The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for January 30th, 2019

ritual nature

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Walking up 31st street, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always wondered about the usage of “up” and “down” when referring to local destinations, since such determinations should logically be circumstance based. Saying that, I know people who say “up on Ditmars” that actually live there and everyone in Astoria refers to Queens Plaza and Long Island City as “down there.” It’s weird. Additionally, you ever notice that most people will say “I HAVE to go into the City” versus “I WANT to go into the City”? Manhattan is the place for “have to” I guess. If you live in Astoria, and you “have to” you either need to go down to Broadway for the R/M subway, or over to 31st street for the N/W elevated.

As mentioned yesterday, 31st street in Astoria used to be Debevoise Avenue prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, during and before the time that Astoria itself was part of an independent municipality called Long Island City which existed from 1870 to 1899. Before 1870, Astoria was officially a “village.” Shortly after NYC consolidation, and the opening of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the aforementioned subways started snaking out of Manhattan and off the bridge into Queens, and later on through underground and underwater tunnels. It’s hard to imagine today, but a century ago, Astoria was considered to be a suburb.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

First off, the government did not build or design the entire subway system. This is a really complicated subject, btw, and I’d recommend talking to the actual historical experts at the NYC Transit Museum about it if you’re interested.

NYC underwrote and facilitated a lot of the system, but the subways were built largely by two private companies – the IRT or “Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company” (which had already merged with and devoured the BRT or Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company) and the BMT or “Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Corporation.” There was also an IND or “Independent City-Owned Rapid Transit Railroad,” which was – in fact – a governmental entity. IRT (MTA “A” division) and BMT (MTA “B” division) built lines have different car widths and specifications, meaning that even today – more than a hundred years later – you can’t run one Division’s train set through another’s station due to the width of the cars and platforms. Same sort of thing is true for LIRR and Metro North, believe it or not.

The BMT Astoria line tracks were originally part of the IRT system, just like the Flushing or 7 line. Both use a platform at the Queensboro Bridge, but they split up after that station to work their different routes. The Astoria line opened on the 1st of February in 1917, and its station specifications were built to IRT (Inter Borough Rapid Transit Company) standards. In 1920, the 60th street tunnel opened, which allowed BMT (Brooklyn Manahattan Transit Company) trains to reach Queensboro, where you could transfer to the local bound IRT Astoria line trains. In 1923, BMT had figured out how to run their rolling stock as shuttles through IRT stations on the Flushing Line, but that didn’t last too long. In 1940, both BMT and IRT were bought by NYC from their shareholders and merged with IND into one entity owned outright by the City of New York. About 1949, as far as I’ve been able to figure it, the platforms on the Astoria line were altered to allow the wider BMT train sets to operate along it, and the Flushing line became IRT only. The Astoria line ended up becoming the northern terminus of the BMT’s Brighton/Broadway local service with the equivalent of the modern day N and W lines running up 31st street to the terminal stop at Ditmars Blvd.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note, I have assiduously avoided writing about the Dual Contracts era for nearly a decade now. Finally trapped myself into talking about it, so mark your calendars.

One thing which always occurs to me when walking up 31st street is the relative lack of street level retail activity along it. There’s shops and all that sure, but you don’t see the sort of thriving commercial activity which you do along Roosevelt Avenue under the 7 line. I’ve always wondered why.

More tomorrow.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 30, 2019 at 11:00 am

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