It’s hard to imagine that once upon a time there were 4 elevated passenger rail lines in Manhattan, including the legendary Third Avenue El which once ran alongside our building and is featured in the large format photos in our lobby. The Third Avenue El was begun in 1878 and was 1 of 4 elevated rail lines in Manhattan along with 2nd, 6th, and 9th Ave. The line was double decked, allowing for express service, and ran from Battery Park to 133rd Street in the Bronx.
In the 1930s and 40s, the elevated rail lines came under heavy criticism from then mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, since subways had rendered many of the routes obsolete starting in the early 1900’s. The Els were considered to be blights on their communities as well as noisy and unhealthy for nearby residents. In addition, real estate interests believed removing the structures would improve conditions and raise property values. The 2nd, 6th, and 8th Avenue lines were dismantled between 1940 and 1942 but the 3rd Avenue El hung on until 1955, when it too was brought down. According to witnesses, the police had to cut the train’s rip cords because everyone was pulling the emergency brake to prolong the last ride.
The 1953 documentary “Daybreak Express” by D.A. Pennebaker is an homage to the 3rd Avenue El set to the music of Duke Ellington. It can easily be found on Youtube and is worth watching.
Sources – Wikipedia, New York Times