Archive for the ‘Transit’ Category

An Upper West Side Art Nouveau–like subway sign

June 19, 2017

You don’t have to be a typeface nerd to appreciate loveliness the letters and numerals affixed to plaques and signs in the city’s earliest subway stations.

My favorite is the “96” at the Broadway and 96th Street station. Opened in 1904 as part of the original IRT line, it looks like the numerals were created by hand, not a printing press.

Thanks to the rosettes, green coloring, and what look like two tulips framing the numerals, this plaque across from the platform also looks like a rare examples of the naturalistic Art Nouveau design style—which swept Europe in the early 20th century but didn’t make much of an impression in New York, save for some building facades.

How a “Ladies Pavilion” ended up in Central Park

June 19, 2017

With its ornate roof and gingerbread house motifs, the Ladies Pavilion is straight out of the Victorian era—a cast-iron, open-air structure for catching a breeze on the Lake in Central Park.

It’s also relatively hard to get to, accessible by rowboat to a rock formation called Hernshead or on foot via the woodsy footpaths along the Lake inside the Ramble.

Designed by Jacob Wray Mould, the architect behind many park structures, the pavilion fits in well with the Victorian style of nearby bridges and fountains. But it’s actually only been here since the early 20th century.

How did it end up in on the Lake? Built in 1871, the Ladies Pavilion was originally a trolley shelter at the park entrance at Eighth Avenue and 59th Street, wrote Ada Louise Huxtable in a 1973 New York Times piece.

This might be it in the 1895 illustration, above, from Munsey’s Magazine.

“This intersection, north of Manhattan’s developed residential and commercial areas, became a transportation hub for Central Park visitors, many of whom had to travel great distances from their homes to enjoy the park’s offerings,” according to the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Program.

When the Maine monument was installed at this corner in 1912, the trolley shelter was moved to Hernshead.

Perhaps it went here because this was once the site of the Ladies’ Cottage (above right), where female ice skaters congregated between the Lake and the Ladies’ Skating Pond, which was drained in 1930. (Early Central Park had lots of sex-segregated areas, so a pond for women was not unusual.)

“The popularity of skating on the Lake well into the middle of the 20th century, and the care taken to move the Ladies Pavilion rather than demolish it, suggests that it was well-used and appreciated by park patrons,” states the UVM page.

These days, in a gender-neutral era the Victorians would have found horrifying, the Ladies Pavilion doesn’t seem to have any specifically female connotations.

But it is considered an especially romantic part of Central Park and has become a popular place for weddings.

For more about the building of Central Park and the park’s early years, read The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.

[Second and third images: NYPL; fourth image: nyc-architecture.com]

So proud of the Lincoln Tunnel, it’s on a postcard

June 19, 2017

While New York’s bridges are often praised for their grace and beauty, the city’s tunnels get little love. And that’s especially true for the Lincoln Tunnel.

But in 1937, when the first of the Lincoln Tunnel’s three underwater tubes opened for car traffic, it was cause for celebration, with “gala festivities” like a military parade, aerial bombs, and an artillery salute,” reported the New York Times the day before opening day, December 21.

The last of the three tunnels was competed in 1957. How proud was the city about this conduit between New York and New Jersey? A photo of one bendy section made it onto a postcard.

Hunting ghosts of the West 91st Street subway

June 12, 2017

It closed in 1959, 55 years after it opened as part of the original West Side IRT line.

The subway platforms on Broadway at 86th and 96th Streets were extended, crosstown bus service had been established, and the local station at 91st Street Street was deemed unnecessary by transit officials.

Above ground, it appears to have vanished without a trace. On each corner of 91st and Broadway, no signs of it remain—no sidewalk irregularities or remnants of mysterious staircases.

But we do have old photos to show us what the little station looked like. Ninety-first street was barely a generation old when the subway opened, but it helped bring new residents and beautiful apartment houses—like the Apthorp and Astor Court at 90th Street—to the newly developed Upper West Side.

These new residents entered and exited the station through one of the original cast-iron and wire-glass kiosks that opened in 1904.

Their unique domes and slender design were modeled after subway kiosks in Budapest, a city whose circa-1896 subway system was almost as new as the first section of the New York City system.

Underground, however, the 91st Street station remains. If you look closely out the window of the 1, 2, or 3 train passes 91st Street, you can make out the abandoned station, with its ghostly platform and walls covered in graffiti.

