Memory Lane: The Culver Line at 13th Avenue
A number of weeks ago this column brought you the stark contrast of the 37th Street Elevated railway looked like in the 1950’s, compared with what it is today. The elevated railway stop at 13th Avenue the “major” entrance into 13th Avenue of yore which was very much the central shopping center that it is today—albeit with different goods (such as the market on 39th street whose pickles in barrels and live chickens wafted a smell for quite a distance).
However, the Culver Line which ran from east to west actually preceded the elevated railway that some may remember from the 1950’s. The strip that today is 37th Street, and still features much undeveloped land (a byproduct of being city owned) in the form of steam rail beginning in the year 1875.
It was named for Andrew C. Culver, a railroad magnate, who acquired a key part of the rail system. This section ran from 9th Avenue in Sunset Park, down 37th Street, into McDonald Avenue where it joined that system all the way to Coney Island. When the F train began running to Coney Island, it resulted in many less riders taking the Culver line there, and this line became a shuttle for that mile-long stretch—only connecting the two lines.
In 1919, Culver began building elevated tracks on this stretch, which came down in the 1980’s.
On April 12, 1938, the New York Sun reported on the plans to “recapture the L.” This was a press conference at Transit Offices at 270 Madison Avenue in New York City, which the transit commissioner Ruben Haskell announced that in addition to the BMT and IND competing railway systems, New York City would be launching their own Independent rails system. This had far reaching effects which eventually resulted in the merger of all three systems—which would be named NYC Transit, later consumed by the mammoth state-owned MTA.
Today, the area where the Culver El ran is quite visible as it is largely undeveloped save for a few areas where the city designated the property certain projects.
In the accompanying photograph from the year 1904, we see the very same spot on 13th Avenue looking eastward. What may be a train conductor stands in middle of the tracks with his uniform right in the center of what is today the intersection of 37Th Street (1). Many of the homes to the right—which is the section of 37th Street running from 13th Avenue towards 12th Avenue—are still standing there today (2). The building to the left bears a very strong resemblance to the corresponding one—because it is quite visibly the very same building with the very same contours— on 13th Avenue of today.