Trashing The Trolley

Richard Mauro is annoyed that city workers dug up old trolley tracks in the historic Fulton Ferry Landing area — and then trashed them!

Alongside its varying and tortuous infrastructure, New York City is laden with diverse reminders of its past. Historical relics and curiosities are constantly being unearthed from aging streets or within crumbling walls by construction workers renovating a city so indurate to unceasing renovation. Over the rapidly evolving passage of time, the new was often replaced by the still newer before the formerly new had a respectful chance to grow old. However, while most history is delightful and handled with kid gloves, some history is treated like a dreadfully burdensome skeleton in the closet…the trolley car, for instance.

The trolley car, NYC’s once clangorously bustling mode of transportation, was a victim of this city’s rapid pace of evolution. Trolley car service in this town ran from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century and almost from the start was faced with extinction. Rival corporate and government interests in elevated trains, then bus transport and, with increased private car ownership, in highway projects managed to have the city’s trolley rails either dismantled or literally buried in the course of their incursive progress. Indeed, even though some trolley service continued into the 1950s, their enforced obsolescence was so intense that during that same decade The Trolley Museum of New York was founded to preserve their memory.

Today, while cities like Boston and Philadelphia still have trolleys, NYC not only rid itself of them but in certain areas of the city it’s also apparently loathe to be reminded that they ever existed here. A couple years ago, at Fulton Ferry Landing (one of the city’s most famous and historic transportation hubs), while workers were doing reconstructive work on a sewer/ water main conduit, they uncovered trolley track rails dating to the 1920s beneath the asphalt on Old Fulton Street. This area lies at the entrance to the newly-developed Brooklyn Bridge Park and adjacent to that most elitist of NYC neighborhoods: DUMBO. After consulting with archeologists and city landmark officials, the workers removed and trashed the tracks.

Their reasoning:

[Elisabeth] De Bourbon [a Landmarks spokesperson] added that while DUMBO is noted for its tracks, Fulton Ferry Landing’s distinguishing characteristic was the ferry landing, not the old-school mode of transportation that rumbled away from it through DUMBO and points beyond.

Then again, there are those who not only oppose De Bourbon and her ilk’s smug assertion of the tracks’ historic insignificance but also maintain a belief in their current viability as well:

“When these people say the tracks are all finished and garbage, they don’t know what they are talking about,” said Bob Diamond, a Brooklyn legend ever since he discovered a long-abandoned trolley tunnel under Atlantic Avenue almost 30 years ago.

“The tracks must still have at least 25 years of use in them,” he said. The asphalt is a pretty good preservative. The ones on Old Fulton Street being removed could be used to restore trolley service in Downtown Brooklyn.

Indeed, a restoration of trolley car service in the DUMBO/ Fulton Street area is what many preservationists desire. Not only would it be a “classic symbol” of the borough itself but a “convenient and stylish attraction that would deliver visitors from downtown to the hard-to get-to Park” as well.

Nevertheless, what may be attractive and practical to the many is rarely as attractive because less lucrative to the few. I’d venture a guess that these landmarks officials realize which side their bread is buttered on when they evaluate history and determine the infrastructural look and feel of our city.

BROOKLYN TROLLEY–FORGOTTEN NY Bob Diamond, who explored and later instituted tours in the long-defunct Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, attempted to reinstitute a trolley line from Red Hook to downtown Brooklyn along Columbia Street in the late 1990s. He acquired several trolley cars from around the country and laid a square block of track along Conover and Reed Streets, long before Red Hook’s late-2000s renaissance. The city pulled its funding and Diamond’s trolley dream foundered. Since then, the trolley cars have sat and rusted behind a warehouse that became a Fairway supermarket in 2006.

Source: Brooklyn Paper