Hidden amidst the slopes of the Park Hill neighborhood of Yonkers, New York are two houses that together serve as a unique piece of transportation history. The buildings at 32 Undercliff Street and 83 Alta Avenue sit on opposite ends of the large hill that gives the neighborhood its name (the former at the bottom, the latter at the top). They are each beautiful structures in their own right, but they were once inextricably linked by a funicular railway, one of the few to ever be constructed in the New York State.
The top station of the funicular at 83 Alta Avenue is now a day care
Funicular railroads (or to use the French spelling, funiculaire) are cable railways that use two counterbalanced passenger cars to travel up and down steep inclines. Famous examples include the Montmartre Funiculaire in Paris (hence the French) and the Monongahela Freight Incline in Pittsburgh (famous for being featured on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood). New York City even has one of its funiculars, a modern one inside the 34 Street-Hudson Yards subway station. The railways are engineering wonders, carrying passengers to and fro along precarious inclines, yet require intense upkeep in order to stay operational. 32 Undercliff Street and 83 Alta Avenue once acted as the station houses for the Park Hill Incline, a now defunct funicular railway that ran up and down the neighborhood’s mighty hill. In fact, these two houses are now the only physical evidence that the railway ever existed.
Overcliff, the home of Edwin Martin the president of the American Real Estate Company, is located just down the street from the 83 Alta Avenue end of the former funiclar (you can see it at the far right of the photograph)
While the Incline is no longer around, its story is closely entwined with that of the neighborhood it served. The Park Hill section of Yonkers was developed in 1888 by the American Real Estate Company of Manhattan. It is one of the earliest examples of aa planned community in the New York metropolitan area, conceived as an upscale locale for money-minded New Yorkers to make their own outside of the city’s limits. Atop the hill, the American Real Estate Company built large, European-esque structures meant to give the area an aristocratic flavor. These include the now demolished Hendric Hudson Hotel, designed by the same architect as the Château Frontenac in Quebec City and the Queen Anne-style mansion Overcliff, owned by Edwin Martin the president of the American Real Estate Company, which still stands.
In order to reach the hill’s top though, the Park Hill Incline was commissioned and opened in 1894. The bottom station of the Incline sat near the more modest commercial center of Yonkers and the other regional railroads that brought commuters from the city. From there, a single car carrying 10 passengers would embark on a 107-foot, 40-degree climb to the upper station house, delivering them to Park Hill proper. However, the Incline closed in 1937. If you were to visit its former location today, you would no longer be able to see any of its rails beneath the dense greenery the only remnants of the Incline are its former station houses, both of which have found new uses in the eighty years since.
32 Undercliff Street, the former elevator house at the hill’s bottom, is the larger of the two structures, impressing passerby with five stories and a stone-and-stucco exterior. It once had a bit more Tudor-style details, as can be seen in the historic photograph on the Twitter account, Funimag. Today, the building holds apartments. At the hill’s top, the upper station house at 83 Alta Avenue, with its whimsical Alice in Wonderland-like design, has found a new use as a child care facility. Here, not only does the elevator house still exist set back from the street, the covered entrance and walkway can still be seen. While the link between these two structures has eroded physically over time, they are still connected by a common spirit of adaptability that could very well frame the larger story of Park Hill as it now sits.
While the neighborhood continues to boast impressive vistas of the Hudson and large Tudor-style homes, these grandiose structures are now complimented by smaller ranches and colonials that have since been constructed in the neighborhood (more on this neighborhood be found in an article from the New York Times). Despite Park Hill’s original ambition of being an A-lister getaway, it is now a relatively middle-class/upper middle-class neighborhood, with homes selling well below a million dollars and with residents only a short drive away from the shops and restaurants of Broadway down below.
The Park Hill Incline was an architectural feat, designed to whisk commuters away from downtown Yonkers and up into the fine homes of freshly-groomed Park Hill. While the rails and cables may be covered and gone, the old station houses have found new uses beyond transportation. Even without passenger cars climbing through the trees, Park Hill might be more closely connected with the rest of Yonkers than it ever has been before.