Posts Tagged ‘Pan Am Building’

Changing views of Park Avenue in the East 50s

January 28, 2013

Has any of Manhattan’s avenues changed as much over the past 100 years as Park Avenue? Known as Fourth Avenue until the late 19th century, it was cut with railroad tracks, as evident in this 1905 photo looking south from 56th Street.

Parkavenue56thstreet1905

“Because of increased traffic, smoke and noise, the city eventually required the railroad to lower its tracks into an open cut or tunnel from 46th to 96th Streets,” according to New York Then and Now, published in 1976.

“Here we see seven tracks, of which three are temporary, while new tracks are being laid preparatory to electrification. A retaining wall is being built on each side of the cut to allow additional space for an enlarged station approach.”

On the left before the bridge at 54th Street is a Steinway piano factory, in front of the Schaefer Brewery, with the cupola, which once stood at 51st Street.

Parkavenue56thstreet1975

By 1975, when the second photo was taken, Park Avenue in midtown had become a posh canyon of office towers and a few luxury apartment houses.

The center structure is the New York Central building (now the Helmsley Building), right in front of the Pan Am Building, which opened in 1963.

Parkaveeast56thstreet2013

Today, this juncture resembles its 1975 incarnation—except the trees planted on the mall have grown taller, and the Pan Am Building is the Met Life Building, purchased from Pan Am in 1981.

[Top two photos from New York Then and Now, Dover]

The last helicopter on the Pan Am Building

May 20, 2009

Since 1981 it’s been owned by Met Life (though the Met Life sign didn’t go up until 1991)—a 60-story skyscraper behind Grand Central Station. But in 1963 it opened as the Pan Am Building, becoming sort of a symbol of post–World War II, jet-age New York City. 

Panambuilding3 Too bad the Pan Am Building lacked the beauty and grace of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings and was never especially beloved by New Yorkers. 

But it did have one distinct amenity: a helipad on the roof. A company called New York Airways regularly offered seven-minute copter service to JFK and LaGuardia Airports.

The copter shuttle operated in the 1960s and then started up again in 1977—until one helicopter’s broken landing gear caused another copter to tip over and kill four passengers waiting to board. A fifth person, a pedestrian, died when the rotor blade fell off the roof and tumbled all the way down to 43rd Street.


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