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New York Stations - Queensborough Bridge

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New York Stations & Structures

by Paul S. Luchter

                              Queensborough Bridge Streetcar Terminal Kiosk

                                                 59th Street & 2nd Avenue, Manhattan 


    There exists in New York a surviving art nouveau streetcar kiosk at the western end of the 59th Street Bridge. It is a remnant from the days when projects such as the Blackwell’s Island Bridge were truly thought of as modern industrial age Versailles.


(Go here for more detail shots of the kiosk)

     The bridge had been started back in the 1880’s; not until mid 1890s were the pilings first sank, the caissons begun. The 59th Street Queensborough Bridge opened finally in 1908…three bridges actually, a twin cantilever bridges on either side of the East River, one from Long Island City, the other from East 59th Street Manhattan-both anchored at Blackwell Island, the long small island that lies midst the river (actually an estuary). Linking these two bridges is the middle one, a steel girder section spanning what for years would be called Welfare Island and today is known as Roosevelt Island. This rigid section between the two “sustaining towers” is in place of the typical suspended section of a normal cantilever bridge. The two cantilever sections are 1182 (7th longest in world), and 984 feet each.  

    As part of this project a grand boulevard would be built in Queens as far as the county seat in Jamaica. Bold buildings, apartments, would flank this boulevard, a working mans Park Avenue. And all that was built. And more.

    Rail was important in the planning. A franchise was awarded in 1903 to the South Shore Traction Company which was organized to construct a suburban traction railway from the foot of the new bridge in Manhattan and via the new Queens Boulevard and Hillside Avenue to Brookhaven in Suffolk County. Why it was named South Shore when no south shore is involved aside, this line was never built, the SSTC never making it to the opening of the bridge to rail in 1909.

   A grand elevated art deco Queensboro Plaza elevated station serving four different lines on two levels would go up just east of the bridge in Queens in 1915-16. The 2nd Avenue El expanded over the bridge to the plaza 1912.  By 1915 four tracks shared the bridge above the roadway. Part of the structure remains on the Manhattan and Queens sides. That service ended in 1942. The BRT was also at Queens Plaza, and got a tunnel to Manhattan 1920. The IRT came 1916. It used the old Steinway Tunnel (built for streetcars in early 1890s, the first tunnel to Manhattan.)

   Today called Queens Plaza shorn of its northern side but recently fixed up it remains for Astoria and Flushing subway trains. 

   Then there were the traction tracks. On the outer tracks, the 3rd Avenue Railway Company streetcars from Manhattan came over the bridge and went over to Long Island City; a connecting spur was put in at East 59th Street and Second Avenue. (I do not know its eastern terminus in Long Island City.) On the inner tracks the New York and Queens County Railway ran.

From high above Manhattan you can still make out the roadbed and structure of the Elevated. Look between the diverting ramps onto the upper deck. and imagine the three tracks that once carried the 2nd Avenue El into Queens.

   The NY&QCo. Ran the first streetcar over the spanking new Queensborough Bridge on September 17 1909, service began 10/24/1909, but not until February 5, 1910 did these streetcars connect as through service.

   The new underground terminal in Manhattan opened to accolades for its gleaming tile wall and the 5 trolley loops in the depot. Above the street there were 5 shining tiled kiosks on an Island east of 2nd Avenue at 59th Street. It was the height of urban modernity.

   (After the Great Blizzard of 1885 knocked down the many wired poles in Manhattan, New York City banned overhead wires. The streetcars on the island had to use a middle culvert third  rail or batteries. This is why the last horse car line in the US was the Metropolitan Railways Bleecker Street line to 1917.; and the last Battery Car streetcar ran to the mid-1930s on crosstown lines such as 23rd Street of the NY Railways. The 3rd Avenue Ry. cars that left Manhattan had a duel system and had to raise roof poles in the boroughs. And streetcars from Brooklyn and Queens companies used various means to be allowed to terminate in Manhattan. Park Row Station was elevated across from city Hall at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. Both El cars and the BRT streetcars stopped enclosed and above. For the Williamsburg  Bridge there was the duel use Delancey Street underground station (Essex Street station today). You can still see the trolley loop station from the subway station platform (The J or M train).) I have never found out where the Manhattan Bridge 3˘ Line’s cars went in Manhattan. The 59th Street Bridge station was below ground, today a maintenance facility for the highway crews.)

    The loops at Manhattan Station (of the Queens trolleys) were assigned to various routes. The NY&Qco had the first three loops:

·        Loop #1 Steinway Cars. (lines in Long Island City)

·        Loop #2 Cars for Flushing & College Point

·        Loop #3 Corona cars.

Bridge cars had special lights.

   John Steinway consolidated most of Long island City’s horse car lines by 1885. He called it the Steinway System and color coded his lines (tinted glass/lanterns).:

·        Jackson Avenue line- red

·        Flushing line- white

·        Dutch Kills (31st St.)- blue

·        Ravenswood (Vernon Ave.)- yellow

·        Calvary Cemetery- green. [they came over the Penny Bridge]

   The Steinway System became part of the NY&QCo in 1895. The NY&QCo organized the New York & North Shore Traction Company in 1897. There was a connection between the two lines called Prince Street Junction in Flushing. One could travel from 59th Street to  Whitestone, Port Washington, Mineola, as far as Hicksville on one traction ticket. The NY&QCo bought and owned the Long Island Electric out of Jamaica and Ozone Park, owning it until 1902. These cars went to Far Rockaway.. (directly connected with the NY&QCo on Washington Street (160th today) at Jamaica Avenue), and to Belmont Racetrack.

