Park Avenue (formerly Fourth Avenue) is a wide boulevard that carries north and southbound traffic in New York City borough of Manhattan. Throughout most of its length, it runs parallel to Madison Avenue to the west and Lexington Avenue to the east.
The flowers and greenery in the median of Park Avenue are maintained by the Fund for Park Avenue. Begonias are a flower of choice for the Funds gardeners because there is no automatic watering system and they can cope with hot sun.
Each December Christmas trees are placed in the median. The first time they were erected colored lights were used and accidents occurred because of confusion with traffic signals in front of them. Today only yellow and white lights are used.
The road that becomes Park Avenue originates as the Bowery. From Cooper Square at 8th Street to Union Square at 14th Street, it is known as Fourth Avenue. Above 14th Street, it turns slightly east of north to align with other avenues of the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. From 14th Street to 17th Street, it forms the eastern boundary of Union Square and is known as Union Square East; its southbound lanes merge with Broadway for this distance. From 17th Street to 32nd Street, it is known as Park Avenue South, and above 32nd Street, for the remainder of its distance, it is known as Park Avenue.
Between 33rd Street and 40th Street, the left-hand northbound lane descends into the Murray Hill Tunnel. Immediately across from 40th Street, the center lanes of Park Avenue rise onto an elevated structure that goes around Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building (formerly the PanAm Building), carrying each direction of traffic on opposite sides of the buildings. The bridge, one of two structures in Manhattan known as the Park Avenue Viaduct, returns to ground level at 46th Street after going through the Helmsley Building (also referred to as the New York Central Building or 230 Park Avenue).
As Park Avenue enters Midtown north of Grand Central Terminal, it is distinguished by many glass-box skyscrapers that serve as headquarters for corporations such as JPMorgan Chase at 270 Park Avenue and 277 Park Avenue, Citigroup, Colgate-Palmolive, and MetLife at the MetLife Building.
From Grand Central to 97th Street, Metro-North Railroad tracks run in a tunnel underneath Park Avenue (the Park Avenue Tunnel). At 97th, the tracks come above ground, rising onto the other Manhattan structure known as the Park Avenue Viaduct. The first street to pass under the viaduct is 102nd Street; from there to the Harlem River the railroad viaduct runs down the middle of Park Avenue. There are no cross-walk signals or overhead traffic lights along this stretch of Park Avenue due to the presence of the tunnels underneath, and the inability to anchor the heavy devices into solid ground.
In the 1920s the portion of Park Avenue from Grand Central Station to 97th Street saw extensive apartment building construction. This long stretch of the avenue contains some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Real estate at 740 Park Avenue, for example, sells for several thousand dollars per square foot. Current and former residents in this stretch of the thoroughfare include Blackstone Group co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, Highbridge Capital Management co-founder Glenn Dubin, former Morgan Stanley executive Zoe Cruz, private equity investor Ronald O. Perelman, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and others. Schwarzman and Dubin both retain residences at 740 Park Avenue. James Cash Penney lived at 888, and Leonard Bernstein at 898. The 10021 ZIP Code, through which this section of Park Avenue runs, is the wealthiest zip code in the United States.
Park Avenue ends north of 132nd Street, with connections to the Harlem River Drive. The name is continued on the other side of the river in the Bronx by the street just east of the railroad; see Park Avenue (Bronx).
The following institutions are either headquartered or have significant business presences on Park Avenue:
Park Avenue was originally known as Fourth Avenue and carried the tracks of the New York and Harlem Railroad starting in the 1830s. The railroad originally built an open cut through Murray Hill, which was covered with grates and grass between 34th and 40th Street in the early 1850s. A section of this "park" was renamed Park Avenue in 1860. In 1867, the name applied all the way to 42nd Street. When Grand Central Depot was opened in the 1870s, the railroad tracks between 56th and 96th Streets were sunk out of sight, and, in 1888, Park Avenue was extended to the Harlem River.
In 1936, an elevated structure was built around Grand Central Terminal to allow automobile traffic to pass the station unimpeded. In October 1937, a part of the Murray Hill Tunnel was reopened for road traffic. Efforts to promote a Grand Park Avenue Expressway to Grand Concourse in the Bronx were unavailing.
On May 5, 1959, the New York City Council voted 20-1 to change the name of Fourth Avenue between 17th and 32nd Streets to Park Avenue South. In 1963, the Pan Am Building was built straddling Park Avenue atop Grand Central Terminal, with a tunnel through it to accommodate the automobile bridge.