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Park Avenue Noir: 1958

Park Avenue Noir: 1958

January 3, 1958. "Seagram Building. Night view, Park Avenue." Large-format acetate negative by Samuel H. Gottscho. View full size.


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The snow-covered Ford looks like a 1954; the 1953s had different tailights. The car next to the 1957 Ford is a 1955 Plymouth. The car next to it is hard to make out but may be a 1955-56 Oldsmobile.

We Try Harder

The snow laden automobile in the foreground was a rented car. The NY State license plate 2Z1949 that year was yellow numerals on a black background. The colors were reversed every so often, The letter Z indicated a rented car. That practice ended in 1993 when a tourist drove a rented car out of an airport and was followed by armed thieves who then robbed, shot and killed him. Arriving travelers were chosen because they usually carried large sums of money and jewelry.

Too Lazy to Sweep off the Snow

I guess that, since the invention of the automobile, there have always been those people that can't be bothered to fully remove the snow from their car. At least they cleared the windows. That appears to be a 1953 or 1954 Ford.

The car that looks alarmingly like it is going the wrong way down the road at a quick glance, due to the bright tail lights and front-end-shaped back end is a 1956 or 1957 Ford. Not sure about the others. I'm sure a car expert will show up to ID those.

[1957. -tterrace]

I can hear my father now...

"Every light in the building is on! Do you kids have any idea of how expensive electricity is?"


Cue up Park Avenue Beat (Perry Mason Theme Song)

A less dominant view

Recessing the Seagram Building behind a plaza was an innovative idea at the time but now means that it doesn't particularly dominate the Park Avenue streetscape. If you go a block or two north and look to the south, similar to the view in this photo, you'll barely see the Seagram Building at all as most of it is blocked by its next door neighbor at 399 Park Avenue. That 41-story building, which opened in 1961, is built out to the sidewalk line and hence much more visible. Fortunately, the Seagram Building is more visible from the south, as its southerly neighbor at 345 Park is also recessed from the sidewalk line. That building was a decade in the future at the time of this photo, and some older buildings are seen on what became its site.

To the Seagram Building's right, further south on Park, the towers of the Waldorf-Astoria are in plain sight. Like the Seagram Building, the Waldorf has had remarkably few exterior changes over the decades. While I'm not positive, I believe that the building under construction to the left of the Seagram Building is 750 Third Avenue. It was one of the first of the big office buildings to sprout up along Third Avenue following the demolition of the Third Avenue El in 1955. While the loss of the El was a major setback to the city's transportation infrastructure, one which has never been (and probably never will be) remedied, it did make formerly down-at-the-heels Third Avenue a desirable location for businesses.

After doing a bit of research it's apparent that the photo's date is incorrect. It had not snowed for at least two weeks prior to January 3, 1958 (yes, old weather records are easily found online), and any snow that had fallen earlier in December would have melted in the unseasonably warm weather at year's end and on New Year's Day.
A bigger issue is the construction site just to the north of the Seagram Building, where 399 Park Avenue now stands. Construction on 399 Park Avenue did not begin until 1959. It may be that the developers had cleared the lot by the beginning of 1958, and erected a fence around the property, but did not start actual construction for another year. I haven't had any luck trying to research this situation online.

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