November 16, 1824 — New York City’s Fifth Avenue opens for business today. But the high status of Fifth Avenue wasn’t confirmed until 1862, when Caroline Schermerhorn Astor settled on the southwest corner of 34th Street.
Historians say that the beginning of the end of its reign as a residential street was symbolized by the erection, in 1893, of the Astoria Hotel on the site of her house. It is later linked to its neighbor as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel (now the site of the Empire State Building).
Fifth Avenue is also the central scene in Edith Wharton’s 1920 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence, which describes New York’s social elite in the 1870s and provides historical context to Fifth Avenue and New York’s aristocratic families.
Originally a narrower thoroughfare, much of Fifth Avenue south of Central Park was widened in 1908, sacrificing its wide sidewalks to accommodate the increasing traffic. The midtown blocks were mostly residential until the first commercial building on the street venue was erected by Benjamin Altman who bought the corner lot on the northeast corner of 34th Street in 1896. He demolished the “Marble Palace” of his arch-rival, A. T. Stewart. In 1906 his department store, B. Altman and Company, occupied the whole of its block front.
Lord & Taylor’s flagship store is still located on Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library.
Words of Wisdom for November 16, 2016
“So many people in this country have a dual loyalty. They have loyalty to America, but they also are determined to have their parade up Fifth Avenue once a year… a Cuban parade or a Puerto Rican parade – many other countries. So they really don’t forget.”
— Tom Wolfe, March 2, 1931