The internet is as confused as we are as to why it’s called the Avenue of the Americas


Wikipedia doesn’t even speculate. The Times wants four bucks for me to look in their archives for a day. And a bunch of people on a bunch of forums are really confused. Why is 6th Avenue called the Avenue of the Americas?

Seymour Butz wanted to know, and asked on YahooAnswers. RichB responded with what’s by far the most common assumption floating around:

6th Avenue was renamed Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

It was done to honor the newly formed Organization of American States, and in the 1950s this theme was extended to a series of medallions hung from lampposts along the avenue, each one honoring a different country of North, South, or Central America: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba etc.

Er, no. (But good guess, Rob) The name changed in 1945. Turns out the OAS wasn’t even chartered until 1948, and didn’t come into existence until 1951. But that bit about the medallions is true (anyone ever noticed one? ForgottenNY, which qualifiedly repeats the OAS myth, has pictures of twenty that were still up as of 2003) and RichB came a lot closer than some people over on the architecture forums of Able2Know, where Computerman was confused about pretty much everything, including how to use Wikipedia,

2 Different Streets.
They’re two different streets. Try Wikipedia.

and where kelticwizard was even farther off than RichB:

The immediate reason the name change was considered was that back in the sixties, Kennedy or Johnson- I forget which-signed an agreement with Latin American nations for greater cooperation….I do remember specifically that the sixties saw some great emphasis on using the name instead of Sixth Avenue, and some trade agreement with Latin America at the time was the reason.

The oldest specifically US-Latin American free trade agreement went into effect in 2004. So that’s no good, even if the timeline somehow worked out.

Why then? The Avenue of the Americas association, a business group, gives a clue: it was renamed to “better reflect the grandeur” of the Avenue, it says in the history section of its website. Sixth Avenue? “Gandeur?” Whatever. From what I can tell by reading first paragraphs from the Times’ archived coverage, while LaGuardia, then mayor, put forth some talk about promoting relations with Central and South America, the name was mostly pushed as a way to promote business on the Avenue. The 6th Avenue subway line opened in 1940, replacing the elevated line that had darkened the avenue since 1924, and developers and retailers just wanted a way to rebrand. The Avenue of the Americas Association (“née,” as the Times puts it, the “6th Avenue Association”) even credits itself for the name change, listing it on its website as one of the group’s “accomplishments”– along with the “substitution of busses for trolley cars.” LaGuardia was pleased with the name change, crowing that it had “caught hold not only in this city but all over the Western Hemisphere.” Hindsight…

3 responses to “The internet is as confused as we are as to why it’s called the Avenue of the Americas

  1. NYTimes story circa 1945, if you want to learn how to use a research database.

  2. seymour butz? that guy’s everywhere!

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