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Sixth Avenue – officially Avenue of the Americas, although this name is seldom used by New Yorkers – is a major thoroughfare in New York City's borough of Manhattan, on which traffic runs northbound, or "uptown". It is commercial for much of its length.
Sixth Avenue begins four blocks below Canal Street, at Franklin Street in TriBeCa, where the northbound Church Street divides into Sixth Avenue to the left and the local continuation of Church Street to the right, which then ends at Canal Street. From this beginning, Sixth Avenue traverses SoHo and Greenwich Village, roughly divides Chelsea from the Flatiron District and NoMad, passes through the Garment District and skirts the edge of the Theatre District while passing through Midtown Manhattan.
Sixth Avenue's northern end is at Central Park South, adjacent to the Artists Gate traffic entrance to Central Park at Center Drive. The portion of Sixth Avenue running north of Central Park was renamed Lenox Avenue in 1887 and co-named Malcolm X Boulevard in 1987, which is sometimes a source of confusion.
Sixth Avenue was laid out in the Commissioners' Plan of 1811.
The elevated IRT Sixth Avenue Line was constructed on Sixth Avenue in 1878, darkening the street and reducing its real-estate value. The "el" came down in stages, beginning in Greenwich Village in 1938-39.
As originally designed, Sixth Avenue's southern terminus was at Carmine Street in Greenwich Village. Proposals to extend the street south from that point, to allow easier access to lower Manhattan, were discussed by the city's Board of Aldermen as early as the mid-1860s. The southern extension was carried out in the mid-1920s, to ease traffic in the Holland Tunnel, facilitate construction of the IND Eighth Avenue Line and to connect with Church Street near its northern end, forming a continuous four-lane through-route for traffic from Lower Manhattan.
Construction of the extension resulted in considerable dislocation to existing residents. One historian said that "ten thousand people were displaced, most of them Italian immigrants who knew no other home in America". The WPA Guide to New York City said that the extension resulted in blank side walls facing the "uninspiring thoroughfare" and small leftover spaces. Dozens of buildings, including the original Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, were demolished.
The avenue's official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who signed the bill into law on October 2, 1945. The intent was to honor the nations of the Organization of American States. It was felt at the time that the name would provide greater grandeur to a shabby street, and to promote trade with the Western Hemisphere. After the name change, round signs were attached to streetlights on the avenue, showing the national seals of all the nations in the OAS.
Demolition of the Sixth Avenue el resulted in accelerated commercial development of the avenue in Midtown. Beginning in the 1960s, the avenue was entirely rebuilt above 42nd Street as an all-but-uninterrupted avenue of corporate headquarters housed in glass slab towers of International Modernist style. Among the buildings constructed was the CBS Building at 52nd Street, by Eero Saarinen (1965), dubbed "Black Rock" from its dark granite piers that run from base to crown without a break; this designated landmark is Saarinen's only skyscraper.
In the mid-1970s, the city "spruced up" the street, including the addition of patterned brick crosswalks, repainting of streetlamps, and new pedestrian plazas. Special lighting, which is rare through most of the city, was also installed.
New Yorkers seldom used the avenue's new name, and the street has been labelled as both "Avenue of the Americas" and "Sixth Avenue" in recent years. Most of the old round signs with country emblems were gone by the late 1990s, and the ones remaining were showing signs of age.
Sights along Sixth Avenue include Juan Pablo Duarte Square, Greenwich Village with the polychrome High Victorian Gothic Jefferson Market Courthouse, currently occupied by the Jefferson Market Library; the surviving stretch of grand department stores of 1880 to 1900 in the Ladies' Mile Historic District that runs from 18th Street to 23rd Street; the former wholesale flower district; Herald Square at 34th Street, site of Macy's department store; Bryant Park from 40th to 42nd Street; and the corporate stretch above 42nd Street, which includes the Bank of America Tower (New York), W. R. Grace Building, International Center of Photography, Rockefeller Center — including the Time-Life Building, News Corp. Building, Exxon Building and McGraw-Hill Building, as well as Radio City Music Hall.
Sixth Avenue is the site of the annual Village Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village.
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