Monday, December 03, 2007

The Third Avenue El

I have memories of riding the el and the stop it made at Chatham Square. Just around the 2:00 mark of this film you can see the train passing near the old KV neighborhood.
Impressionistic picture of the Third Avenue Elevated Railway in Manhattan, New York City, before it was demolished.
This item is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives
Producer: Davidson (Carson)
Viewer comments from prelinger site
With only a single dime to link "the day in the life" stories of the EL train together, this lovely vignette takes us briefly into the lives of its riders, the photographer, drifter, little girl and her guardian, and the young couple. The music really does work well, giving a frenetic pace on par with the demanding duties of the EL. The editing is quite well done (and matches the music very well), and the "special effects" (negatives, sepia tones) are quite striking considering just what had to be done to achieve them in this era. Many of the camera angles as well are of particular interest, leading the transit photographer like myself wondering just how they were achieved, particularly two scenes, one taken from inches above the rail as the train rumbles over some switchwork, and another from an elevated vantage on a swinging bridge over the East River.
This film is an exquisite gem! Simple, elemental and complete, it is a moving salute to a now vanished era. It's also very personal since I rode the "El" many times as a kid. In fact, I used to commute to Stuyvesant HS from Yorkville every weekday. How I loved standing next to the motorman's compartment, looking out the window of the door at the onrushing tracks, passing trains, and the always spectacular skyline of the city I recall the announcement to tear it down as well as the "promise" to replace it with a Second Ave subway. That never happened of course and I have often wondered if real estate owners and developers didn't turn a trick to get city hall to approve the El's destruction. I remember, in 1956, when it was bing torn down how sad it was to see the pillars, denuded of the track structure. I had the sense that I was looking at the stumps of amputees and they too would soon be gone. Later, when ever I turned the corner from 86th Street onto Third Ave. I always had the idea that I was looking into the mouth of someone who had lost its teeth.
Sure, it was obtrusive and noisy to those who lived near it but it was a great, even romantic, element in what was the best, most reliable and least expensive public transportation system in the world. Here's to the "El" and the forward-thinking historian-filmmaker that made this priceless documentary.

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