Fifth Avenue: New York, New York


Few, if any, streets in America can claim as many architecturally significant buildings as Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. Or, for that matter, as much U.S. planning history, as many contrasts, or addresses as famous and coveted. Extending along this one avenue are the historic streets of Harlem, the Museum Mile, the businesses and stores of Midtown, and Lower Manhattan's Greenwich Village. Since the 1811 Commissioner's Plan introducing the grid of New York City, Fifth Avenue has transitioned from a predominately residential street to a place of historic and landmark properties, iconic museums, world-renowned parks, penthouse apartments, and high-end retail stores.

Designated Area

Fifth Avenue between Lower Manhattan's Washington Square North to 124th Street in Harlem.

The main branch of the New York Public Library, a Beaux-Arts–style, mid-'60s building, shares the block with Bryant Park, one of 2010's Great Public Spaces. Flickr photo by wallyg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Planning Excellence

Realizing that Fifth Avenue's future depended on legal protections that would enable it to continue thriving through the 20th century, residents, property owners, and proprietors formed the Fifth Avenue Association in 1907 to fight the threat of encroaching factories. Their efforts contributed to the creation of the Zoning Resolution of 1916 — a first in the country — that restricted heights and uses along the avenue.

A half-century later, in 1965, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission was formed to spearhead the creation of four historic districts and countless restorations and property listings along the avenue.

The 11 neighborhoods located along these 117 blocks of Fifth Avenue are unique yet contribute to a uniform feel of the avenue and provide key amenities that, if missing, would present a completely different atmosphere. Greenwich Village's nearly 10-acre Washington Square Park, with its white Tuckahoe Marble monument celebrating the country's first president, is the avenue's southern terminus. At Fifth, Broadway, and East 23rd Street, the Renaissance-style Flatiron Building sits in the heart of the city's arts center, Chelsea.

At the Empire State Building, which has dominated the city's skyline at Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street since 1931, crowds form all day to visit the 86th floor observation deck. The New York Public Library, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, is the flagship branch of the city's libraries and shares the block with Bryant Park, designated an APA Great Public Space in 2010.

Continuing north into Midtown, Rockefeller Center is a favorite stop for tourists and locals, especially during the winter when the plaza features its famous holiday ice skating rink and a nearly 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. From 59th Street to 110th Street, expansive Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1858 and designated an APA Great Public Space in 2008, occupies more than 800 acres along the west side of Fifth Avenue. For the culturally inclined, 10 museums are located between 82nd and 105th streets, earning this segment of Fifth Avenue the moniker "Museum Mile."

Saint Patrick's Cathedral, a Neo-Gothic building by James Renwick Jr. and considered his finest achievement, is currently undergoing a $177 million restoration planned for completion in 2015. Flickr photo by myke (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Defining Characteristics, Features

Architecture, Historic Districts

  • Upper East Side Historic District created to preserve late 19th and early 20th Century buildings from 59th to 79th Streets; National Register of Historic Places (1984)
  • Ladies' Mile Historic District protects 440 buildings, historic department stores from 18th to 24th Streets; New York City Landmark Preservation Commission designates as local landmark (1989)
  • Madison Square North Historic District (26th to 29th Streets); includes 96 structures built 1870s-1930s; New York City Landmark Preservation Commission designates as local landmark (2001)
  • Greenwich Village Historic District (on Fifth, Washington Square Park to 12th Street); Federal, Greek Revival , Italianate, Second Empire, Neo-Grec, Queen Anne; local landmark (1969)
  • Flatiron Building (175 Fifth Avenue, 1902); 22-story Renaissance-style skyscraper by Daniel Burnham; National Historic Landmark (1989)
  • The Cathedral of Saint Patrick (between Fifth, 50th, and 51st streets, 1878); Neo-Gothic style by James Renwick; $177 million restoration to finish 2015; National Historic Landmark (1976)
  • Rockefeller Center (1939); complex of 19 Art Deco buildings between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 48th and 51st Streets; designed by Raymond Hood; National Historic Landmark (1987)
  • Empire State Building (350 Fifth Avenue, 1931); 1,250-foot Art Deco skyscraper designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon; National Historic Landmark (1986)
  • New York City Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, 1911); Beaux-Arts style is library's main branch; National Historic Landmark (1965)

Planning, Preservation

  • Fifth Avenue Association (1907); formed by concerned merchants and property owners to lobby for zoning regulations and protect the avenue from encroaching factories
  • Zoning Resolution (1916), first of its kind in the country; designated uses, heights, amount of open space to reduce shadowing of the public realm
  • New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (1965); formed to protect Fifth Avenue's limestone buildings including the New York City Public Library and B. Altman Building
  • Special Retail Zoning District (1970); adopted by Office of Midtown Planning and Development to restrict residential use and limit types of retailers allowed on Fifth Avenue
  • Special Park Improvement Zoning District (1973); established by Department of City Planning to protect architecture from 59th to 111th Streets; height limits, continuous street wall
  • Special Midtown Zoning District; recommended by Department of City Planning and adopted 1982 by New York City Council; shifted development to west and south of Fifth Avenue
  • Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (1993); organized by property owners and retailers from 46th to 61st Streets to maintain the avenue as safe, clean, welcoming

Events, Amenities

  • Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave. (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1959); prominent example of Modern Movement; added to National Register of Historic Places (2005)
  • Parades along Fifth: Martin Luther King Jr., Easter, Gay Pride, Veteran's Day, St. Patrick's Day
  • Five parks border Fifth: Washington Square, Madison Square, Bryant, Central, Marcus Garvey
  • Central Park (Frederick Law Olmsted, 1858); designated National Historic Landmark (1963)

The Empire State Building, a 1,250-foot Art Deco skyscraper designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, dominates the New York City Skyline at Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. The city has adopted various measures and created special districts to protect Fifth Avenue's historic architecture and character. Flickr photo by wallyg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).