“Why Not Use the El?”

Painter Reginald Marsh depicts a grungy East Side elevated train and its isolated, Depression-era passengers in carnivalesque color in 1930.

The sign above the sleeping man’s head reads something like: “The subway is fast . . . but the elevated gets you there quickly. Why not use the ‘L'”? I never thought of the El and the subway as competitors.

Marsh had a thing for the seedy side of New York, like this Times Square theater scene he painted in 1936.

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8 Responses to ““Why Not Use the El?””

  1. The American Friend Says:

    Marsh is a wealth of visual information for a certain period of New York. He used to make these little sketchbooks that fit into his pockets so he could sketch people unawares. Thanks for reminding me about this artists, our American Daumier.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Subways were different companies in the 30s and 40s. I suppose they had different goals. Or as they say: The names IRT, BMT, and IND were the names of the three competing transit agencies prior to city takeover in the 40s. You can see more:


  3. radmazin Says:

    excellent find (and excellent blog). thank you.

  4. Nabe News: March 8 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] Reginald Marsh painting of Depression-era El [Ephemeral […]

  5. Bob Mukai Says:

    Thanks for posting this terrific painting.

    Based on the destination sign in the window I’m going to guess that the rail car depicted in this painting is not itself an elevated car, but a Lexington Avenue IRT car on the route terminating at East 180th Street station, where the Dyre Avenue shuttle picked up the route northward. The Third Avenue El, which would have been the IRT’s logical competitor along that route, did have a station at E. 180th Street, but didn’t terminate there (or anywhere in the 180s) and so wouldn’t have signed its cars to that effect.

    Given the date (1930?), I’d speculate the “L” referred to in the advertisement might not have been any of the City els, but rather the New York Central’s through service by elevated right of way down into Manhattan. From around 1912 till I don’t know when the New York Westchester and Boston Ry. had a competing line rail line with its southern terminus at the IRT’s E. 180th Street station in the Bronx, so that its passengers could make a relatively cheap trip into Manhattan on the Lexington Avenue line. It might be that the Central, advertising on the Lexington Avenue trains, was suggesting it was worth the extra money to ride the Central’s “L” all the way into Manhattan, rather than having to change for the subway in the Bronx.

  6. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the info! I love NYC subway history.

  7. Edward Hopper’s “Night Windows” « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] of Hopper paintings and prints, as well as those of his contemporaries like Martin Lewis and Reginald Marsh, through April […]

  8. Anthony Morgan Says:

    And the Judge Crater headline!

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