Posts Tagged ‘Ninth Avenue El’

The tenement between two elevated train lines

July 24, 2017

In the late 19th and early 20th century, thousands of New Yorkers lived in tenements bordered by elevated train tracks.

Trains thundered so close to living rooms and kitchens, one observer in the 1880s described the elevated as “so near to the houses you might shake hands with the inhabitants and see what they had for dinner.”

Having a train outside one window was one thing. But what in the world was it like living in a slender building at the juncture of two elevated lines, with trains lurching and screeching day and night on both sides of your home?

The curtains in the windows of this tenement, at the Battery Place stop where the Sixth Avenue El and Ninth Avenue El meet in Lower Manhattan, tell us people did make their homes here.

Both elevated lines were dismantled in the late 1930s. At some point, the Flatiron-like tenement had its date with the wrecking ball as well; I haven’t been able to locate it anywhere in the downtown streetscape.

[Photos: MCNY/Wurtz Bros.]

A deadly subway plunge at 53rd Street

June 10, 2010

It’s hard to imagine that elevated train tracks traveled down narrow, relatively quiet West 53rd Street at one time.

And it’s even harder to imagine the terror of being on an elevated train there one random rush hour morning when it veers off track and plunges into a tenement or the street.

But that’s what happened on the morning of September 11, 1905. At least 12 people were killed when this train crashed at Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street, a notorious curve where the Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els diverge.

The crash was blamed on human error; a switch on the tracks was set wrong.

Both elevated lines were dismantled by 1940.

A 1920s Hell’s Kitchen street scene

March 24, 2010

Artist and Hell’s Kitchen resident Harry Wickey etched this dark, moody moment in time on Ninth Avenue circa 1923. 

The Ninth Avenue El, dismantled in 1940, looms large in the background. It was the city’s first elevated railway, starting at Greenwich Street and traveling up Ninth Avenue to Columbus Avenue and 155th Street.

Wickey, who switched to sculpture after etching acids damaged his sight, wrote in his autobiography about how he “changed from an Ohio farm boy into an enthusiastic resident of Hell’s Kitchen, New York’s tough area along the Hudson River,” according to a Life article from 1942.

“There Wickey now lives with his wife in three rooms where he can watch the slum kids, housewives, tramps, and tavern topers whom he has transformed into bronze.”

Huddling by the stove at the 72nd Street El

February 19, 2009

Berenice Abbott took this February 6, 1936 photograph of subway riders warming up in the El station at 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. El tracks lined Columbus from 1879 to 1940.

72ndstreetstation

The paneled windows, wooden turnstiles, and decorative border along the interior wall are some rather old-fashioned touches for a public train station. And when was the last time you saw a pot-bellied stove in the subway? Gives the photo quite a homey feel.

Thrills and spills on the Manhattan El

September 19, 2008

Back in the days when trains criss-crossed the city on elevated tracks, riders must have gotten quite a rush at certain steep curves—some as high as 100 feet off the ground.

Angel’s Curve, also known as Suicide Curve, was part of the Ninth Avenue El at 110th Street, where the tracks swerved from Ninth to Eighth Avenue. Here’s an 1886 photo:

 

Another serpentine curve, shown in this late-1800s photo, was located downtown at Coenties Slip just before the East River. The tracks were part of the Third Avenue El:

Dead Man’s Curve, at Broadway and 14th Street, never leaves the ground, but it looks like a fairly exhilarating turn for streetcar riders. The 1897 woodcut below shows how dangerous it was for pedestrians.

The streetcars are gone, but it’s still a tricky intersection to cross.