Broadway Malls - 59th to 72nd Streets
The first section of the Broadway Malls runs through one of the cultural centers of the city and is marked by the grand buildings along the way. 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.
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 triangle at 70th Street honors one of the Civil War’s best-known generals, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891), who retired in New York and resided near what is now called Sherman Square on 70th Street and Broadway. Parcels at 63rd and 66th Streets were once called Empire Park North and South, and now are named for opera star Richard Tucker (1913–1975) and the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), respectively.
Columbus Circle, one of four individual plazas and squares that mark unique transition points between the city and Central Park, is the gateway to the Broadway Malls. In 1869 the Commissioners of the Board of Central Park reported that this “open circular place was . . . laid out at the intersection of Fifty-ninth street, Eighth avenue, and Broadway,” as a turnabout for horse-drawn vehicles. In 1899, the Boulevard was formally named Broadway as workers managed to dig around and beneath the massive monument to Christopher Columbus (1892) and its 1.5 million-ton foundations in order to complete the IRT subway tunnel and Columbus Circle station in 1902.
Construction on the IRT subway line north of Columbus Circle was completed in 1904, and as cut-and-cover construction removed the original malls, the malls as they appear today began to take shape. 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.
In 1935, under Commissioner Robert Moses (1888–1981), Parks re-landscaped the malls with trees and shrubs. This stretch of Broadway underwent great changes in the 1960s following Moses’s “Slum Clearance” plans for the area. Lincoln Center (1959-69), the Metropolitan Opera House (1966) and Philharmonic Hall (1962) date to this era of the neighborhood’s development. The Lincoln Center development in particular helps define the neighborhood, which is dominated by large-scale projects and buildings more reminiscent of Midtown Manhattan than the residential areas to the north.
In 1972 a group of west-side park advocates formed the Broadway Mall Association, which eventually attained non-profit status, raising funds for 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 the malls up to 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.
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.
Directions to Broadway Malls
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