by Kevin Walsh

YOU cannot accuse the MTA of ignoring Canal Street. In previous eras, the IRT, BMT and IND have all constructed major stations at the east-west Manhattan route that traces the old pathway of a canal that was used to drain the Collect Pond in the post-Revolutionary era. It’s not only a major shopping street…in an unfortunate situation, it’s a ground trucking route connecting the Manhattan Bridge and Holland Tunnel. (While I reject the idea of a Lower Manhattan Expressway on an elevated trestle or in an open cut, I’d be for creating a tunnel connecting the two crossings). There are no less than five Canal Street stations: two BMT, two IRT and one IND! And the two BMT stations and the IND have transfers to many other lines.

There used to be other Canal Street stations, too…on elevated lines. Here’s one of the more spectacular views you could have had from an elevated station, on the Third Avenue El running up the Bowery. In view, of course, is the massive arch marking the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge. This image has been kicking around Facebook for some time.

The grand Manhattan Bridge plaza, which fronts the Bowery at Canal Street, was completed in 1916 and is the design of John M. Carrere and Thomas Hastings, who also built the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street. They looked to two classic European monuments for inspiration: The Porte St-Denis in Paris (the arch) and the Giovanni Bernini Colonnade at St. Peter’s Church in Vatican City.

The Porte St-Denis and Porte St-Martin in Paris are triumphal arches that celebrate military victories by “the Sun King”, Louis XIV (note the words ‘Ludovico Magno’ atop the arch). The St-Denis arch was completed in 1674 by sculptor Nicolas François Blondel. Bas-reliefs on the top and sides commemorate war campaigns and victories. Both arches greatly influenced the later Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Manhattan Bridge arch, which as you can see is a close homage.

Also note on the left the neon “Diamonds.” sign. Casual observers correctly note that Manhattan’s Diamond District is located on West 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. However, there is an older diamond district centered on the Bowery north of Canal Street that is still there in large degree through it’s true that the Midtown district dwarfs it.

Lastly, note the blue and white enamel sign, wood planked platform, and simple lampposts with incandescent bulbs, elements of elevated trains that today have disappeared. The section of the 3rd Avenue el that passed the Manhattan Bridge ended service in 1955.

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



Peter February 26, 2022 - 9:50 am

Louis XIV’s legacy lives on in a way that has nothing to do with triumphal arches. It’s at least in part because of him that women routinely give birth lying down, even though squatting or kneeling is physically more natural. Louis had a fetish for watching women give birth, and by having them lie down he’d get a better view of the proceedings. The French medical establishment picked up on the practice and it eventually spread elsewhere.
Louis became king as a child and ruled for 72 years, the longest reign by any monarch for which historical records exist. Queen Elizabeth can break that record in a couple of years, but that seems to be looking less and less likely.

EFP February 27, 2022 - 3:19 pm Reply
Anthony Picco February 26, 2022 - 10:17 am

what a view!

Reply February 26, 2022 - 11:23 am

Great photo, thanks for sharing. I was a child in 1955 when this vista was eliminated but unfortunately never got to see it in person.

The IRT had no less than four north-south elevated routes in Manhattan. To the east of the photo, the parallel Second Avenue El also had a Canal Street Station, which was located along Allen Street. South of there the Second Ave. El curved southwest to follow Division Street and dipped under the Manhattan Bridge on its way to Chatham Square, where it combined with the Third Avenue El to reach South Ferry and City Hall.

The Second Avenue El was closed in 1940-42, so I never experienced it.

To the west, the Sixth and Ninth Avenue Elevateds crossed Canal Street without stopping as they proceeded along West Broadway and Greenwich Street, respectively. The closest stop to Canal on the Sixth and Ninth Els was Franklin Street in both cases. Both els were closed and razed 1938-1940.

One final point. A 1949 movie, Port of New York, has a scene about 17 minutes after the opening that was filmed on that exact Canal Street elevated platform, and for a brief few seconds shows the Manhattan Bridge in the background. The movie is free on YouTube – link is here:

The movie is a film noir about bad guy drug smugglers, and stars Yul Brynner before he shaved his head.

Sunnysider February 26, 2022 - 1:42 pm

It was right about there 15 years ago I found myself waiting for the infamous Fung Wah bus service to Boston for a mere $10 one-way. At 6:00 in the morning that area by the bridge is utterly deserted, eerily quiet and gloomy as hell.

John February 27, 2022 - 6:55 pm

You yourself have pointed out the problem of a Canal St. tunnel. Subway stations and utilities would make the tunnel too expensive. It could not be built by using cut and cover. It would have to be a “chunnel” type bore. The Brits have built a cross London tunnel. I don’t know the final cost.

Brad February 28, 2022 - 10:22 am

A deep bore vehicular tunnel would make it difficult to provide entrance and exit ramps. Such ramps would require impractical takings of property and steep grades. Aside from the expense of the takings, it would severely mar the ground level aesthetic.

It's Me February 28, 2022 - 9:46 pm

I’m curious about the elevated El train passing underneath the Manhattan Bridge at Division and Christie St. How much overhead clearance was there?

Andy March 1, 2022 - 7:01 pm

Not a lot of clearance The El just squeezed under the Manhattan Bridge, where you had the unusual intersection of subway trains above elevated trains. This photo from a 2009 FNY posting shows where – the bridge is visible in the distance.

Allan Berlin March 1, 2022 - 12:34 pm

There is a 700 foot section built of the ‘eventual’ 2nd Av subway built in that area. Maybe one day it will be used.

S.+Saltzman March 2, 2022 - 1:27 pm

According to “The Tracks of the New York City Subway” by Peter Dougherty, the current plans for the extension of the second avenue subway do not use that section that has been built.

Ken Woods March 3, 2022 - 9:02 pm

The car in the mid-right of the photo appears to be a1953 or 1954 Chevrolet judging by its design.


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