Home Second Avenue Subway Mad Men, real estate and subway construction

Mad Men, real estate and subway construction

by Benjamin Kabak

A premature destination sign spotted recently on a Q train. (Via imgur)

AMC’s Mad Men is one of those distinctive New York City shows that’s captured the imagination of the nation. I haven’t been a regular viewer in a few seasons for a variety of reasons, but I’ll follow along now and then. During Sunday night’s episode, my Twitter mentions exploded during one season in particular as our favorite soon-to-be-existing subway line garnered a wink and a nod.

In the scene, which you can view here, Peggy Olson is checking out an apartment on York and 84th St., and she’s concerned that it’s too far away from the subway. Her broker tries to seal the hard sell: “Believe me, when they finish the Second Avenue subway, this apartment will quadruple in value.”

Get it? It’s 2013, and there’s still no Second Ave. Subway. Across the country, many viewers just moved on from the line, but New Yorkers nodding knowingly. Don’t get your hopes up, Peggy. You’ll be 77 before the Second Ave. Subway actually starts serving the Upper East Side.

To me, the scene struck a few chords. First, Peggy’s blight brings up a related issue I’ve touched upon in the past: When the Second Ave. Subway opens in approximately 43 months, it will bring up real estate prices from Second Ave. eastward. All of a sudden, York and East End Avenue residents will be a significantly shorter walk to the subway, and businesses will see increased pedestrian flow. Even those prickly residents at Yorkshire Towers might find the subway in their driveway to be a convenience, and the disruptions from construction will recede into the past.

Second, I wondered about its historical accuracies. Would people in April of 1968 been talking about the Second Ave. Subway and its construction? Already, the city had tried to build the subway and failed. It had been included in the 1930s-era Second System plans and an aborted construction effort in the 1950s left the city needing the line. In late 1967 and early 1968, political forces aligned behind an effort to kickstart construction, and a $2.9 billion transportation plan unveiled in February 1968 included the Second Ave. line. Funded hadn’t been identified, and work had yet to start. But a real estate agent could have used ongoing momentum to push the apartment.

Fast forward 45 years, and we’re still awaiting. That’s why the Mad Men joke worked. But what of the actual subway construction itself? Last week, the MTA announced that the giant muck houses at 72nd St. and 69th St. would be removed as blasting has been completed, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney celebrated the progress. “With the muck houses coming down and the final contract out for bid, the Second Avenue Subway is fast becoming a reality,” she said in a statement. “These milestones are major steps forward for a project that will bring relief to commuters who need a better way to reach their destinations.”

I’m sure Peggy, though, has long since given up that East Side apartment and hopes of a subway line coming to rescue her. As a long-time New Yorker, she’s probably adopted the attitude of many: They’ll believe in the Second Ave. Subway when it exists. The home stretch nears.

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Lady Feliz April 30, 2013 - 2:18 pm

The thing about “Mad Men” that I always disliked was the way they portray the 1960s, knowing full well what happens to the city/country 10, 20, 30 years later. Ooh, look, everybody smokes and drinks in the ’60s (can’t do that in the 2000s). Hey, a gay guy has sex with another man (you CAN do that by 2000s). The Second Ave subway will increase your apartment’s price fourfold (wink wink, nudge nudge). Everything they do is done with the full knowledge of what comes next, which makes for awesome production values but not for a very interesting show. I’d love to know how my actions today will be seen by Americans in 2050, but I have no idea what will be in/out by then, or what NYC will look like.

“Mad Men” is Gen X’s version of what the ’60s were like, and they can only guess what it meant to live in Fun City circa 1968. Wish some of the writers actually lived in NYC then and could give us a first-hand perspective.

Benjamin Kabak April 30, 2013 - 2:19 pm

I’m glad you said “wink wink, nudge nudge” here. That was in my first draft of this post, and I later edited it out.

Jerrold April 30, 2013 - 4:23 pm

Yes, it was Fun City, then later on it was the Big Apple.
Those names seem to come and go.

Benjamin Kabak April 30, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Big Apple was first around in the 1920s and then later brought back in the 1970s as a promotional campaign designed to support NYC tourism. It’s stuck around this time long after the marketing campaign died.

Eric Brasure April 30, 2013 - 2:59 pm

Thanks for writing this. I too wondered about that line, but didn’t want to do the research to find out if a real estate broker in 1968 would really be using the Second Avenue subway as a selling point. Guess they might have!

Ken April 30, 2013 - 3:44 pm

If the 2nd Avenue subway was built in the 70s, would it have been cut and cover? If so, the real estate agent should have tried to get a very long term lease before the major disruption. If coops were in vogue back than, the agent should have pushed very hard before construction started. In hindsight, it did not take a new subway to make Upper East Side rents skyrocket since the 60s. If Peggy rented or bought the apartment in 1968, she would probably be retired by now and be one of the NIMBYs trying to stop construction.

BruceNY April 30, 2013 - 5:26 pm

From the photos I’ve seen of the tunnel segments that were built in the early 70’s around 103rd-110th Street, they would appear to be cut & cover. They have vertical walls with columns, not the round profiles of deep bore tunneling. Indeed, what a shame that was as far as they got.

Anyway, thinking about the Zeitgeist of those times, and the prevailing attitudes towards transit vs. gleaming new interstate highways, I would think that the real estate agent would actually try to downplay the subway. The horror–all those poor people from the ghetto flooding into our neighborhood!

John-2 April 30, 2013 - 7:18 pm

Cut and cover uptown and cut and cover between Second and Ninth streets as well, but that section was later filled in.

The Second Avenue Subway’s mention on “Mad Men” does fit in with the MTA’s creation in early 1968 and the RPA’s Master Plan for the subway expansion, which included 63rd Street and the SAS. Back then, of course, everything was rainbows and unicorns because the MTA had access to the TBTA’s tolls, which could be directed towards the subways for the first time, and the bond issue was being pushed that would be floated and passed 18 months later to build all of the new lines.

“SAS Fever”, such that it was, was really more of a 1970-74 thing, but in the current time period of the show you still had the bright, shining hope of 45 years ago that Professor William Ronan and his technocrats were going to save the Transit Authority. Ah, if we only knew then what we know today…

asar April 30, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Ha, like this article , the picture and the clip of mad men. Of course the realestate agent would try to get u to live there if the subway was going to be there in a few years! Thats what the mta calls 10 years or more!

Jerrold April 30, 2013 - 4:30 pm

I remember one day in the early 1980’s when I was in a taxi on the way to the East Side Airlines Terminal (the airport bus terminal that
was on Second Ave. and 38th St.)
The driver mentioned to me that he had heard that when the Second Ave. subway is built, they will put a station right there by that terminal.

Jerrold April 30, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Any New Yorker who is old enough can remember that terminal.
It was built there so that the buses could go right into the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, but THAT is what made it a pain in the ass to get to, except by taxi.

llqbtt May 2, 2013 - 9:59 am

Most real estate agents will say ANYTHING to seal a deal and extract their fee.

Chris G May 2, 2013 - 12:26 pm

I actually did enjoy pointing this out to my wife. As when we watched it Tuesday it originally went over her head.

Sam April 11, 2019 - 12:33 pm

Your information was very helpful. Our real estate agent did not take the photos, did not come up with the description and is asking us to promote on social media our house and “network” around the neighborhood. Our flyers are never updated and the box sits empty half the time. This is our first experience with a real estate agent so we are not too sure, but we don’t have a good feeling about this. Also, he just told us he is recording conversations with potential buyers and emailing us those conversations. Is that legal?


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