I’m not aware of any tours of the station open to the public. But back in the late 1990s, the New York Transit Museum (based in a decommissioned ghost station of its own at Court Street in Brooklyn) did operate a tour of the 91st Street Station.

Writer Andre Acimen visited it and gave this report in a 1999 New York Times article:

“The conductor opened the front doors only, and to the baffled gaze of other passengers, we finally stepped out,” wrote Acimen.

“Wandering though this modern underworld, I tried to think of the great poets and the caves of Lascaux and ”Planet of the Apes,’ but all I could focus on as I negotiated my way through a thick mantle of soot was dirt, rats and a faint queasiness.”

“The platform was filled with trash: broken beams, old cardboard and a litter of foam cups. This wasn’t just the detritus of a subway station, but the leftovers of mole people,” stated Acimen.

[nycsubway.org has some incredible contemporary photos of the abandoned station, and Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site has excellent detailed info on 91st Street and other shuttered subway stops.]

[Second photo: MCNY, 1955; x2010.26.103; third photo: NY Transit Museum, 1957; fourth photo: MCNY, 1955, x2010.26.100; fifth photo: MCNY, 1955, x2010.26.99; sixth photo, Christopher Cook/Wikipedia]

Reading a tenement on the Lower East Side

May 1, 2017

A century ago, in New York’s densely packed neighborhoods, corner buildings often had the names of the cross streets carved into the facade, usually on the second story.

It’s never been clear to me if this is because poorer neighborhoods lacked real street signs or if it was part of an ornamental trend.

It makes sense on corners that would be seen from elevated trains — but sometimes the street names appear on buildings where no elevated line ever passed. (Maybe an elevated train was planned for the corner at one time and never came to pass?)

In any event, it’s always a treat to spot a new one though, like this one on a tenement at Canal and Eldridge Streets. It’s hard to see, hiding under 120 or so years of grime and traffic exhaust.

Here’s a whole bunch more, some fanciful and lovely, others more utilitarian.

What remains of the other end of the High Line

April 24, 2017

High Line Park stretches along the West Side from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, following the original tracks of the 1934 elevated railway — which trucked raw materials and finished goods in and out of Manhattan’s once-bustling factories.

Then at Gansevoort Street, right beside the gleaming new Whitney Museum, the park suddenly ends in a steep drop.

But the High Line itself never ended here. It continued south to Spring Street, zipping in and out of factories along Washington Street until it reached St. John’s Terminal at Pier 40.

What happened to this southern end of the High Line — which could have extended the park another mile or so?

As Manhattan’s manufacturing base shrank and rail shipping declined, the steel trestle was demolished starting in the 1960s bit by bit. Most of the factories that relied on the line were bulldozed to make way for the West Village Houses.

(A shame, sure, but it would have been inconceivable to New Yorkers back then that anyone would want to keep the rundown elevated railway and turn it into a beautiful park overlooking Tenth Avenue).

More than three decades since the entire line ceased in 1980, almost nothing of the southern end of the High Line survives.

But take a walk down Washington Street, where a few of the surviving factories have been turned into housing. You can easily see where the rail cars went in and out of 812 Washington Street, once part of the Manhattan Refrigerating Company (top two photos).

Same with the enormous, block-long building a few blocks down the street at Bethune Street (above).

Before it was transformed into the artists’ housing complex known as Westbeth in 1971, this handsome building was part of Bell Laboratories.

Bell Labs was established here in the late 19th century; the company refitted their second floor to accommodate the High Line in the 1930s.

[Second photo: GVSHP; fourth photo: Friends of the High Line]

A streetcar, a drunk, a fight, and murder in 1871

April 17, 2017

Every few years a shocking murder occurs in New York, one that overwhelms the city’s attention and provokes fear and outrage about the randomness of urban crime.

The “Car-Hook Tragedy” of 1871 was one of those murders.

It happened on the evening of April 26. Avery Putnam (below), by all accounts a mild-mannered Pearl Street merchant, was escorting a dressmaker family friend identified as Madam Duval to the Church of the Advent at 55 West 46th Street.

Madam Duval’s younger daughter was at the church singing in the choir. Putnam was taking Duval and her older daughter, 16-year-old Jenny, to the performance from their home on Broadway and Ninth Street.

The three boarded an uptown streetcar at University Place. The main form of public transportation at a time when elevated trains were still in infancy, streetcars were pulled by horses along steel tracks embedded in the street.

For a nickel fare, passengers could expect a sometimes noisy, smelly, bumpy ride — an increasingly in the Gilded Age, crime.

