Earlier this week the Bowery Boys noted the 54th anniversary of the 3rd Avenue Elevated Train’s dismantling. They also provided this fascinating film from 1950 that takes viewers along the train’s daily route. It’s a fascinating view of a lost city:
One of my favorite descriptions — and one of the most frequently quoted — of the social transformations brought about by the elevated train comes from William Dean Howells’s 1890 novel A Hazard of New Fortunes. Here’s the bulk of the description, from the perspective of upper-middle-class voyeurs Mr. and Mrs. March, who think
the night transit was even more interesting than the day, and that the fleeting intimacy you formed with people in second and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose. [The train allows one] to see those people through the windows: a family part of work-folks at a late tea, some of the men in their shirt sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a girl and her lover leaning over the window sill together. What suggestion! what drama! what infinite interest!
The couple thinks these views — better than attending the theater — offer ideal material for modern painters.