New York’s History – Park Avenue

Located mainly in Manhattan, and a short stretch in The Bronx, Park Avenue is a 140 foot wide boulevard previously known as Fourth Street. The section between Bowery and 14th Street still maintains this name, after the area between 17th and 32nd Streets was changed to Park Avenue South on May 5, 1959. The boulevard, Park Avenue, also shares its name with the park located in the area.

The street was formed in the 1850s, when there was a landscaped mall built over a railroad cut that ran through Murray Hill on Fourth Avenue. The area beginning at the first of the malls (34th Street) was renamed Park Avenue. When the Grand Central Depot was opened in the 1870s, the railroad tracks between 56th and 93rd streets were sunk out of sight. This led to the extension of Park Avenue to north of Grand Central in 1888. In 1923, after Henry Mandel (a developer) lobbied for the expansion of Park Avenue to his property, the boulevard was once again extended to 32nd Street.

In 1936 the elevated Park Avenue Viaduct was built around Grand Central Station to allow automobile traffic to pass unimpeded, with a section of Murray Hill Tunnel reopened to traffic in October 1937. Since 1945, as a tribute to fallen soldiers, Christmas Trees have been erected in the street’s median during the festive season. The median has plants in it all year round, which are maintained by The Fund for Park Avenue, a private organisation supported by the residents. Begonia dominates the flora, as these plants are both beautiful and resilient.

During the 1920s, construction began on the apartment buildings from Grand Central Terminal to 96th Street, and these are now some of the most expensive in the world. They cost several thousand dollars per square foot, and have been home to Vera Wang, John D. Rockefeller and other well-known millionaires. On March 12, 2014 two apartment buildings along the boulevard were destroyed in a gas explosion, killing eight people, and injuring many others.

In addition to having famous people live on the street, Park Avenue has been featured in many films. These include: Men in Black, where Will Smith pursues a criminal along its length, and the climax of Avengers in 2012. To demonstrate the large gap between the extraordinarily wealthy section of Park Avenue and its poorer section, a PBS documentary entitled Park Avenue: Money, Power and The American Dream has been made.

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