6 1/2 Avenue: The Big Picture

By April 2, 2012blog
Mayor Gaynor's vision for a new avenue, May 1910. Courtesy NY Times

As Chairman of F-POPS, it was a pleasure to witness the unanimous consent given to the DOT’s proposal for new cross-walks connecting six blocks of midtown privately owned public spaces (along the route of F-POPS’ Arcade Parade) in a path dubbed “6 1/2 Avenue”.

But what also caught our eye was a mention in a related NY Times article of a 1910 scheme by Mayor Gaynor to run a new avenue through midtown all the way from 8th Street to 59th Street. Below is a rendering, published by the NY Times in 1910, showing the new Avenue cutting through Bryant Park on its way north.

Mayor Gaynor's vision for a new avenue, May 1910. Courtesy NY TimesMayor Gaynor’s vision for a new avenue, May 1910. Courtesy NY Times.

Conceived a few years before Zoning and decades before Jane Jacob’s critique of long blocks, this Haussmann-esque proposal to bore through the urban fabric for the sake of improving the connective tissue of the city was stunning in its aspiration – if not plainly mad…

And yet: when one considers the scale of the new Park Avenue being built one avenue over at the time, or the cut and cover operations in connection with contemporary subway construction, the idea doesn’t seem as absurd.

Looking south along the future Park Ave., August 1909. Courtesy Municipal ArchivesLooking south along the future Park Ave., August 1909. Courtesy Municipal Archives.

And compared with the wholesale erasures that took place forty years later during the era of urban renewal, Gaynor’s idea seems like a modest proposal…

Lower East Side looking west about 1941 showing the original streetsLower East Side looking west about 1941 showing the original streets.

Lower East Side looking west today, almost all of the original streets (and buildings) erasedLower East Side looking west today, almost all of the original streets (and buildings) erased.