Sid Kaplan’s New York: Destruction of the Third Avenue El

By Andrew Andrews

Photographer Sid Kaplan speaks about his youth photographing the New York City elevated railroads from Manhattan rooftops at the New York Transit Museum. Sid’s exhibit, Destruction of the Third Avenue El, opens at the Transit Museum Annex in Grand Central Station in late March, 2017.

Based on the location alone, the MTA’s New York Transit Museum is one of the most interesting historical sites anywhere. Unlike most of NYC’s decommissioned subway stations, which have been essentially abandoned to become dilapidated and graffiti-covered, the Transit Museum occupies the former Court Street terminus of the IND Fulton Street (HH) Line near Borough Hall and Downtown Brooklyn (a.k.a. “DoBro”). Originally planned as a temporary exhibit in the 1970’s, the Transit Museum proved to be so popular that it has remained permanently open and expanded to include an “Annex” museum and store in Grand Central Station. It’s a real treat and important piece of New York’s transit history, full of permanent and rotating exhibits including a variety of subway cars spanning more than a century of public service.

If you’re looking for more than the usual exhibits, the New York Transit Museum hosts a variety of programs including guest speakers and children’s activities. And speaking of variety—yes, you know how much we love variety shows—one of the most unusual variety shows in town happens once or twice a year in this former subway station: Platform, which is due to arrive again soon.

Tonight we visited the museum for a presentation by photographer Sid Kaplan in anticipation of his upcoming exhibit at the aforementioned Annex, Destruction of the Third Avenue El. As a teenager, Sid used his camera as an excuse to trespass on rooftops and other off-limits areas (in an era when photographing public structures would have never been perceived as an act of terrorism), mostly in the vicinity of his high school, The School of Industrial Arts in Midtown East. Turns out, that was the perfect time to document the conversion of the few remaining elevated railroads in Manhattan from a ubiquitous part of everyone’s life to a distant zone of their collective memory. Sid’s photographs capture those pivotal days with scenes before, during and after the Third Avenue El’s demolition.

Events at the Transit Museum always draw an “interesting” crowd, with many guests who simply want to reminisce about their “good old days” and others with a deep (dare we say, even obsessive) interest in the transit system’s history. As you might guess, that makes for some interesting questions (and just plain interjections) from the audience, and Kaplan handled them graciously and really gave us a sense of what it was like to be a mischievous young man with an interest in photography, in the days when the medium was a lot more difficult to master than viewing and reviewing your snaps on an LCD screen.

If you missed Kaplan’s talk, have no fear: The Destruction of the Third Avenue El is scheduled to open within Grand Central Station later this month. Meanwhile, at the main museum, you can check out the new Second Avenue Subway exhibit, with more historic photographs as well as dioramas, video and other memorabilia about this long-planned project. They’re also showing a collection of subway etiquette posters from NYC, across the United States and even as far away as Europe and Asia, as well as their permanent exhibits of tokens, turnstiles, rolling stock and much more!


Andrew Andrews attended Sid Kaplan’s New York: Destruction of the Third Avenue El at New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 @ 6:30pm to write this review.