Skip to main content

What's Left of the Avenue of the Americas?

(updated 2015) The change of name from Sixth Avenue to "Avenue of the Americas" became official October 2, 1945 when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia signed a bill passed by City Council. According to an article in The New York Times ("6th Avenue's Name Gone With the Wind," New York Times, Oct. 3, 1945), a few voiced opposition to the change, including the Citizen Union, arguing that the street contained so many "eyesores" that the new name would be "scarcely an honor to our sister nations."

Others speaking on record at City Council included Mrs. Viola Warrin, who thought the new avenue name was "an awful mouthful;" Albert W. Ransom, who shared his observation that "Avenue of the Americas" was supported "by nobody 'but a group of people seeking propaganda';" and various Greenwich Village activists, including Marion Tanner (the aunt of writer Patrick Dennis, more on this website) of the Greenwich Village Association. The Mayor, on the other hand, said he found "general approval in this city, in this country and in the entire hemisphere." The Sixth Avenue Association, chief instigators of the "Avenue of the Americas," celebrated with a luncheon at the Rainbow Room.

northern block of the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Ave.) with medallions for Argentina, Costa Rica, and Chile

On October 20, a formal parade and ceremony took place to officially rechristen Sixth Avenue as the Avenue of the Americas. Crowds cheered a parade of four thousand Navy veterans, newly returned from victory in the Pacific Theater of War, upstaging Mayor La Guardia and President Juan Antonio Rios of Chile. ("Navy Steals Show at Dedication of Avenue of Americas by Rios," New York Times, October 21, 1945). According to the Times, the Mayor said that the street name change reflected "the love and affection we have for our sister republics of Central and South America" and the realization of President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy. At the ceremony, President Rios, who spent part of the previous day in Hyde Park to lay a wreath on the grave of the late President, placed a new Avenue of the Americas sign on a reachable street pole especially built for the occasion.
"With the ceremonies ended, the signal was given to dismiss the service men, and with a shout that startled the dignitaries the patient sailors, marines and midshipmen evacuated the Avenue of the Americas for simple Broadway." 
Simón Bolívar
With twenty-one countries signing the Charter of the Organization of American States in April of 1948, the idea of an Avenue of the Americas seemed promising. The city designed a new plaza at the intersection of Central Park South and the Avenue of the Americas in celebration, and an existing equestrian statue of Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was moved from Bolivar Hill to a new granite pedestal on the east side and rededicated in 1951. According to the city's Parks & Recreation page on the statue, Bolivar was soon joined there by a statue of Argentine general José de San Martín. In 1965 the dedication of a statue in honor of Cuban leader José Martí completed the trio.

José Martí
Farther south on the avenue, a handsome statue of Brazilian leader José Bonifacio De Andrada E Silva, now re-sited on the west side of Bryant Park, was dedicated in a ceremony in April of 1955. (Park page) On the southern end of the avenue, statues of Juan Pablo Duarte (1813-1876) of the Dominican Republic and General José Artigas (1764-1850) of Uruguay, each in their own small park spaces, complete the official set of six statues. A relatively recent statue of Benito Juarez of Mexico, diminutive in comparison, also on the west side of Bryant Park, was dedicated in 2004.
One of three surviving medallions of Cuba

In addition to the statues, in 1953* the city erected hundreds of new lampposts bearing medallions, each with distinct symbols representing the countries of the Americas (* The City Review Midtown Book page). Later, when the city replaced lampposts with new ones, the medallions came down, too. Some remain to this day, chiefly on the far north and on the far south end of the Avenue of the Americas. For those going to a movie at the IFC, the nearby medallion of Surinam hangs from a post just to the north side of the theatre marquee.

Along the northern block between Central Park South and W. 58th, following medallions for Argentina and Costa Rica, the one for Chile hovers over the opening of the grotesque Jekyll & Hyde Club. Across the street and down a block or so, look for a shield with beach and palm trees signifying Cuba, one of three medallions for the nation that still dangle over the Pan-American boulevard. The sign is near a travel ware store and a cigar shop, if you're in the mood for irony.

medallion for Canada at the intersection with Washington Place

Playground of the Americas
After many blocks in which the signs have fallen by the wayside, the medallions pick up again in Greenwich Village - Canada, at Washington Place; Cuba (again) at W. 4th, Honduras, Barbados, and Venezuela near Bleecker St. Crossing Houston, an official Parks plaque notes the small Playground of the Americas, a site that features nothing more than a modest set of playground equipment. The sign itself is fascinating to read. While noting the story of the Avenue of the Americas, as described here, the narrative also includes the story of the name "Houston," originally named for a southern-born American patriot who spelled his name H-O-U-S-T-O-U-N. The current street name, a corruption that's been misspelled since 1811, "is often erroneously associated with Sam Houston (1793-1863), the commander of the Texas forces during the Texas War for Independence." (I suppose this digression does help to advance the story of the Americas, and native Texans in the city should enjoy this brief mention of the Lone Star State. Someone should lobby for an appropriate equestrian statue in honor of the Republic.)

