for breaking news visit www.qns.com JANUARY 7, 2016 • times 27 The unpopular birth of the TIMER Jamaica Avenue ‘EL’ OLD As 1916 began, the hot topic PRESENTED BY THE WOODHAVEN CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY of conversation in and around Woodhaven was the ongoing construction of the elevated train line (known as the “EL”) along Jamaica Avenue. The project had been controversial for several years with many people, organizations and interests weighing in with their opinions. During the early to mid- 1800s, the best transportation option in and out of Woodhaven was the Atlantic Avenue Long Island Rail Road. In 1865, a single-track, horsedrawn trolley began service between East New York and Woodhaven, stopping service at its stable on the southeast corner of 78th Street and Jamaica Avenue. The cost of the ride was 10 cents and once you arrived in Woodhaven, if you wanted to continue further (to Richmond Hill) you paid an additional dime. As this was single-track service, the wait time could be quite long as you had to wait for the car to reach the end of the line, and for the driver to turn the car and the horse around and head back. In 1887, an independent company bought the line, doubletracked it, and began running trolley cars powered by steam engines. By the turn of the (Top) The EL train being built in March, 1916 at Forest Parkway and Jamaica century, the line was adopted Avenue. into the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (Bottom) The wide open skies of Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue before system, which meant larger and the EL Train was built. The building at right still stands at that location. more powerful, modern trolley cars and much improved service. that the money be spent to upgrade employment we lose the $2.50 or $3 However, as Woodhaven’s population and improve the existing surface which we would have received for began to explode, the trolley trolley service. Another proposal working.” cars were ill-equipped to handle the was to build the new line underground, At times, opponents’ objections expanding load. The BRT, in the running a subway along to the elevated line were over the process of building the elevated line Jamaica Avenue instead. top, predicting that the line would along Liberty Avenue, experimented But the BRT was determined to be dangerous, with trains crashing with running the large cars from the build the elevated line, with one through the apartments on Jamaica elevated lines along the surface of officer stating at one meeting that Avenue on a regular basis. Other Jamaica Avenue. they “can walk if you don’t like it.” objections to the plan predicted that The heavy trains were too much And so, the battle lines were drawn. the elevated line would be dirty, for the roadway and the surrounding A public hearing was held, but unsightly, would darken the avenue buildings; the vibrations cracked opponents to the plan felt they were and be extremely noisy. The BRT walls and shattered windows and the being railroaded. John Leich of the countered that their plans were experiment was halted. A few years Forest Park Taxpayers’ Association modern and safe and that the line later, the BRT proposed building an complained that the hearing was held would, in fact, be “noiseless.” elevated line along Jamaica Avenue, on a weekday, when residents were Those in favor of the elevated from the terminal in Cypress Hills hard-pressed to attend. “We people line were not against the counterproposal & Historical Society meets under through Woodhaven and Richmond of Forest Park and Woodhaven protest of a subway, but felt the the EL (at the Avenue Diner at Hill, straight into Jamaica. strenuously against this hearing need for better transit was too great 91-06 Jamaica Avenue) at 7 p.m. on Reaction to the proposal was swift being held in the daytime instead of to pass up on the BRT’s offer. “Why the first Tuesday of every month to and fiercely negative. Civic and at night. There are none of us receiving this agitation for a subway along discuss Woodhaven’s past (and one business associations in Woodhaven $15,000 a year from the government Jamaica Avenue and against an ongoing research project is the study were unanimous in their opposition as a salary, and when we come elevated extension over the same of 1916). The meetings are free and to the proposal, suggesting instead here in the daytime and give up our route? Surely the residents of this everyone is invited to attend. If you have any memories and photos that you’d like to share about “Our Neighborhood: The Way it Was,” write to The Old Timer, section cannot hope for the former, whereas there is a possibility of securing the latter in a short time, thereby affording a much-needed relief in our transit facilities,” one supporter of the BRT proposal said. After numerous hearings and protests, the BRT made it clear that they were not going to spend the money to build a subway and faced with the proposition of either an elevated line or nothing, civic groups in Jamaica and Richmond Hill voted in favor of the BRT proposal. Woodhaven was the last holdout, bringing a lawsuit against the BRT in 1916, but the construction was already underway and the lawsuit failed to stop its arrival. Throughout the construction, residents and businesses complained of dangerous conditions with large stanchions and piles of debris blocking sidewalks and entrances to stores. But by 1917 the job was completed and on Monday, May 28, of that year, the elevated train began service without the benefit of a public ceremony. “The structure, with its light, air and sunshine stealing elements has proven a dire detriment, and the nerve-wracking noise of the trains will hardly tend to relieve the strain imposed upon those along Jamaica Avenue,” one editorial stated. “But it is here — we fear — to stay, so we must endeavor to learn to tolerate it even if we are not driven into spasms of ecstasy every time a train thunders along.” Joseph Raskin, author of “The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System” says we can’t be sure whether we’d all have been better off with a subway. “It’s a question as to whether as many lines would have been built had they all been built as subways,” he says. “Elevated lines cost less, and took much less time to build.” Today, we live with the results of the contentious debate from a century ago. 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