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Metropolis: 1933

Metropolis: 1933

January 19, 1933. "New York City views. New York Hospital and Queens from 515 Madison Avenue." Fifty-Ninth Street over the East River on the Queensboro Bridge. Medium-format acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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Rapid Transit over the Queensboro Bridge

The two rail lines that ran over the Queensboro bridge are visible as they curve to merge with the Second Avenue El. There was much opposition to the removal of El by the residents of Queens as it gave users of the Flushing line one seat service to lower Manhattan, something they still lack seventy years on from the death of the el.

Obelisk Found

The "obelisk" is the facade of Trinity Baptist Church at 250 East 61st Street. The cylinder is a "lantern" -- a raised skylight with openings on the sides.

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Mystery Obelisk and Cylinder

Slightly to the left an below the "Storage and Warehouse" sign there is a Obelisk which appears to be a large slab, about 8 stories high, held up by triangular columns with a nearby wide cylindrical structure.

I have lived for over 50 years in this neighborhood and for the life of me can't figure out what this is. Does anyone know?

[I think you mean "Storage Fireproof." What you're describing seems to be the rooftop sign (facing away from the camera) and water tank shown below.(Update: See the next comment up) - Dave]

If this photo had a soundtrack

it would be Rhapsody in Blue.

Thanks for this

I used to live in this neighborhood. I could see the building that says "Storage Fireproof" from my roof. I was a block away. Nice to see NYC without all the expensive highrises.

Re: Just like a train platform

Loved the 3D model. I use Sketchup for work - sometimes on buildings this size, but compared to yours, my models are agricultural.


A reference to soldier's death from a bullet made from the Sixth Avenue El is in e.e. cummings' "Plato told," written in 1944. Urban legend or not, the idea that the Sixth Avenue El (or, in some places, the Ninth Avenue El) had gone as scrap to Japan was reported as fact by columnist Arthur Baer in March 1941 and INS reporter Jim Young in 1943. Tracing any particular pile to one particular country seems difficult, but Japan was the USA's top customer for scrap iron in the late 1930's, getting over 10 million tons of it between 1934 and 1939 (according to pre-war business pages). In any event, scrap from the Second Avenue El, demolished starting in 1942, was specifically earmarked for the U.S. war effort.

East 54th Street

I believe that the building on whose sign the Hahn Brothers is on the north side of East 54th, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Almost 40 years ago, I lived in a studio apartment on the north side of East 54th, one block east of the range of this photo. The fancy El Morocco nightclub had just relocated to this block about then, with entries on both the street and avenue sides. In subsequent years, the club was never able to regain its charisma from its days near Fifth Avenue in the East Fifties.

Just like a train platform

My first-ever Shorpy comment. I love this blog and this particular photo: it reminds me of a train layout with model houses, and it's inspiring!

In case anyone wants a look, I just completed a model of another American/New York City landmark, Penn Station. It's online in 3D (made on Google SketchUp).

Follow the smokestack

If you follow the smokestack at the hospital complex straight down you will find another El station -- Third Avenue. There is a water tower just to the right of it. I love this photo!

Second Avenue El

I seem to recall a short bit of poetry from e.e. cummings about a sailor killed by a Japanese shell made from a bit of the 2nd Avenue El. It's been a long time since I read the poem and I can't find my books from that course or I'd quote it.

One more train-related sight

In the upper left you can see the long viaduct that leads up to the Hell's Gate rail bridge. The bridge itself, not yet 20 years old when the picture was taken, is out of sight to the left.

The viaduct and bridge are still there today, used by Amtrak and freights.

Vanished trains

Just to the right of center there's a nice view of the 57th Street station of the Second Avenue El. It was demolished in 1940,* so when this picture was taken in 1933 plans for its removal probably were underway**. Two stretches of the Third Avenue El can be seen closer to the foreground, one at 55th Street and the other at 57th. It lasted until 1955, so I wouldn't imagine that it was under any sort of death sentence in 1933 unlike its Second Avenue counterpart.

There also were train lines going over the Queensboro Bridge, they lasted until the late 1950's, but they don't appear to be visible in this picture.

* = an urban legend says that the steel from the demolished el was sold to Japan, and within a couple years turned into weapons used against America

** = the Second Avenue El was to be replaced by a subway under Second Avenue, which had been in the planning stages since the 1920's. Care to guess what has never been built?

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