Park Avenue was originally known as Fourth Avenue and carried the tracks of the New York and Harlem Railroad starting in the 1830s. The railroad originally ran through an open cut through Murray Hill, which was covered with grates and grass between 34th and 40th Street in the early 1850s. A section of this "park" was later renamed Park Avenue in 1860, and the name was later applied to the segment between Union Square and 42nd Street.
The Harlem Railroad was later incorporated into the New York Central Railroad, and a terminal for the New York Central at 42nd Street, the Grand Central Depot, opened in 1871.:3 But the tracks laid to the new terminal proved problematic. There were originally no grade-separated crossings of the railroads between 42nd and 59th Streets. As such, they required railroad crossings along Fourth Avenue, which resulted in frequent accidents; seven people died within 12 days of the Hudson River Railroad's move to Grand Central.
In 1872, shortly after the opening of Grand Central Depot, New York Central owner Cornelius Vanderbilt proposed the Fourth Avenue Improvement Project. The tracks between 48th and 56th Streets were to be moved into a shallow open cut, while the segment between 56th and 97th Streets, which was in a rock cut, would be covered over.[a] After the improvements were completed in 1874, the railroads, approaching Grand Central Depot from the north, descended into the Park Avenue Tunnel at 96th Street and continued underground into the new depot. As part of the project, Fourth Avenue was transformed into a boulevard with a median strip that covered the railroad's ventilation grates.:4 Eight footbridges crossed the tracks between 45th and 56th Streets, and there were also vehicular overpasses at 45th and 48th Streets.:4 The boulevard north of Grand Central was renamed Park Avenue in 1888.
Grand Central and Terminal City
A fatal collision between two trains occurred under Park Avenue in 1902, in part because the smoke coming from the steam trains obscured the signals. The New York state legislature subsequently passed a law to ban all steam trains in Manhattan. By December 1902, as part of an agreement with the city, New York Central agreed to put the approach to Grand Central Station from 46th to 59th Streets in an open cut under Park Avenue, and to upgrade the tracks to accommodate electric trains. Overpasses would be built across the open cut at most of the cross-streets. The new electric-train terminal, Grand Central Terminal, was opened in 1913.
After the electric trains were buried underground, the area around Park Avenue in the vicinity of Grand Central was developed into several blocks worth of prime real estate called Terminal City. Stretching from 42nd to 51st Streets between Madison and Lexington Avenues, it came to include the Chrysler Building and other prestigious office buildings; luxury apartment houses along Park Avenue; and an array of high-end hotels that included the Marguery, Park Lane, and Waldorf Astoria. In 1929, New York Central built its headquarters in a 34-story building (now called the Helmsley Building), straddling Park Avenue north of the terminal.
The Park Avenue Viaduct reroutes Park Avenue around Grand Central Terminal between 40th and 46th Streets, allowing Park Avenue traffic to traverse around the building and over 42nd Street without encumbering nearby streets. The western (now southbound) leg of the viaduct was completed in 1919, but congestion developed soon after the viaduct's opening, so an eastern leg for northbound traffic was added in 1928.
In 1927, the medians on Park Avenue north of Grand Central were trimmed to add one lane of traffic in each direction. This project eliminated the pedestrian path on the medians, as they became much narrower. The median was extended by one block from 96th Street to 97th Street in 1941, creating the only median on Park Avenue with a pedestrian path and seating. In the 1920s the portion of Park Avenue from Grand Central to 96th Street saw extensive apartment building construction. This long stretch of the avenue contains some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Real estate at 740 Park Avenue, for example, sells for several thousand dollars per square foot.
In October 1937, a part of the Murray Hill Tunnel was reopened for road traffic. Efforts to promote a Grand Park Avenue Expressway to Grand Concourse in the Bronx were unsuccessful.
A tradition was introduced in 1945 as a memorial to American soldiers killed in action, whereby Christmas trees are placed in the median each December. On May 5, 1959, the New York City Council voted 20–1 to change the name of Fourth Avenue between 17th and 32nd Streets to Park Avenue South. The Pan Am Building (now MetLife Building), in between the Park Avenue Viaduct's legs north of Grand Central Terminal, was opened in 1963.
