In 1955, before most city residents carried a camera in their pockets at all times, a 17-year-old named Sid Kaplan witnessed the dismantling of the Third Avenue Elevated line, and decided to document it. This was a moment that launched a long career in photography for Kaplan, and delivered the rest of us a glimpse at the now archaic-looking, steel transit rollercoaster that screeched above Third Avenue. Taken from windows overlooking the scenes, his photos provide an aerial view of "the removal of a hulking structure," as well as the workers charged with getting rid of it.
Forty of his photos, taken between June 1955 and May 1956, are now hanging at the NYC Transit Museum's Grand Central Gallery Annex, at a show titled "Deconstruction of the Third Avenue El," which also features artifacts from the fallen line.
The museum provided us with a little history lesson, as well:
"The Third Avenue Elevated began its life as a steam- powered railroad in August of 1878, providing service from South Ferry to the Grand Central Depot. Through mergers and acquisitions, the Third Avenue El eventually extended to 133rd Street in the Bronx and in 1902 was leased by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) . With the 1904 opening of the IRT Lexington Avenue line, ridership began to decline and the towering steel structures of the elevated trains were regarded as obsolete eyesores that darkened neighborhoods and hindered real estate development. The Third Avenue El was closed in sections beginning in 1950. While the Bronx portion remained open until 1973, the Manhattan segments were all closed by 1955 and demolished in less than a year."
If you want the Norwegian Slow Television treatment of the 3rd Ave El from its glory days, here's a 57-minute video that includes a full trip along the line right before its demise (narrated by late transit historian Roger Arcara). Maybe you'll even spot one of the El's pot-bellied stoves.The Transit Museum's exhibit runs through July 9th, and it's free.