A Little of This, a Little of That

This picture from Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York Project, “El, Sixth Avenue Line, 28th Street Station” doesn’t have any single big topic, but it has a bunch of small ones, all a little interesting.

The el began in 1878 as a railroad pulled by coal-burning steam locomotives. It was converted to electric service in 1903 or so, and was closed in 1938. So for the first two-fifths of its existence, it may have been “open air” but it was notably dirty. That slogan is also curious in that it seems to be a joke targeting the subways, but the el was owned by the same company that owned the IRT subway. In any case, this photo was taken in 1938, so the el was just about over.

Given that this was a daytime outdoor photo, I have to believe that the blurred truck was an intentional choice on Abbott’s part, because it looks cool.

This station is less overtly a Swiss chalet, architecturally, than some of the others, but it’s still weirdly domestic in style. The proliferation of vents or chimneys is strange, too.

The stair on the right has ads for toothpaste painted on the step risers: IODENT No. 2 (the brand), IODENT Twice Daily (a recommendation), Erases Stubborn Stains (a possible lie), Made by a Dentist (a possible lie), and For Teeth Hard to Bryten (maybe an ad-writer dealing with limited space, maybe a spelling encouraged by the Simplified Spelling Board). I’m surprised that this form of ad has remained so rare in New York, as it seems like a money-making use of otherwise wasted space.

Finally, the el station is supported on a double-diagonal warren truss, which is not something you see every day in New York’s mass transit infrastructure. It’s an interesting truss form, that works best with uniform and constant loads. (This is a structural engineering blog…remember? Structural engineering?)

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