paper.
    I grew up in the shadows of the 3rd Ave El structure on Webster Ave at Mosholu Pkwy. The house I lived in was adjacent to the ROW of the Jerome Park Raceway spur (off of the NYC Harlem Div) that was built in 1880 and became the construction RR of the Jerome Park Reservior and the Mosholu Pkwy roadway. The Jerome RR spur was removed about 1905. However, that railway history remained as part of the neighborhood lore. The 3rd Ave El structure at Mosholu Pkwy was built in 1918 and opened in 1920. Although it was known to only the residents of the area, it rivaled the 100th St Curve in height. The Moosholu Pkwy structure was on a tangent over Webster Ave. So, there was no thrilling curve to negotiate. However, it afforded a grand vista of Bronx Park and the museum bldg to the East and the path of Mosholu Pkwy to the West to Jerome Ave.
    There is a large section of my Picasa Album devoted to the 110th St Cure where several aspects of the Detroit Publishing view of Cathedral Pkwy are examined along with other views, including my personal favorite, the couple picnicking alongside the structure. There is also a link to an album devoted to the 110th St Curve at "".
    Thank you for all your efforts.
    Maybe, in the future, you can link elements in the Beach Pneumatic paper to your presentation of The War of Yesterday, Riding the El.
    I am, your most obedient and humble servant,
    Charles A. Warren

  2. It has been wonderful looking at these pictures. I particularly liked the series on the Second Avenue el in The Bronx. At last, a clear explanation of how the Bergen Avenue cutoff worked, and why it existed at all. Kudos to you.

  3. I'll add my congratulations, as well. Thanks for the tour!

    On the beer truck, I wonder if it's a conversion of a horse-drawn? As you may know, given your Dad's career, the FDNY (and others, to be sure) converted a number of horse-drawn steamers to motorized service with the addition of two-wheel electric tractors. I wonder if something similar might have been done with delivery trucks?

    Again, thanks for the time-travel trip!


  4. It looks a General Motors electric truck, which would make it about 25 years old. See