Revisiting the Construction and Completion of Manhattan Railway Company Substation 5 on Allen Street [PHOTOS]

Posted on: June 3rd, 2014 at 11:41 am by
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The Second Avenue Elevated rumbled through Queens and Manhattan from 1875 to 1942, and was beloved by seemingly every commuter on the line. Demolition of the “L” thus prompted protests and strongly-worded op-eds from the mass of humanity moving between the boroughs. Below is one example:

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Let’s not focus on the demise, though, but instead revisit our old friend at 1 Allen Street. This corner behemoth was one of seven substations built by the Manhattan Railway Company, originally conceived and constructed at the turn of last century (circa 1902). The brick structure that is #5 possessed one main function – converting the steam engine lines to electric power. According to the New York Times:

The function of the substations was to receive 11,000-volt alternating current from the power house and convert it to 625-volt direct current for the third-rail distribution system to the trains. The power station and substations began operating in late 1901, and all trains were running by electric power by the spring of 1903.

On this map from 1915, note the block entitled “Elevated R.R. Tower House” at the corner of Allen and Division:

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The substation building is situated back-to-back with the Eldridge Street Synagogue. A small parking lot separates the two where the tenement in lot 55 (seen in the map above) used to be. Must have been nice and quiet during services.

Here are some then and 1999 to now comparison shots for you courtesy of Bowery Boogie (now), Subchat (2007),  Dylan Stone (1999) and the Museum of the City of New York (20th century) :

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Look at those coal stains! The curve of the building was built to flow with the curve of the tracks. These sharp turns throughout the elevated system earned scary nicknames such as Deadman’s Curve and Suicide Curve, which we will revisit another time.

We found this image of the interior of the substation from 2007 courtesy of Subchat.com:

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At present, the building remains a warehouse for a produce wholesaler called Tay Shing Corp. Below are some shots while investigating the exterior not too long ago.

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Coal stain upshot

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Exterior pillar encased inside lean-to; this column can be seen being built in the first gallery below

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Back to back with the Eldridge Street Synagogue

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Back door where factory employees jump down to exit

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lean-to

Still lusting for more on substation 5? Check this. The Museum of the City of New York has a plethora of pictures of the substation during its construction, and upon its completion (1900-1901), all of which are in the gallery below:

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Word to the wise – if you happen to find yourself inside and want to exit, use the black metal side door seen above backing out into the parking lot. The front door will leave you covered in this:

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If you have any idea what the heck this is, feel free to share. Here’s what it’s not: paint, oil, grease, safe.

Meanwhile, harken back to the 1930s and 1940s to see these babies in action.

Peace, love and mysterious gelatin!

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