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Page 10

The Demolitionists Unsatisfied
On June 11, 1940, coincident with City takeover of the IRT, Second Avenue el service above 59th Street ceased. The Second Avenue el no longer ran to the Bronx.
     The northern part of the Second Avenue el came down in 1940, but those who had sought the el's removal were still not satisfied. They wanted to see the rest of the el -- from Queensboro Plaza to Lower Manhattan -- demolished as well. Far from being a happy compromise, the removal of half the el brought no satisfaction to those who wanted to see the structure come down. La Guardia still wanted to be rid of the el, and saw the opposition from Queens as his only obstacle. Nowhere is this attitude more apparent than in a handwritten note from La Guardia to his Executive Secretary. In response to a memo stating that Public Administrator James Egan wished to demolish the el, the Mayor scrawled a reply: "Tell Egan I sure would like to do it -- Can he pull the politicians of Queens off my back? Soon the Mayor would take advantage of a situation to render Queens politicians ineffectual, and get his wish. That situation was World War II. In 1942, the war would seal the fate of the of the Second Avenue el.

Necessities of War?
Unification had provided a powerful financial incentive for the early demolition of the Second Avenue el. By 1942, unification was complete, but the war now provided an even stronger impetus for el demolition. The wrought iron of the el structure, as well as the el's rails, became commodities in high demand for the war effort.

The Bronx Chamber of Commerce and some fifty other organizations filed a lawsuit attempting to block the el's demolition. With regards to the mass meetings, however, no civic associations' names appeared on the flyer. In fact, many of these groups in the Bronx felt that the Home News' hyperbole was an embarrassment. A letter to the Mayor from the United Civic Associations of the Bronx urged La Guardia to disregard the "screaming headlines" of the Home News. This letter dismissed the mass meetings as "a politically inspired matter started by a few fellows who have grabbed a hold of the wrong issue." Most importantly, this letter included a list of forty-four Bronx civic associations that did not oppose the el's demolition. These forty-four associations were of all types, and from all areas of the Bronx. While the civic associations of Queens were unified in support of the el, many civic associations in the Bronx did not support the el, and did not wish to be associated with the loud movement in the el's defense.

Roots of Bronx Indifference
One reason why civic associations did not coalesce around the el issue in the Bronx is that the Second Avenue el did not directly benefit the whole borough. Unlike in Queens -- where trains from the Second Avenue el traversed two of the borough's most important transit lines -- Second Avenue el trains served a relatively small portion of the Bronx.

Second Avenue el trains made only eight stops in the Bronx. At five of these stations, along White Plains Road, Second Avenue el trains shared the tracks with trains from the IRT's Seventh Avenue and Lexington Avenue subways. At the other three stations, Second Avenue el trains shared the tracks with Third Avenue el trains. Map Link (107K). Bronx Second Avenue el riders thus had many alternative options for travel to Downtown Manhattan. More importantly, Second Avenue el trains did not penetrate most of the Bronx. In all but the Southeastern part of the borough, the Second Avenue el's demolition would have had no effect, except to the extent that crowding might increase on the Lexington Avenue subway or Third Avenue el. Despite its cry of "self-preservation," the only route that the Home News cited as being removed was that from the East Bronx to the Lower East Side. Surely the loss of that route would not have been a tragedy for most rush hour commuters.
     The Bronx needed the Second Avenue el much less than Queens did. Despite all the noise that the Home News made, opposition in the Bronx to the el's demolition was much less potent than it was in Queens. Disunited, Bronx civic organizations failed to convince officials of the need to retain the Second Avenue el. The Bronx Chamber of Commerce lost its court case in June. The el would come down.

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Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2001

©2001 Alexander Nobler Cohen. ©2001 The Composing Stack Inc. All rights reserved