   The NY&QCo paid $22,000 a year to be allowed to use the tracks on the bridge from 1909 to 1919. The rate was to go to $25,000. Traffic was OK, averaging 2967 a day in 1916. 3091 on Nov. 5, 1917, 3212 on 10/20/1915. (Cars ran every 2˝ minutes, the fare was a nickel). The faster 2nd Avenue El connection cut unto their business, the competition of the Manhattan and Queens Traction and the 3rd Avenue Railway, even the LIRR were sited as reasons to forgo renewal of the lease. The privilege was revoked and the inside tracks abandoned in 1919, but without a lease the NY&Qco were allowed to run over the outer tracks and did through December 7, 1920.

   Running mostly to the LIRR 34th St Ferry terminal in Long Island City, the New York & Queens County Ry. Went into receivership Sept. 22,1922. The Steinway Lines portion of their holdings went to the 3rd Avenue Railway. For obscure reasons (to me) the 3rd Avenue Railway streetcar track connection to the bridge was ripped out by the city on the same date. Probably this was done so the 3rd Avenue Ry. Cars would not connect with the Steinway System which was run by the 3rd Avenue Company after the break-up of the NY&Qco.-it was probably to prevent competition with the remaining lines of the reorganized NY&Qco.  The fare was allowed to be raised to six cents. The 31st Street and Steinway St. cars went over the bridge using the underground terminal and this kiosk. The 3rd Avenue Railway System ran the Steinway System out of Long Island City side until 1939.

    Much to the dismay of the New York & Queens County Railway, which controlled much of Queens traffic, the franchise to run on either side of the greenery on Queens Boulevard to Jamaica was awarded to the Manhattan and Queens Traction Company. M&Q Service began out of the Manhattan Terminal January 29, 1913 to Woodside. They reached Winfield April 26, Forest Hills 8/27, Hillside Avenue January 23, 1914, 109th Street Lambertville in South Jamaica Jan. 21, 1915. The LIRR would not let them pass under the Montauk Division embanked tracks. M&Q had intended to reach at least Queens Village, Hillside and Bayside. This affected their future, the depression did more. This line ended (“motorized”) April 17, 1937.


     After 1939, a subsidiary of the Steinway Company,  Queensboro Traction, ran a 1.7 mile line from Long Island City to the Manhattan terminal. That station must have been forlorn until the last streetcar ran in 1955(7?). This was needed because it was the only way other than ferry to reach Welfare Island and its many institutions and hospitals. There were elevators at the piers of the bridge. The trolley stopped at the western pier on the island. Passengers boarded a passenger elevator. There was also a vehicular elevator. A bridge opened from Queens to Welfare Island in 1955 and the streetcar and the auto elevator ceased. The passenger elevator remained open until 1975…wish I’d known then.

    The last streetcar that ran in New York City ran over the bridge and into this station and some of the passengers passed through this kiosk (Two remained in 1970s, one now), not on Church Avenue in Brooklyn, but over the 59th Street Bridge on the outside tracks, possibly just the northern side. The car was originally built for the Manhattan Bridge 3˘ Line which closed in 1929. The 3rd Avenue Railway had bought the narrow cars in 1933, and these ran over the 59th Street Bridge from 1939 to 1955. I wonder if the last car survived. There is no evidence of the elevator or trolley station on the island, close by is the Roosevelt Island Tram station.

    The Roosevelt Island Tram was opened in 1976 as a temporary convenience but has become a permanent feature of the city. Designed by the Swiss company Vonroll (VLS), and since 1984 run by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), managed under contract by Interlac. A 900 HP DC motor drives the haul cable and hauls the cars (cap. 125) on the 4˝ mile 3100 foot long ride at 15 minute headways (non-rush hour) at 16MPH. There are 115 trips a day. It is the only aerial commuter tram (of 21) in the US. At its highest point it is 250 feet above the water.


    There is also a subway station on the island, one of only two off the island of Manhattan that are served by the multi-million dollar two level 63rd Street Tunnel (the one the LIRR is to use to reach GCT). The station is very deep, two long escalators are needed, it may be the cleanest station in the system. Two other subway  lines pass under Roosevelt Island but never have had stations on it: The former BRT/BMT 60th Street tunnel (trains to Queens Plaza and Astoria) and the IND 53rd Street tunnel (trains to Jamaica).

For a nice map of the island showing the tram, the bridges and the subway line that serves the island see:  

    There were actually five trolley kiosks at 2nd Avenue and 59th Street, two survived into the early 1970's. One was taken down (pieces saved to help reconstruct the remaining one) when the auto exit ramps were redone in late 1970’s.   The other surviving kiosk is today used as the entrance to the Children's Museum at Prospect Park.  Today, instead of the other kiosk, there is a backed up exit ramp that ends at a T intersection on 2nd Avenue, a very poorly planned project, in addition to, unfortunately, that the second of the pair of traction entrances was removed for this “egress improvement.”

Circa 2002, a truck (presumably) ran into and crushed a corner of this last standing extant kiosk, thus the last remaining still standing and extant streetcar kiosk at the 59th Street Bridge Plaza in Manhattan is to be removed for road widening. In 2004 it has been announced that the kiosk will be gone, but the traffic congestion will remain. As of now, where the kiosk may go is unknown.



This page was last updated Wednesday, March 24, 2004

©2004 Jim Dent
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