In the early 1980’s, a group of community leaders and Park Avenue building owners concerned about the deterioration of the iron fences surrounding the malls and the barren garden areas came together to form Patrons of Park Avenue (“POPA”), a Committee of The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association.
Working together with the New York City Parks Department (malls are the property of NYC Parks Department) and a landscape architect, a plan was developed to restore the iron fences to the original design, dating from 1850 along with an annual seasonal planting & maintenance program.
History of Park Avenue
Contrary to popular belief, New York City never planned to design an avenue with a green mall running through it and call it Park Avenue. The avenue was laid out on the city planning grid as Fourth Avenue.
In the 1830’s, the middle of this extra-wide thoroughfare held the tracks of the New York & Harlem Railroad, these trains were not powerful enough to climb the steep incline beginning at 32nd Street, so in 1833, an open trench was dug through Murray Hill to 40th Street.
In the early 1850’s, the railroad, responding to public concern about public safety, covered the open trench between 34th and 40th Streets. The oval boulevard malls took shape, were landscaped and the Murray Hill section of Fourth Avenue, and were renamed Park Avenue.
In the 1870’s, outraged citizens demanded that the tracks north of 42nd Street also be covered. Landscaping was installed and in the year 1888, Fourth Avenue north of Grand Central was renamed Park Avenue.
See below an image from 1908, looking north up Park Avenue from about 38th Street. On the left side between 40th and 41st Street, stands the Murray Hill Hotel with its corner towers, and between 41st and 42nd Street, the Hotel Belmont, at the time considered to be one of the tallest hotels in the world. In the far background is the early Grand Central Station.
South of 32nd Street, the name Fourth Avenue remained despite the planters installed in the 1930’s. In 1959, the City Council voted to extend the cachet of the Park Avenue name down to 17th Street, renaming that section Park Avenue South. All that remains of the old Fourth Avenue is a stretch from East 14th Street to Astor Place.
The Park Avenue Malls (32nd street to 39th street), are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.