The Last Lex -- October 13, 1950

Many people have heard of New York's Lexington Avenue Subway, now known as the 4, 5 and 6 lines. Fewer know that the City also had a Lexington Avenue elevated line. This line was over an entirely different Lexington Avenue and was Brooklyn's first elevated line, built when Brooklyn was still a city in its own right. This is the story of its last run.

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Route of the "Last Lex"

I had just started high school in the fall of 1950 when termination notices were posted in the windows of the Gate Cars on the Lexington Avenue Line. Service on the el was to be discontinued after rush hour on October 13, which happened to be a Friday.

A final train known as "The Last Lex" would leave from Eastern Parkway at 9 PM and make a round trip to Bridge-Jay Street on the evening of the 13th. Due to my fondness of the old Gate Cars, I had to ride that train! The actual el to be demolished was only that portion which ran on Lexington Ave. and Grand Ave. and included eight stations. During rush hours, the Lexington Ave. line actually made 27 station stops. The other 19 stations (on Myrtle Ave, Broadway, Fulton St., and Jamaica Ave.) were already being served by other trains which would continue to do so.

My parents accompanied me on the trip, apparently not to keep an eye on me, but because they had some sentiment for the Lexington Line as well. We arrived at the Eastern Parkway Station about 15 minutes before the departure time to find a six-car train of the 1300 series Gate Cars already standing on the express track. The lead car was 1349, followed by 1398, 1375, 1379, 1367, and 1395. Four of the six cars had the new, green paint job! I never expected a six-car train because even during rush hour, only five-car trains were used. My parents took seats in the fourth car, and I planned to make the trip riding the end platform between the fourth and fifth cars.

When the train departed promptly at 9 PM, it was full! It seemed like all seats were taken with some people standing in the aisles and on the end platforms. Everyone appeared to be dressed up. It was 1950, and in those days, men wore suits, shirts and ties; and women were still wearing dresses and hats. It was a rather chilly night, so most people had winter coats on. It's hard to realize how fashions have changed over the years! Today it would seem like everybody was dressed to go to a funeral or a wedding, but that was just the normal way to dress in those days.

The mood of the crowd really puzzled me. From my position on the end platform I could observe the passengers in both the fourth and fifth cars. The passengers in the fourth car seemed very quiet and were talking softly amongst themselves whereas the passengers in the fifth car seemed to be louder, more boisterous, and perhaps a little rowdy. As the train clattered down Broadway and switched on to Lexington Avenue, people were hanging out of the windows of the houses along the way shouting and waving. It almost seemed like everyone in Brooklyn knew that this was the last train on the Lexington Avenue Line. Even the night students at Pratt Institute recognized the occasion with shouts of greetings. We could hear music at Pratt, and I wondered if the glee club or choir was actually serenading the Last Lex!

On the trip we passed several two-car regular service trains going the other way and whistle signals were exchanged by each train in recognition. We arrived at the last stop at Bridge-Jay Street before 9:30. At this point, supposedly a number of politicians and transit officials left the train. It didn't seem to make any additional room, however, because the train still seemed to be packed with people. In less than five minutes, we were on our way back to Eastern Parkway, and once we had switched off Myrtle Avenue onto Grand, we were the only train left on the line! The train had made every station stop both out and back, but very few people were getting on or off. The mood of the crowd in the cars had quieted somewhat now, and the return trip seemed more solemn.

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We did meet one additional train after we had switched onto Broadway -- it was a New York-bound Jamaica "Steel", who recognized us with a whistle salutation. We arrived back at Eastern Parkway just before 10 PM; the train discharged passengers; and most of the crowd quickly dispersed. There was a group who congregated around the train's motorman to talk and to get autographs. I walked the platform three times alongside the now-empty train before my parents finally convinced me it was time to go home. I guess I was realizing it was my last look at "The Last Lex".

Shortly after I left, the empty train clattered down Broadway one final time to Myrtle Avenue. It seems that the cars were to be laid up in Fresh Pond Yards for the night rather than East New York. I have often wondered if the train made its way down Broadway on the express track or the local track.

A noted rail historian, in writing about this trip, has the train making its last run from Bridge-Jay Street to Eastern Parkway and returning, which is the exact reverse of what actually happened.. His incorrect report has been published, so future generations will likely think it is true. It's too bad he wasn't on the trip. I'm here to set the record straight!

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Comments or questions, share your own recollections?

©2002 and Karl Burkhardt
Sunday, May 12, 2002