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Broadway Malls

Broadway Malls - 135th to 156th Streets

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This section of the Broadway Malls runs through the neighborhoods of Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights. The City first acquired the land for Broadway, or Bloomingdale Road, as it was once known, in 1855. From 1867 to 1869 Bloomingdale Road was redesigned, and in 1869 the new “Boulevard” opened, modeled after the Champs Elysées in Paris. Intended both to raise property values in the area 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.

Trinity Cemetery lies on both sides of Broadway between 153rd and 155th Streets. Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), co-designer of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, designed a Gothic-style bridge across Broadway on the south side of 155th Street, which linked the two properties owned by Trinity Church. The bridge stood from 1872 to 1911, when it was demolished to make way for a large chapel on the eastern corner.

In 1899, the Boulevard was formally named Broadway. Many small traffic triangles were created as Manhattan’s grid street plan was superimposed over Broadway, and the upper reaches of the island began to be developed in the second half of the 19th century. A small triangle at Hamilton Place and West 138th Street, honors Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784–1885), a distinguished 19th century Jewish philanthropist. The Montefiore Home for Chronic Individuals, precursor to the Montefiore Medical Center, was opened in 1889 at the site.

The malls in their present configuration were established in 1904 after cut-and-cover construction on the IRT subway line removed the original malls. Parks gained jurisdiction over the malls in 1908 and for the next two years the malls 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.

A stone between 147th and 148th Streets marking the position of the “first line of defense” by the Revolutionary Army was erected in 1909 by the Washington Heights chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Plans are underway to replace the tablet, which was stolen in 1997. By 1913, Parks had planted a double row of Pin oak trees, from 137th to 167th Streets. Parks officials decided not to fence the section because of the pathway through the middle of the plots, relieving the City of frequent fence repairs. The oak trees were planted close to each other, so that the walks would be “delightfully shady.” Meanwhile, the 1915 Parks Annual Report noted that fixing the fences damaged by collisions with automobiles and wagons along Broadway and Park Avenue kept four blacksmiths busy almost every day of the year.

In 1935, under Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981), Parks re-landscaped 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 raising funds for the maintenance of the malls. 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 some of the malls below 122nd Street. Curbs along the malls were raised to 16 inches and the fences were removed, which proved safer for both trees and reckless motorists.

Many of the malls along this stretch of Broadway still feature block-long promenades and sitting areas. During the 1980-93 renovations, these were converted to green malls, and the oak trees were replaced with other species, primarily London planetrees. Most of the trees on Broadway date to this era of reconstruction, although some still date to the 1930s. Large trees survive in the Broadway Malls, in part because the soil depth is generally sixteen inches above street grade and four feet below grade. Community flowerbeds were installed at the end of each mall along with new wheelchair-accessible crosswalks. The benches were replaced and a chain and post fence was installed along the sides of the malls.

Parks currently works with several community groups, including the Broadway Mall Association, the Montefiore Square Park Association, and the West Harlem Art Fund, to maintain, beautify, and plan for future capital improvements to the malls.

Directions to Broadway Malls

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