Broadway Malls - 72nd to 96th Streets
This section of the Broadway Malls runs through the heart of the Upper West Side, and passes by many City landmarks. The City first acquired the land for Broadway, or Bloomingdale Road, as it was once known, in 1855. Bloomingdale Road was a main thoroughfare connecting the Dutch village of Bloomingdale, near West 90th Street, to lower Manhattan. From 1867 to 1869, Bloomingdale Road was redesigned, and in 1869, the new “Boulevard” opened, modeled after the Champs Elysées in Paris. Intended to raise area property values and employ workers laid off by the completion of Central Park, the Boulevard featured a 160-foot-wide right-of-way, twin rows of elm trees on each 15-foot sidewalk, and 30-foot-wide landscaped medians with broad, planted walk-through malls.
Many small traffic triangles were created as Manhattan’s grid street plan was superimposed over Broadway, when the upper reaches of the island began to be developed in the second half of the 19th century. A small triangle at 72nd Street honors Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901), one of the world’s most renowned composers. The area around this part of Broadway was formerly a part of the old village of Harsenville located on Bloomingdale Road, a popular setting for summer villas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today, construction is ongoing to create a new subway house and pedestrian plaza at 72nd Street, and Verdi Square’s acreage will increase in the process.
In 1899 the Boulevard was formally named Broadway. The malls as they appear today were established in 1904 after cut-and-cover construction on the IRT subway line removed the original malls. Following the paving of the road and the construction of the subway, the Upper West Side began its transition to the densely packed urban neighborhood it is today, now the most densely populated census tract in the city. The landmarked subway station at 72nd Street, dating from 1904, served residents of several landmarked apartment buildings, such as the Ansonia and the Dorilton.
Parks gained jurisdiction over the malls in 1908, and they were redesigned by Samuel Parsons, Jr. (1844-1923), and planted up to 110th Street. Among other things, the new design enclosed the malls with an iron fence. The malls were broader before IRT construction, although this renovation added sitting areas located at the intersections along Broadway. Subway vents were installed at this time up to 137th Street and some of the original wrought-iron fences still surround them.
The former comfort station building on 96th Street dates to 1927. In 1935, under Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), Parks relandscaped the malls, filling each section with trees and shrubs. In 1972, a group of West Side park advocates formed the Broadway Mall Association, which eventually attained non-profit status and which now raises significant funds for the care of the Malls. In 1984, the 96th Street comfort station was renovated, becoming home to several civic organizations and a headquarters for the Auxiliary Police Unit of the 24th Precinct. The $150,000 project, funded in part through contributions from Citibank, the Zeckendorf Company and the Lila Acheson Wallace Foundation, added a large multi-purpose meeting room and office space to the facility.
Starting in 1979 Parks teamed with the Broadway Mall Association to renovate the malls, a project that added new shrubs, ivy, and flower bulbs as well as new benches and decorative paving. Reconstruction of the malls began in 1980 and was completed in 1993, with costs in the final phase reaching about $80,000 per mall, for a total of $6.6 million. There were eight phases of construction in all and another $600,000 project completed in 2000 replanted the malls. Curbs along the malls were raised to 16 inches and the fences were removed, which proved safer for both trees and reckless motorists.
Most of the trees on Broadway date to 1980-93 renovations, although some still date to the 1930s. Large trees survive in the Broadway Malls, in part because the soil depth is generally 16 inches above street grade and four feet below grade. During the renovations, community flowerbeds were installed at the end of each mall along with new wheel chair accessible crosswalks. The benches were replaced and a chain and post fence was installed along the sides of the malls.
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