“3rd Ave. El”


My good friend Bill Dalzell, who introduced me to art films, recently called my attention to a film he loved from his early days in New York City in the 1950’s: 3rd Ave. El, directed by Carson (Kit) Davidson. The film comprises a portrait of the Third Avenue Elevated Railway in New York City, filmed in 1955. A rare print was preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

The music, as my friend Bill pointed out, is Haydn’s Concerto in D, played by harpsichordist Wanda Landowska.

The film is on YouTube. (See link to YouTube clip below.)

I was disappointed that the footage is grainy. But, the film, which lasts for something like twelve minutes, gives a wonderful feeling for New York City in the 1950’s. It conveys what I love about the City and is still, despite gentrification, true: its grittiness and its authenticity; the people; their authenticity; the open display by New Yorkers of a sort of primal enjoyment of life despite seeming to be wearing a “mask” of anonymity.

With the music, the film gives me a high. It, NYC, bubbles up.

The film has a Whitmanesque (that’s Walt Whitman) feeling about it. Great joyousness. It inspires the same feelings Whitman had for his beloved Mannahatta: its people, its pavements and buildings, its sheer energy.


— Roger W. Smith

   September 2017


“3rd Ave. El”




After three years involved with World War II and four involved with Antioch College, Carson Davidson arrived in New York bent on making films. Usual story — washing dishes at a Bickford’s Cafeteria by night, knocking on producers’ doors by day. Finally, a job with a jaunty outfit called Dynamic Films, doing whatever needed doing. Nobody actually taught him anything, but they answered questions cheerfully, and that’s all that’s really needed.

Fascinated by the 3rd Ave El, he borrowed a company camera and started shooting in his spare time. The resultant film was turned down by every distributor in New York except the last on the list, a crazy Russian who then owned the Paris Theater. He paid for blowing it up to 35 mm and played it for seven months along with an Alec Guinness feature. Actually put the short subject on the marquee — unheard of then or now.




The IRT Third Avenue Line, commonly known as the Third Avenue El and the Bronx El, was an elevated railway in Manhattan and the Bronx, New York City. Originally operated by the New York Elevated Railway, … it was acquired by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and eventually became part of the New York City subway system.

The first segment of the line, with service at most stations, opened from South Ferry to Grand Central Depot on August 26, 1878. Service was extended to Harlem in Manhattan on December 30 of the same year. Service in Manhattan was phased out in the early 1950’s and closed completely on May 12, 1955. It ended in the Bronx on April 29, 1973.

The Third Avenue El was the last elevated line to operate in Manhattan, other than the number 1 train on the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line, which has elevated sections between 122nd and 135th Streets and north of Dyckman Street. Service on the Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenue El lines was terminated in 1942, 1938, and 1940, respectively.

source: Wikipedia

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