Juan Pablo Duarte

Cuba shows up again - now, three! - at the intersection with King Street in the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District, with nearby medallions for Uruguay, Grenada, and Bolivia. El Salvador presides over an untamed empty lot near a car wash. The General José Artigas Monument comes into view in a shady block-length park that, given visual evidence on a recent visit, could use some work. The medallion for Nicaragua is at Broome Street, and the one for Belize is at Watts. Crossing Grand St., the thin triangular Juan Pablo Duarte Square features a statue of the dignified leader of the Dominican Republic, dedicated in 1978 by the country's consulate. Across the street, one of the avenue's most rusty and worn medallions hangs from the lamppost, this one symbolizing the United States of America.

rusty medallion with symbol of the United States of America

The walk: I highly recommend walking the entire length of the north-south stretch of the Avenue of the Americas to absorb the whole effect, beginning at the northern end at the equestrian statues on Central Park South and ending at Canal Street. The distance is approximately 3.6 miles, so stop for snacks and wear sensible shoes. There’s much more to see than what’s described, so a companion post, a strolling guide to Sixth Avenue, is posted here. The new name for Sixth Avenue never took hold among locals, except for its use as a fancy-sounding address.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 28, 2010.

NOTE: This is the companion post and map for A Walking Guide to Sixth Avenue/The Avenue of the Americas.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk. One such essay, " Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer , Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

25 Things to Do Near the American Museum of Natural History

After visiting the American Museum of Natural History, explore attractions on the Upper West Side or in Central Park. Visitors to New York often run around from one major tourist site to the next, sometimes from one side of the city to the other, and in the process, exhaust themselves thoroughly. Ambitious itineraries often include something like coffee in the Village in the morning, lunch near MoMA, a couple of hours in the museum, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry in the afternoon, cocktails at the midtown hotel, a quick dinner, and then a Broadway show. It's a wonder people don't pass out at the theater. While sitting on the steps of the American Museum of History, consider exploring the Upper West Side and nearby sites of interest in Central Park. There's a better way to plan a New York trip. Consider grouping attractions together geographically. Several posts on this site address this recommended approach. The Wild West of the Tecumseh Playground Groupin

A New York Spring Calendar: Blooming Times and Seasonal Events

See the UPDATED 2018 CALENDAR HERE . Updated for 2017 . At this time of year, thoughts turn to spring. Let's spring forward to blooming times, the best locations for witnessing spring's beginnings, and springtime events in the big city. While the occasional snow could blow through the city, we're just weeks now from callery pears in bloom and opening day at the ballpark. In The Ramble, Central Park. mid-April Blooming Times •  Central Park Conservancy's website  lists blooming times within the park. During the month of March we begin to see crocus, daffodils, forsythia, snowdrops, witch-hazel, and hellebores. Species tulips will emerge in several places, but the Shakespeare Garden and Conservatory Garden are particularly good places to catch the beginning of Spring blooms. Central Park near E. 72nd St., saucer magnolia, typically end of March. •  Citywide Blooming Calendar from New York City Department of Parks & Recreation April is u

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church

At the New Moynihan Train Hall, and the Zen of Going Nowhere

After slowly wandering around the Moynihan Train Hall , opened earlier this year in the James A. Farley Post Office Building across from Penn Station, an Amtrak worker approached me and asked if he could help with directions. “No,” I replied, “I’m just here to look at the station.”  Moynihan Train Hall, between Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 31st Street, and 33rd Street in Midtown Manhattan I wasn’t taking a train anywhere, not an Amtrak train to Philadelphia or to Boston. I was here to look at this impressive, even enlightening building. The architectural design is somewhat restrained and serious. Bright signage at the Moynihan Train Hall At a time when the idea of actual travel is just picking up, for some New Yorkers like myself, just the novelty of seeing a new transportation project in the city seems to suffice. It’s like mental preparation for taking an actual trip.  Looking up I remember catching Amtrak trains at the old Penn Station, not the beautiful and monumental edifice that

A Walk in NoLita, Sometimes Speaking French

To get to the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery from where I live in the Village I walk through the precious neighborhood of NoLita. I say "precious," because this neighborhood No rth of L ittle Ita ly is home to many attractive small boutiques and stylish bistros, and it feels like it could be bottled and sold for a large price. In fact, that's happening. The prices for several new condos in the neighborhood's attractive renovated Victorian-era buildings start in the six- and seven-million dollar range. And the proximity of the New Museum solidifies NoLita's stature as a hot neighborhood, with galleries, shoe boutiques and other art-friendly places popping up here and there. Walking along Prince or Spring toward the museum, I have several old and new, ecclesiastical and secular, places to note along the way: Buildings: The St. Patrick's Old Cathedral at Mott and Prince, served as the Roman Catholic Cathedral until the big St. Patrick's was

Traversing Manhattan: An Afternoon Trip to the Battery and Back Again

  Wherein the vaccinated sightseer from Northern Manhattan travels to the southern end of the island by means of the express bus, the MTA subway, and the NYC ferry, with a little sauntering on foot In Battery Park, during the first blushes of spring in New York. View of One World Trade Center Residents of the far north and far south of Manhattan are the ones most keenly aware that they live on an island. The north end of the borough tapers to a relatively small area of land, bounded by the confluence of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers and the waters of Spuyten Duyvil. The land is hilly and green, with an old growth forest. The Battery sits on the southern end, a land where the geography is defined by the meeting of the East River, the Hudson River, and the vast New York Harbor. Manhattan stretches a little over 13 miles on the long side and just 2.3, more or less, at its width. On 42nd Street, approaching Grand Central Terminal. A resident of the hilly northern terrain may sometimes long