The streetcar carrying the three traveled up Broadway. At about 29th Street — as it passed the then-new Gilsey House (right), a hotel and now an apartment house still standing today — Jennie went on the car’s outside platform to look at the clock.

At that moment, a drunk, recently fired conductor named William Foster (below left) leered at Jenny, and then her mother, “in a most offensive manner,” reported the New-York Tribune.

Only a few other passengers were in the car. Putnam had words with Foster, asking him to leave the women alone. Foster began cursing him out, declaring that he would “fix [Putnam] when he got off.”

At 46th Street and Seventh Avenue, Putnam and the Duvals left the streetcar. True to his word, Foster followed behind them with a car-hook (an iron tool conductors used) and bashed Putnam over the head with it.

The merchant was left mortally wounded in the street, the Duvals shrieking in horror. He died at St. Luke’s Hospital two days later.

The savagery of the murder was rivaled by the callousness of passersby.

“None of the passers-by stopped to assist the ladies in dragging the body of their unfortunate friend to the sidewalk, out of the way of a down car, which was rapidly approaching,” wrote Harper’s Weekly.

Foster, a hulking New York native had a previous job working for Boss Tweed, was arrested and arraigned on murder charges. “Foster had very little to offer in his own defense,” states Murder by Gaslight.

“There had been several witnesses to the murder in addition to Madam Duval and her daughter, and at the time of his arrest, Foster admitted to the crime. He denied that the murder was premeditated and claimed he was too drunk to know what he was doing.”

As Foster himself put it: “Drink had crazed my brain, and to that cursed demon . . . I render thanks for the position I now occupy.”

Prosecutors, however, said the murder was premeditated, in part because Foster forced the driver to give him the car-hook four blocks before Putnam left the streetcar.

At his trial in May, the jury found him guilty, and Foster was sentenced to hang in the Tombs.

The focus of the car-hook tragedy now turned to Foster’s sentence. Many New Yorkers supported it; others felt he deserved mercy, as he was a husband and father.

There were also allegations that Foster’s wealthy father and friends tried to bribe Madam Duval to ask the governor to pardon the killer.

Foster got several reprieves. But in the end, he died for his crime, in front of 300 witnesses in the yard inside the Tombs (right).

[Top photo: typical streetcar in 1872, Alamy; second photo: Harper’s Weekly; fourth photo: “The ‘Car-Hook’ Tragedy; fifth photo: New York Times headline; sixth and seventh photos: “The ‘Car-Hook’ Tragedy]

Old subway signage of a less complicated city

April 10, 2017

It’s always fun to come across vintage subway signs at stations across New York—and often they can tell us something about how people got around underground in a very different 20th century city.

Take a look at this entrance at the Fulton Street Station downtown. The contemporary signage is functional and color-coded.

But it’s so much lovelier the old-school way, when the sign above the stairs simply tells you this will take you “down town.”

At the Lorimer Street stop in Williamsburg you can switch to the “crosstown line,” a phrase I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use when they say they’re about to jump on the G train.

It makes Brooklyn sound like one big town (or city, as it once was, of course) rather than collection of very different neighborhoods it is today.

“Subway Entrance” above this stairwell attached to the Trinity Building on Lower Broadway is done up in wonderful serif style. No train names or letters; its simplicity tells you everything you need to know.

Here’s one modern touch to get a kick out of: the stairs first lead you to a Subway sandwich shop.

A final elevated train shines on Ninth Avenue

April 6, 2017

You can almost hear this elevated train grinding against the tracks as it makes its way up (or down?) Ninth Avenue.

The Ninth Avenue El (which traveled along Greenwich Street to Ninth Avenue and then to Columbus Avenue) was the city’s first elevated railroad, ferrying passengers since 1868.

Andreas Feininger captured the solitary steel beauty of the tracks as they glisten under the sun in this photo in 1940, the year the line shut down.

The crowds inside a 14th Street subway station

April 3, 2017

Reginald Marsh painted everything in his New York of the 1930s and 1940s: Bowery crowds, showgirls, forgotten men, Coney Island beachgoers, tugboats, panhandlers, and shoppers.

So of course he would take his sketchpad and chronicle New Yorkers using mass transit underground. In 1930 he painted “Subway, 14th Street,” showing a crowd of city residents rushing en masse to or from the train, each absorbed in his or her own world.

If only the newspaper headlines were a little easier for viewers to read!