Arnold Eagle (1909-1992), Under the Third Avenue El, North of 27th St., New York, 1939, (480.1987)
Today, it’s just about impossible to find any trace whatsoever of the Third Avenue El. The whole structure has been removed in its entirety. The former support columns, formerly grounded in the roadway itself, have been paved over many times over. The neighborhood surrounding Third Avenue and 55th Street, where PJ Clarke’s still exists today, is not recognizable from the 1940s-era photographs.
Union leader (and former Communist Party member) Michael J. Quill led a losing struggle to save the El, first in public hearings, then finally by picketing. “In the last war there was an extensive mass transportation system to handle those who needed to use such facility because of the necessary curtailment of private transportation because of fuel shortages. Will we have such facilities next time?” he argued in vain. Postponed a few times, the last train ran on May 12, 1955, and the dismantling of the overhead trestles began in earnest.
(This post is also known as “THE LOST LINE, PART 2.” Next week, Part 3!)
The Third Avenue El in New York City was dismantled in 1955, so… it’s gone. Forever. It only today exists in our memories, collective consciousness, photographs, moving pictures, and really strange blogs (know any?).
Cosmologists explain that, from a multi-dimensional point of view, time can exist as a distinct physical address. So, if you were to be a sentient being that exists in, say, 5, 6, or more dimensions, you could easily wander to the following spatial coordinates as if you walked from one house to another:
- Longitude: Third Avenue,
- Latitude: 53rd Street,
- Altitude: street-level, and
- Time (CE): 12 Noon, August 22, 1943 (the date of Bernard Olcott’s mother passing).
Just go to that location right now and look up! You’ll be looking at the 53rd Street Elevated Station!
Given such liberty, it would be possible go anywhere in time, forwards and backwards, as if these were all reachable places. Logically, all times past and future exist NOW; it’s just that they are inaccessible to us mortals.¹
The Bernard Olcott Story blog, unfortunately, cannot literally take the dear reader to the past (or future). But what it can do is to present a brilliant short art house film that brings the Third Avenue El back to life, in sight and sound (complete with a harpsichord accompaniment). It’s about eleven minutes long and follows four passengers as they journey uptown and downtown. Click the Read More link right here to see the film:
Built in the 1870s, the Third Avenue IRT was the above ground cousin of the Lexington Avenue IRT subway that runs completely underneath the sidewalks in Manhattan. Towards the end of its days in the 1960s, the remnant of the Third Avenue line in the Bronx was finally designated as the 8 train. However, back in the 1950s, the last decade of service on Third Avenue in Manhattan, the trains were only marked by destination – southbound to City Hall, northbound to The Bronx (Bronx Park or 241th Street).
Vintage elevated lines are a disappearing breed of mass transit. The Third Avenue El was derided as a noisy eye-sore and was hurriedly demolished to placate real estate developers who were eager to rebuild Midtown East. The stated intention was to replace it with the new Second Avenue subway which, unfortunately, was delayed more than 60 years and is still not yet in service today!
The Bernard Olcott Story starts off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” (the original of which I have just removed from this site). When I wrote “THE LOST WEEKEND” last June, I reminisced about a picture of my Dad hamming it up with several friends in a photo booth heavy laden with cultural significance – see above picture. All of which was lost to me since I did not grow up in the 1940s. I shrugged off that photo booth picture, effectively asking if anyone recognized anything about it. Nobody did.
That photo, it turns out, is a window into the New York City of yesteryear. This essay, and the next three will use the above image as a departure point into a black and white world. I’ll take you back to New York City of the 1940s, my Father’s formative years as a newly minted Cooper Union graduate, and you’ll:
- Read about the biggest movie of 1945,
- Ride the El,
- Hear old style New Yorkers interact,
- Learn a valuable lesson at Cooper Union (a venerable institution dating back to the Lincoln Administration),
- Review a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
- Come back to a colorfilled present with a shared activity across time.
Why should you care? Well, somehow you found this blog. Perhaps in riding the El with my Dad, you may see some of yours in him. Maybe you like nostalgic stories about Gotham City which was, in some ways, a completely different city from today’s Big Apple.
It could be that you are intrigued with the backstory of the founding of a business or how the tremendous loss of a parent could leave so little trace behind. I still haven’t been able to figure out what happened to my paternal Grandmother, who passed away during this era.