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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Taking the "8 Avenue"

Photo Source:  Dave's Rail Pix, Dave Pirmann Collection for Joe Testagrose.

 In the picture above, PCC car 1053 is just turning right to Church Avenue from McDonald Avenue on the Church-McDonald line sometime between 1951 and 1956.  The view is facing southwest.   If you look closely to the right of the candy store,  you can see an entrance to the IND Church Avenue Station that at that time was served by "D" trains.  On the entrance, is a sign stating "Smith Street-8th Avenue" that was probably there since the station opened in 1933?  All stations on this line, from Church Avenue to Bergen Street probably showed "Smith Street-8th Avenue" signs even though at that time the "D"trains ran via 6th Avenue.

  My parents were born at the beginning of the 20th Century and they saw the construction of the Independent Subway during the late 20's and early 30's.  The first line to open, was the "Eight Avenue" probably around 1932 and ran first from Chambers Street to 207th Street in upper Manhattan.  During the 1930's the various branches opened up, the Concourse Line and the Crosstown Line (GG) and the line to Queens along Queens Boulevard.  I believe by 1933, the Independent Subway even reached Church Avenue in Brooklyn, which today is known as part of the "Culver Line".  Service from Church Avenue and McDonald Avenues or Gravesend Avenue ran by Prospect Park to Manhattan and even various Northern Terminals in upper Manhattan or Queens depending on the year.  The 6th Avenue Line did not open until the 1940's so service on all branches, except the Crosstown (GG) was by way of Eight Avenue.  The older generation seems to have been inprinted with the route of the first Independent Subway.  When I was small, I loved the subways and public transportation and I always asked my parents at the start of a trip our route plans.  Even if we were near the Crosstown Line, or stations along 6th Avenue, my parents would alway say that we are taking the "Eight Avenue" even though we were physically getting the "D" and 42nd Street and 6th Avenue or a "GG" train at Borough Hall.  They never said that they were taking the "Sixth Avenue".
When the Culver Shuttle became a real one track shuttle around 1960, the shuttle became like a lottery wheel because we would not know in which direction it would be headed when we boarded at 13th Avenue or Fort Hamilton Parkway.  If we needed the Independent Subway at Church Avenue, my parents would either walk to Church Avenue or ride in the direction that the Culver Shuttle happened to run.  If it ran towards 9th Avenue, we would have to backtrack to Ditmas Avenue in order to reach the "Eight Avenue". We would go "downstairs" and cross over to the Manhattan bound side.  Other times, we needed the West End Line at 9th Avenue.  The line there was called the "West End" or "BMT".
From 1954 to 1967, on the line that ran to Church and McDonald Avenue, Independent R1-9 equipment ran.  Those years, the "D" train served the line to Coney Island, and the side signs would never show a setting for the "Culver Line" eventhough the official name was called "Concourse-Culver". The old signs either showed D- 6th Avenue Express or D-Houston Street 6th Avenue Express signs. After November 1967, when the Christie Steet Loop started operation, newer equipment (R-38's) showed up on the line as "F" trains.  At first, no mention was made of the Culver Line but as years went by and new equipment was assigned to the line or roll signs were updated, or other signs were converted to dot matrix, the term "Culver" was used on this line.  One of the rare signs that were attached on lamp posts at some Manhattan locations was the sign "Eight Avenue Subway (Independent) Two Blocks West" with an arrow.  As a child, I thought that this sign,  lost astronomers or explorers through the most scarry jungles would most hope to see, no matter where they were, even though they may need to change at West 4th Street  (Washington Square) for a "D".

The picture below comes from and shows the work crews attaching the BMT Culver Line Tracks that swing left to the IND Subway incline south of Ditmas Avenue on October 31, 1954.  Two years later, on October 31, 1956, at and near that location, Church Avenue, McDonald Avenue streetcars and Cortelyou Road trolleybuses will become extinct.

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