Here’s some rare newsreel footage of the very last elevated subway line to run through Midtown Manhattan — along Third Avenue — which ceased operations in the very different city of 60 years ago.
There were originally four elevated lines running almost the entire length of Manhattan. But there were complaints about the trains’ noise from tenants of largely long-gone tenements adjoining the tracks, and from businesses below, which complained about the steel infrastructure blocking light and traffic.
The elevated lines along Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenues, made redundant (at least on the west side) by underground subway routes, shut down and were demolished between 1938 and 1942.
But the Third Avenue El received a reprieve until after the war. That’s because plans for a Second Avenue Subway drawn up in the 1920s had stalled, and tearing down the El would strain the East Side’s only subway line on Lexington Avenue.
Pressure to scrap the El increased because of the postwar construction boom in the city, with sections of the Third Avenue line running from South Ferry to Chatham Square closed beginning in 1950. The main part of the line — from Chatham Square to East 149th Street in The Bronx ceased operations on May 12, 1955. The very northern portion of the line, running from East 149th Street to Gun Hill Road in The Bronx, operated until 1973.
And that long-promised Second Avenue subway? Work has proceeded fitfully since the 1970s, and the first section — from 63rd Street to 96th Street — is finally scheduled to open in December 2016. As someone who rode on the Third Avenue elevated as a child, all I can say is: Don’t hold your breath.
While you’re waiting, here’s another look at the Second Avenue subway’s rumbling analog and overground ancestor, which “speaks’’ to the audience in a more whimsical short commemorating its last days. If you’ve got an another hour to kill, a train buff recorded the very last run — all the way from Chatham Square to Gun Hill Road — in a color home movie below. Enjoy!