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     Property owners prophesized that demolishing the el would lead to a surge in real estate activity and a revitalization of the neighborhood. Clearly property owners sought the financial benefits that would accompany the redevelopment of the corridor--namely, higher rents. Rent increases, however, might force Second Avenue’s existing residents to move out, into another dilapidated tenement district. The interests of landlords and residents were not identical.

The First Avenue Association
The loudest voice in favor of demolishing the el was an organization of property owners known as the First Avenue Association. This group proved to be an influential political lobby. It was at the request of the First Avenue Association that Assemblyman Irving Neustein first introduced legislation in 1936 to demolish the el. In no way did the First Avenue Association claim to represent the residents of Second Avenue. Rather, it represented "business people and Owners of Property within the district from 100 Feet West of Second Ave. to the East River Between 23 rd and 96 th Streets." This association represented the interests of First Avenue, not Second Avenue. Moreover, it only represented the most fashionable part of First Avenue -- the part neither in the Lower East Side nor in Harlem. It represented businessmen and property owners, not tenement residents. A 1934 letter of the editor of the New York Times confirms that the First Avenue Association's aims ran counter to the needs of many Second Avenue residents. The correspondent wrote:

In 1939, Second Avenue was a burnt-out tenement district. A brief 1939 report by the Mayor's Committee on Property Improvement describes the conditions of buildings along the corridor. 14½ percent of all lots between Chatham Square and the Harlem River were "non-income producing," which is to say, either abandoned buildings or vacant lots. Of the 2,018 properties along the avenue, 1,383 were old-law tenements still in use. An additional 207 properties were boarded-up tenements. The report estimated that more than 40,000 people lived in the tenements along the avenue. The entire corridor featured only four "modern apartment houses." Although conditions varied along the length of the avenue, with East Harlem featuring the most abandoned old-law tenements, and Yorkville the fewest, the general prognosis was that the avenue was poor and dilapidated and in need of redevelopment. The report anticipated the demolition of the Second Avenue el, and its replacement with a subway line. Although the report is mostly an analysis of the situation in 1939, rather than a redevelopment plan, the document does state that "the removal of the 'L' ...offer[s] an exceptional opportunity for an encouraged program of rehabilitation and reconstruction." It was thought that removing the ugly el structure could only improve the troubled avenue.

     Cries were heard throughout the 1930's to demolish the Second Avenue el. Mayor La Guardia himself called for the demolition of elevated lines. In 1934, early in his term in office, La Guardia delivered a speech in which he declared that by tearing down els, "New York City can be made beautiful." Some residents of the Second Avenue corridor, aware of their neighborhood's dilapidated condition, also viewed the elevated line as a blight. For example, two residents, in a 1936 letter to Mayor La Guardia, wrote that, "the residents of Second Avenue have suffered long enough with the terrible noises caused by the trains. Store keepers and property owners have nearly all been wiped out because of the constant exodus of population, due to these awful noises and the ugly, unsightly 'L' structure. These correspondents blamed the el for their neighborhood's decline. Owners of property along the route shared these sentiments, and hoped that demolition of the el would improve the neighborhood. For example, the owners of one block front on Second Avenue wrote in a 1936 letter to Mayor La Guardia, "We feel confident that the removal of the Elevated would improve conditions on the Avenue to such a degree that within a reasonable period the existing buildings would be demolished and new ones substituted in their place." Another Second Avenue property owner urged the mayor that demolishing the el would "help Slum Clearance."

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Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2001

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