A Form Of Park

The photo above: spring has sprung on Park Avenue!

After the trains were converted from coal to electric and put underground, Park Avenue was developed with high-end apartment houses and hotels from 46th Street (north of the Grand Central train shed) to 96th street (where the trains exit the tunnel and run on a viaduct). Nearly all vestiges of previous development – mostly Old Law tenements – have been replaced. But that doesn’t explain the name “Park.”

Because of the presence of the approach to Grand Central below, the avenue is 140 feet wide, as opposed to the 100-foot standard for the north-south avenues and the 50-foot standard for the east-west streets. As it was first laid out, the median islands were about 40 feet wide, with two lanes of traffic and a parking lane on each side, and sidewalks about 15 feet wide on each side. Those big medians were landscaped as mini-parks. Unfortunately, the development of the avenue coincided with the rise of automobile traffic, and the medians were cut down to create a third traffic lane on each side. (My photo above is the end of a median near 84th Street.) Here’s a map from 1910, before the air-rights construction started, showing the medians as holes in a viaduct, open to the tracks below, and the future air-rights-construction lots as open to the train yard below:

The same area in 1916, with wavy pedestrian paths laid out in the medians:

In 1923, with the old buildings starting to be replaced:

Interestingly, the later maps that should show the medians cut down in width don’t: they show the the same wide medians as these maps. Since the purpose of the maps was to show the buildings, maybe no one felt it necessary to correct them for medians? In any case, some possible good news: the city is considering re-widening the medians. I don’t live on Park Avenue, but I fully support that idea.

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