6TH AVENUE 1955

by Kevin Walsh

On 6th Avenue looking north at West 14th Street, a changing of the lamppost guard is imminent. A brand new set of aluminum octagonal-shafted poles have just been installed, sporting new General Electric Form 409 mercury lamps that gave a greenish-white light (instead of the prevailing yellow incandescent lighting at the time). You can see a remaining cast iron Twin with a globular fire alarm indicator on the corner.

The Form 109s, common in other cities, were only used in NYC on 6th Avenue and were relatively short-lived. By the mid-1960s, most had been replaced by NYC’s more common lighting, GE’s M400s and Westinghouse’s OV-25 Silverliners, the two models that would joust for NYC street lighting supremacy until 1968. That year, bright yellow sodium would be introduced along 6th Avenue and the braced masts would be replaced by higher, curving cobra necked masts. That style would come to dominate NYC streets until the LED Revolution of the mid-2010s.

In addition, in 1945 6th Avenue had been renamed Avenue of the Americas, with all official letterheads and street signs carrying the ungainly name. In 1960, the avenue received the Medallions of the Hemisphere, metal signs carrying coats of arms of the members of the Organization of American States in North, South and Central America. Most remained until the 1980s, when another lamppost replacement program (this time to retro bishop crooks) forced their removal. Today only a brief run of medallions in Greenwich Village and near Central Park along 6th Avenue remain.

Elsewhere in the photo is the neon sign of Smith’s Bar. Today, there is a Smith’s, complete with ancient neon sign, on 8th Avenue and West 44th. I wonder if this place was connected to it. On the corner, the bank building, most recently a branch of HSBC, was recently demolished.

You can also see that 6th Avenue was two-way. NYC avenues were converted to one-way, with a few exceptions, in the mid-1960s.

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

1/18/20

9 comments

Mark 805 January 18, 2020 - 3:55 pm

And a CHelsea 2 phone number on the distant building. Love those old telephone exchanges.

Reply
SAL January 18, 2020 - 9:56 pm

Wish they would hurry up and replace the LED lights, they are horrible! It seems as if they make the streets and sidewalks darker.

Reply
Kevin Walsh January 18, 2020 - 11:52 pm

They do make streets darker but they are here to stay.

Reply
Andy January 18, 2020 - 11:08 pm

Actually most of the one-way conversions were completed by 1960. Here are the years and the avenues:

1948: 9th and 10th (below 65th and 72nd Sts., respectively)
1951: Columbus and Amsterdam (extension of 1948 9th and 10th conversions to 110th St.)
1951: 1st and 2nd
1954-1957 various dates: Midtown avenues south of Central Park: 6th and Broadway; 7th and 8th
1960: 3rd and Lexington
1966: 5th and Madison
Remaining 2 way to this day: York, Park, Riverside Drive
The conversions were quite controversial when originally implemented, especially from the standpoint of the then-private bus companies that operated most of the Manhattan routes before 1962 (except 1st and 2nd Avenues, whose buses were already city-owned in 1951). Their managements contended that one-way conversions cost them ridership because potential customers would need to walk an extra block to catch a bus.

Reply
Steve Goodman January 19, 2020 - 3:38 am

I bet most NYers assumed Greenwich Savings Bank was pronounced like Greenwich Village, until they heard their radio commercials saying “Green-wich”.

Reply
William Mangahas January 19, 2020 - 1:55 pm

Something about the 1955 image of 6th Ave & 14th St tells me it was photographed on a Sunday. Where’s the traffic ?

Reply
Andrew Porter January 20, 2020 - 11:42 am

Smith’s was a chain of bars with hot food, usually hot dogs and sauerkraut. I used to go to gatherings of science fiction fans at the one here, “Smith’s Sixth,” back in the early 1960s. As long as people bought drinks and some food, we were tolerated. Everyone would sit at long tables and talk for several hours.

At the time, the extension of the 6th Avenue subway was under way, with an immense tower on 13th Street through which excavated dirt was removed. Lots of noise, as I recall.

Reply
stashy January 21, 2020 - 4:56 pm

Another 2-way remains: West End Avenue

Reply
Al Tz January 22, 2020 - 8:06 am

The neon at the uptown Smith’s Bar (8th & 44th) is quite similar but not exactly the same. I knew a man who worked at the 8th Avenue Smith’s and may have known any connection between the two,
but like the 6th Avenue bar he’s no longer with us.

Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.