New York City has always housed some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The famous Fifth Avenue was so upmarket that by the end of the 19th century, one stretch of the avenue was known as “Millionaires’ Row.” In fact, at one point, it even had elaborate bronze traffic signals. But how did Fifth Avenue come to be—and what continues to make it one of the most desirable addresses in NYC?
NYC’s Grand Boulevard
Though Fifth Avenue began life as a narrower thoroughfare—part of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which set out the city’s original grid system—its future as a grand boulevard was cemented with the arrival of Central Park in 1857. Before the century was out, the wealthy citizens of New York were flocking here to build mansions overlooking Central Park between 59th Street and 96th Street. Grand buildings like the Mrs. William B. Astor House and William A. Clark House sprang up. With a burgeoning population of well-to-do residents, it was only a matter of time before high-end shops followed. The Italian Renaissance-style B. Altman and Company building became the first department store in the area in 1906—luring clients with luxury clothing. It heralded a panoply of high-end retail, still evident today, from Harry Winston to Gucci to Louis Vuitton.
A Cultural Explosion
Even before Fifth Avenue’s residents had such stores on their doorstep, there were cultural experiences to indulge in. In the 1860s, many took part in Central Park’s daily Carriage Parade—in which they were ridden around in flashy horse-drawn vehicles. An irony of this, perhaps, was that residents went on to lobby against public transport, such as subways and elevated trains, along Fifth Avenue. By 1880, The Metropolitan Museum of Art had relocated to its current location at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, opening the eyes of New Yorkers to fine art from around the world. Since then, the museum has been joined by another eight institutions, creating the famous Museum Mile—a perennially popular attraction.
Living on Fifth Avenue Today
For those who want to experience life as a Fifth Avenue resident—but don’t want to buy a mansion outright—Urbana Properties offer wonderfully located luxury apartment rentals. 800 Fifth Avenue presides over the corner of 61st Street on Central Park, providing the New York pedigree of the same view offered to yesteryear’s denizens of Fifth Avenue apartments. 985 Fifth Avenue—just north of 79th Street—also boasts sweeping views of the park and various historic landmarks. Perhaps you’ll even catch sight of one of the horse-drawn carriages that still travel through Central Park today. The history of Fifth Avenue is forever palpable.