HUNDREDS OF PILLARS HOLDING UP … NOTHING
On a cold afternoon at the end of the fall semester at then president of Cooper Union Calvin Hathaway climbed to the roof of its historic building at Astor Place and snapped this melancholy picture looking down 3rd Avenue. He captured a moment at the end of the era of New York City’s elevated train network, which, by the mid-1950s, was being dismantled after being supplanted by the subway. Following the removal of the tracks and the train platforms, rows of lonely support pillars remained, stretching down Manhattan’s avenues, supporting nothing. These pillars supported the 3rd Avenue Elevated Train line, which ran between South Ferry at Manhattan’s southern tip, north to the Harlem River.
This image appears in my exhibition, It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond because the 3rd Avenue El was the western boarder of the first Manhattan Eruv enclosure. When the El was dismantled, this eruv ceased to exist. I included this particular image for its stark melancholiness, which I think emphasizes that importance of a loss of an eruv for a Jewish community (Check out the exhibition and this article for a longer explanation). Here, I hope the visitor doesn’t just see the remnants of dismantled train line, but the last components of a crucial tool utilized by the hundreds of thousands of New York’s Jewish community who had emigrated here over the previous decades.
Calvin S. Hathaway (1907 – 1974), Third Avenue El from the Cooper Union, Gelatin Silver Print, December 22, 1955, Museum of the City of New York Collection, X2010.11.8951