There’s plenty going on in this shot of 5th Avenue looking north from 34th Street in the fabulous 50s, that I snagged from the Facebook group ONLY CLASSIC NYCTA SUBWAYS BUSES/LIRR/METRO NORTH and PATH.
The Roman columns of the massive B. Altman department store are on the right. The store folded in 1989 and the building now holds classrooms for the City University of New York. Two-way auto traffic plies the avenue, which included the green and white General Motors “old-look” buses from the 1940s; the “new look” fishbowl-fronted buses succeeded them beginning in 1960. The King of All Buildings, the Empire State, is out of the photo on the left.
While modern bus stops include schedules, shelters, and in some cases, electric readouts that tell you when the next bus is coming, heavy metal signage such as what you see on the left was the rule in the 50s. The NYPD, not the Department of Traffic (now Transportation) was in charge of bus stop, one-way, and other signs in this era.
Of course, 5th Avenue had a unique set of lampposts, stoplights, and even wastebaskets. The gilded two-color stoplights boasted a figurine of Mercury, the Roman messenger god of commerce, at their apices. When these stoplights were replaced in the 1960s, some of the Mercurys would up on the twin Deskeys that ruled 5th Avenue for several decades, but today most have disappeared. You can find one at the Museum of the City of NY at 5th Avenue and 104th Street.
Circular signs of the type seen here were used to direct traffic to tunnels, while 5 or 3-sided arrowheads marked bridges. A very few of these signs can still be seen around town, but the DOT removes them as soon as they detect them.
In the distance at 35th Street is one of 5th Avenue’s original cast iron Twins, first built in 1892. They had carried a number of electric lamp designs over the years, with the Bells seen here the last in the series.
In the 1950s, public mailboxes were painted with red tops. In NYC, today, all-blue is the rule.