05 July 2011

The Second Floor Matters on Sixth Avenue

Walk Sixth Avenue between 14th and 34th Street and you may notice something different about the older buildings that line the street. As often as not, their second stories are not just blank brick face, not apartments, but what seem to be elevated storefronts. That's because they were indeed built as storefronts. Until 1938, this avenue was dominated by the Sixth Avenue Elevated train. The train thundered right by the second level of every building, making that story very valuable real estate. Every straphanger couldn't help but notice the stores that passed by the train windows.

Today some of these spaces are still in use as shops. Others are not. The overall visual effect, however, is, to me, very attractive, in an utterly prewar way.


Laura Goggin Photography said...

Ah, I have noticed that section of 6th having two-storied businesses, but never thought about their relation to the train. Good to know!

bijuterii argint said...

Great photos! Is nice to be an observer and show others the world around them like u see it.

Lurker said...

Amazingly obvious.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

To you. To me. Perhaps. But not to 95% of the population.

Proud NIMBY said...

I admire your reviews, especially your Who Dines Here. But I must take exception to your claim that these second floor storefronts were dictated by the 6th Ave. El.

First, the El tracks would have been at the third or fourth floors, not at the second floor.

Second, in Chelsea, there are second-floor storefronts on the side streets, like E. 22 and E 19th where no El went.

Further, there are plenty of these second-floor storefronts throughout the city, on streets that never had an El, like Fifth Avenue.

E.g., here is an image of one on Second and Fifth Street, where there was no El (The 2nd Ave El branched east at 23rd St)

I actually called a preservationist expert who said he has seen photos of second-floor storefronts in SoHo in the 1850s, and that other cities have them as well.

I recall seeing some on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint, which never had an el.


So, on what evidence do you base your belief that the second-floor storefronts were dictated by the El, when so much other evidence says otherwise.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

NIMBY: I'm sure what you say is true. Still, I didn't just go on my own assumption. I've read in a number of NY history books that the El is responsible for the interesting upper-floor construction of Sixth Avenue buildings. I guess historians disagrees. I've seen such second floor storefronts on sidestreets also. But I see far more on avenues that used to host elevated lines. Third or fourth floor sounds pretty high. Are you sure about that? I'll have to do more research.

Proud NIMBY said...


I couldn't find a video of the 6th Ave El, but John Sloane did several etchings of the Sixth Ave El. Here is one.
Figure the ceiling of a ground-floor of a 6th Avenue Bldg to average around 20 feet high.

This video of the 3rd Ave el might also add some perspective.
The el seems to vary in height in different neighborhoods: in some it appears closer the 4th floor; others, indeed, closer to the 2nd.

Anyway, if several history books say that, it certainly lends serious credence. I guess that architectural style was around in other locales, but the 6th Ave El precipitated its abundance along Ladies Mile.

Thanks for the cite, and, as always, thanks for the blog.