Kenneth Park Architects

Street Revolution: Fifth Avenue

Street Evolution: Fifth Avenue

What comes to mind when you hear Fifth Avenue? Ritzy high-end stores? Fictional favorites like Blair Waldorf and Serena Vander Woodson of Gossip Girl?  The New York Public Library? Long before it was home to our favorite Manhattan socialites, retail addicts and spaces for corporate offices and restaurants, Fifth Avenue was still very much the place where wealth and riches reigned supreme.


What’s In a Name?

Before it became the luxurious and world-renowned Fifth Avenue, it was simply called “Middle Road.” According to untapped cities, “Middle Road was situated in the middle of a large land parcel that was sold by the council in 1785 to raise municipal funds for newly established nation. Initially, it was the only road to provide access to this yet-undeveloped portion of Manhattan, but two additional roads were built later (eventually becoming Park Avenue and Sixth Avenue.” (Source: untappedcities)


Fifth Avenue begins at Washington Square Park and stretched north toward the center of midtown. Deemed the separation line, Fifth Avenue creates significant boundaries within our adoring city. “It runs along the eastern side of Central Park, where it forms the boundary of the Upper East Side and through Harlem, where it terminates at the Harlem River at 142nd Street. Traffic crosses the river on the Madison Avenue Bridge. Fifth Avenue serves as the dividing line for house numbering and west-east streets in Manhattan, just as Jerome Avenue does in the Bronx. It separates, for example, East 59th Street from West 59th Street.” (Source: wikipedia)



Millionaire’s Row: The Place to Be

The Gold Coast. Millionaire’s Row. Museum Mile. These were a few of the names given to the opulent land area inhabited by some of New York’s elite such as the Astor’s, The Bostwick’s, the Vanderbilt’s, and The Frick’s just to name a few. Many of these gorgeous homes have been demolished and replaced by skyscrapers and some of our favorite retail outlets such as H&M, Godiva and Saks Fifth Avenue.

A little family by the name of The Astor’s spawned the transformation by making great purchases of Manhattan land.  Patriarch Williams Backhouse Astor gifted his son and wife Caroline Astor a simple brownstone which underwent many renovations.  Adorned with artwork, a ballroom, and a shiny chandelier, the Astor Mansion was


Millionaires Row Fun Facts:

  1. William K. Vanderbilt mansion was built as a way to come up in the 400 society. The new money regime was looked down upon significantly by the wealthy that had come from a long line of millionaires
  2. 680 and 684 Fifth Avenue was built by Architect John B Snook for William h. Vanderbilt. These were then gifted to a member of his family, Florence Adele Vanderbilt Tombly and Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt. These mansions were eventually sold to tycoon John D. Rockefeller. Presently,  a skyscraper resides in its old space.
  3. Jabez Bostwick, the treasurer of Standard Oil, built a ten-room mansion for his family in 1876. The mansion was extended two blocks to accommodate his family. Unfortunately, the Bostwick’s were the victims of a terrible oil explosion and fire that resulted in numerous deaths.
  4. With great buildings often comes great drama. The Astor’s began the trend of real estate that reflected high society living. The Astor’s built a magnificent ballroom made for hob-knobbing and socializing with the elite.  The lady of the house, Mrs. Astor, used her address as a way to stay the leader of the Manhattan elite.  Rumor has it that William Astor; Nephew of Mrs. Astor, demolished his townhouse next to hers to construct the first Waldorf hotel.


Some of the most well-known architecture can be found on Fifth Avenue.  With the booming economy and an increase in urbanization in the 1960’s, some of your favorite tourist sites were erected along the road that was originally home to Manhattan’s old elite money.


Join us every week for Street Evolution. We profile a New York City area/street and explore the amazing history it has to offer!


Have a suggestion for a Street Evolution topic? Share it in the comments!