Posts Tagged ‘Streetcars of New York City’

Park Avenue South: three centuries, three views

June 21, 2012

In the photo below, taken in 1890, this stretch of Park Avenue South only had its name for two years. Before that, it was known as plain-old Fourth Avenue.

The intersection at 31st Street wasn’t exactly bustling. It featured a market, a laundry, and two very different hotels.

The opulent Park Avenue Hotel was built as a home for working women in 1876 (it failed thanks to its stringent rules). The low-key place next door is the Brandes, a holdout from a more rural city, explains New York Then and Now.

A lot happened in 84 years. Both hotels and the other small-fry businesses are gone, replaced by a canyon of 1920s-era office buildings and apartments (and a few saplings in giant planters in the median).

Today, Park Avenue South and 31st Street is pretty similar to its 1970s counterpart—minus the saplings.

Way in the distance in the center of the photo is the Park Avenue Tunnel, which sends cars underground at 33rd Street.

The tunnel used to carry railroad tracks, then streetcars—you can see them going in and coming out of the tunnel in the top photo.

[Top two photos: from New York Then and Now, Dover publications]

The Rosa Parks of Manhattan streetcars in 1854

April 19, 2012

Elizabeth Jennings was running late.

It was July 16, 1854, and Jennings, a 24-year-old teacher, was headed to the First Colored American Congregational Church on Sixth Street and the Bowery.

At Chatham and Pearl Streets, she boarded a streetcar. Like schools, hotels, and many jobs, streetcars operated on a de facto color line and often refused black New Yorkers.

On this summer morning, the driver insisted Jennings get off and wait for a colored streetcar. She said no.

“I told him . . . I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York . . . and that he was a good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church,” she later said, according to a 2005 New York Times article.

Jennings was forced off. But the story was just beginning. Her prominent family hired a young lawyer (and future U.S. president) named Chester Arthur to take her case.

Jennings won and received $250 in damages. Still, it took several years of lawsuits for the city’s streetcars to be fully desegregated.

Elizabeth Jennings married and had a son; she ran a school for black children and died in 1901. She’s buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, but her name lives on with this City Hall street sign.