Posts Tagged ‘sixth avenue el’

John Sloan’s “Italian Procession” in the Village

October 4, 2010

“This painting is a rare document of the meeting of cultures in Greenwich Village, where bohemian artists and writers lived among the working-class Italian-American community south of Washington Square.”

So states a description of this 1925 painting by the Delaware Art Museum, which hosted a John Sloan exhibit a few years back.

“Sloan enjoyed his neighborhood’s Italian eateries—like Reganeschi’s—as well as parades like this one.”

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.

The other name for Sixth Avenue

January 3, 2010

Of course, no one calls Sixth Avenue by its official moniker: Avenue of the Americas. The street got this formal and cumbersome name in 1945. But why—and whose bright idea was it?

The blame starts with Sixth Avenue business owners. In the 1940s, they argued that the then-dingy avenue (the El had recently been dismantled above it) needed some sprucing up.

One way to do that would be to get Central and South American countries to build consulates and company HQs on the avenue. Real-estate bigwig Leonard Spear took credit for that idea.

In 1945, city council members were convinced, and Mayor La Guardia signed the name change into law. In the 1950s, signs representing different countries in the Americas went up all along the avenue.

The signs never helped the name catch on. Most were taken down for good in the early 1990s, when city lampposts were replaced. But a few rusted ones remain. One still hangs on at Sixth and Grand Street.

A crowd forms on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street

October 20, 2009

“Ashcan School” artist John Sloan really had a thing for the Sixth Avenue El. Several of his paintings depict the El at Third Street or Eighth Street; Jefferson Market Courthouse can often be seen in the distance.


Here he highlights the next stop on the El, at 14th Street. It’s still a major shopping crossroads. Currently a Starbucks and Urban Outfitters occupy the Southeast corner, past the “Shoes” marquee in the painting.

The building across the street with the pointed turret is still there. Down toward Seventh Avenue looms the Salvation Army headquarters, also still in existence.

The end of the Sixth Avenue El

February 7, 2009

This photo was taken in 1939, just after the el was dismantled. Imagine how grimy and dark Sixth Avenue must have been with trains constantly roaring overhead and the tracks and stations blocking out sunlight.


Plenty more has changed at the intersection of Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, Ninth Street, and Christopher Street in the ensuing 70 years. Sixth Avenue traffic no longer flows two ways. The Women’s House of Detention was torn down and turned into a lovely garden. Nedick’s hot dogs is now a Barnes & Noble.

And there’s now a traffic island in the middle of the intersection—making things even more chaotic and confusing for pedestrians and drivers alike.

John Sloan and the Sixth Avenue El

November 10, 2008

Greenwich Village resident and Ashcan School artist John Sloan depicted many scenes of early 20th century New York City life, and he seemed to have a special fondness for the old elevated trains that once criss-crossed the city’s avenues. 

He painted Jefferson Market in 1917, with the Sixth Avenue El in the foreground. The el is now gone and high-rises dot Sixth Avenue, but Jefferson Market itself looks largely the same today.


Sixth Avenue Elevated at Third Street is from 1928. There’s Jefferson Market again, in the distance.


The El ran from 59th Street and Sixth Avenue, abruptly snaked down West Third Street to West Broadway, then made its way to Rector Street. It was torn down in the 1930s, its fate referenced in an e.e. cummings poem

“A bit of the old Sixth Avenue El…”

April 20, 2008

Sixth Avenue must have been awfully dark and grimy back in the days of the hulking El. This photo is from 1938. The Jefferson Market clock building and Bigelow’s are still there, of course. But the hideous Women’s House of Detention met the wrecking ball in 1974. 

The Sixth Avenue El was dismantled in 1939 and sold as scrap metal to the Japanese, who supposedly melted it into ammo during World War II. Hence the great e.e. cummings anti-war line, “It took a nipponized bit of the old Sixth Avenue El, in the top of his head, to tell him.” The full poem is here.