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. 

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”


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6 Responses to A BIT OF FIFTH

  1. John says:

    I like the old arrow bus stop signs Freud notwithstanding.

  2. Kevin Fallon says:

    I am more of a train guy than a bus guy, but I don’t recall the Manhattan buses ever being green and white. If this is the 50’s, the two buses pictured would have been operated by Fifth Avenue Coach. Their color scheme was usually a cream over green. Closer to the end of their days, some of those buses were painted silver over green.

    Fifth Avenue Coach went bankrupt and became part of the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MaBSTOA) in 1962. That was a precursor to the current MTA. MaBSTOA painted these buses a light mint green over dark green.

    • Andy says:

      Correct about the buses. Fifth Avenue Coach (FACO) “old look” buses as shown in the photo were generally cream (or light tan) over a green bottom half. In the late 50s some of the newer GM old look buses were delivered in a bright yellow and green paint scheme. FACO buses were never white over green, but the colors in the photo may give that illusion due its age.

      The March 1962 creation of MABSTOA occurred not due to bankruptcy but due to a sudden strike triggered by a new FACO management’s attempt to fire some high-seniority workers in an attempt to cut costs. When the firings occurred the Transport Workers Union immediately walked out because the firings violated the TWU – FACO contract. After three weeks NYC government seized the buses and garages and transferred the operation to the newly-formed MABSTOA, which was hastily created as a NYCTA subsidiary to get the buses back on the street. After MABSTOA took over many of the former FACO buses were repainted in the NYCTA scheme of light mint green over dark green, as you correctly noted.

      Remember all of this stuff well, as I witnessed all of it first hand. It’s covered in Chapter 16 of my 2015 book, From a Nickel to a Token.

  3. John says:

    The last of the TA Mack buses Brooklyn 1965. Light green over dark green. Staten Island had these until they were replaced by the new look GMs.

  4. NY2AZ says:

    Memories of “North By Northwest” (1959). Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo features one of those buses (the door closes just as he tries to board). Meanwhile, uptown destiny awaits Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant). I love all things midcentury.

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