The Third Avenue El: Noise-talgia

Creators
Rachel Wittmann, Boni Joi Koelliker, Mary Seem, Erin Noto

Deemed “the most ideal way of getting about in the world” the Third Avenue El was both
loved and loathed during its 77-year existence. Built in 14 months and opened in 1878, the elevated public transit trains that ran up and down Third Avenue were a treat for the
eyes but a pain for the ears. Stations were ornate; wood-lined waiting rooms featured
intricate ironwork, gingerbread moldings, stained glass windows, and were topped with
gable roofs, similar to the chalet-style buildings of one of the original draftsman’s native
Switzerland. The ride itself provided an unparalleled view of the city. Yet the train ran
close to homes and businesses and the constant noise and pollution from the trains was
part of the impetus for the closing of the elevated lines. It was easy to see why residents
would like to see an end to the El: it was “rusty and screeching [and] seen as producing
little but blight.”

The train’s proximity allowed for an intimate view into the lives of Manhattanites, with tracks less than 30 feet from apartment windows in some sections. It was this glimpse that fueled the long-standing admiration and nostalgia for the El. Part of this nostalgia can been felt in E.B. White’s Here is New York, written in 1949 when the Third Avenue El was the last-standing of Manhattan’s elevated trains. White wrote: “The elevated railways have been pulled down, all but the Third Avenue. An old-timer walking up Sixth past the Jefferson Market jail misses the railroad, misses its sound, its spotted shade, its little aerial stations, and the tremor of the thing” When the Third Avenue El made its last journey from Chatham Square to 149th Street on May 12, 1955, it began its ride into history as an iconic image of New York’s past.

Bibliography and credits
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Inspiration
P. 48 “The elevated railways have been pulled down, all but the Third Avenue. An old-timer walking up Sixth past the Jefferson Market jail misses the railroad, misses its sound, its spotted shade, its little aerial stations, and the tremor of the thing.”

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One comment

  1. Pingback: The Third Avenue El: Train on High | The Trove Rove.

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