On March 12, 2014, two apartment buildings near 116th Street, 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue, were destroyed in a gas explosion. Eight people were killed and many others were injured.
The road that becomes Park Avenue originates at the Bowery. From Cooper Square at 8th Street to Union Square at 14th Street, it is known as Fourth Avenue, a 70-foot-wide (21 m) road carrying northbound traffic. At 14th Street, it turns slightly northeast to align with other avenues drawn up in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. From 14th Street to 17th Street, it forms the eastern boundary of Union Square and is known as Union Square East; its southbound lanes merge with Broadway south of 15th Street, and the thoroughfare divides into two distinct portions in the one-block section between 14th and 15th Streets. From 17th Street to 32nd Street, it is known as Park Avenue South. Above 32nd Street, for the remainder of its distance, it is known as Park Avenue, a 140-foot-wide boulevard.
From 47th to 97th Streets, Metro-North Railroad tracks run in a tunnel underneath Park Avenue (the Park Avenue Tunnel). At 97th Street, the tracks come above ground, rising onto the other Manhattan structure known as the Park Avenue Viaduct. The first street to pass under the viaduct is 102nd Street; from there to the Harlem River the railroad viaduct runs down the middle of Park Avenue. Park Avenue in Manhattan ends north of 132nd Street, with connections to the Harlem River Drive.
The flowers and greenery in the median of Manhattan's Park Avenue are privately maintained, by the Fund for Park Avenue. The begonia was specifically chosen by the Fund's gardeners because there is no automatic watering system and the floral variety is resilient under hot sun rays.
The avenue is continued on the other side of the river in the Bronx. In the Bronx, Park Avenue begins at East 135th Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood. The entire avenue is divided by Metro-North's own right of way in the borough. Between East 135th Street to East 173rd Street, Park Avenue is one way only in either direction in most sections. North of East 173rd Street it is a two way avenue continuing to Fordham Plaza where it ends.
In the 2007 film I Am Legend, Will Smith again appears on the Park Avenue Viaduct, where his character is captured by a vampire's snare.
In the 2012 film The Avengers, the climax takes place on the Park Avenue Viaduct.
In the TV series The Odd Couple, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison live at 1049 Park Avenue.
In the TV series Diff'rent Strokes, Phillip Drummond, with his daughter, Kimberly and adopted sons, Willis and Arnold Jackson live at 697 Park Avenue.
In The Simpsons episode "E-I-E-I-D'oh", Homer is ridiculed by two farmers outside Sneed's Feed & Seed (Formerly Chuck's) for having a "Park Avenue manicure". Homer responds by saying "I'm sorry, I believe in good grooming".
The PBS documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream sheds light on the gap between the impoverished people living on Park Avenue in the South Bronx and the extremely wealthy living at 740 Park Avenue in Manhattan.
In the song "Youth Gone Wild" by American band Skid Row, Park Avenue is mentioned in the lyrics: "I said 'Hey man, there's something that you oughta know. / I tell ya Park Avenue leads to Skid Row.'"
General Motors borrowed the name of the street for the Buick Park Avenue, a large luxury sedan that was produced first as the premium trim line for the Buick Electra from 1977 to 1990, and as a standalone model from 1991 to 2005.
In the intro to the late 1960s - early 1970s TV show Green Acres, Eva Gabor's character sings "Darling I love you, but give me Park Avenue!", where she lived before moving to rural Hooterville with her husband, the lawyer-turned-farmer.
^The line entered fully enclosed brick tunnels between 67th and 71st Streets, and between 80th and 96th Streets. The remainder of this segment was located in a "beam tunnel" structure, which were mostly open-air, except where cross-streets traversed the cut on steel-beam bridges.
^Sprague, J. L.; Cunningham, J. J. (2013). "A Frank Sprague Triumph: The Electrification of Grand Central Terminal [History]". IEEE Power and Energy Magazine. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). 11 (1): 58–76. doi:10.1109/mpe.2012.2222293. ISSN1540-7977.