The Yellow Brick Road: Greenwich Avenue
by: intern Charlotte Hawks, Vanderbilt University
Venturing to Greenwich Avenue today guarantees a few things: difficulty finding a parking place, ever-changing stores, a variety of restaurant options from green juices to juicy steaks, and running into people you know. Throughout its history, Greenwich Avenue has remained a steadfast part of the fabric of Greenwich life.
Greenwich Avenue began as a dirt road called “the road to Piping Point” and was transformed by the introduction of rail transportation in 1848, becoming known simply as Greenwich Avenue. Less than a decade later, the first commercial building opened on Greenwich Ave. It’s tenants? A shoe store on the first floor and law offices on the second. Horse-drawn buggies were the mode of transportation, remaining the main source of transportation until a trolley system was installed in 1901. Greenwich Ave. was laid with bricks in 1903 and commonly referred to as the “Yellow Brick Road.” Parking spaces were marked in 1928 as the automobile made it’s appearance and meters were added in 1953. It wasn’t until 1970 that Greenwich Avenue became a one-way street due to the high volume of traffic.
Before large corporate retailers such as J.Crew, Baker Furniture and Apple became Avenue staples, the street featured family owned and operated businesses. Rogers Clothing, Widman Bakery, Grossman’s, and Favorite Shoe Store, were just a few of those that many of us still remember. Betteridge Jewelers is one of the last family owned businesses to operate on the Avenue. The first major department store came to Greenwich Avenue in 1932 as Franklin Simon & Co., followed by the five and dime store, F.W. Woolworth’s in 1964. Saks Fifth Avenue replaced Woolworth’s in 1996.
But shopping and dining weren’t the only reason to come to Greenwich Avenue. Town government was conducted in what is now the Board of Education building, across from Starbucks. The late 19th century and early 20th found an auditorium, Ray’s Hall, for entertainment (which was on the corner of Lewis and Greenwich Ave.), the first library (which was located at the current Saks location), Havemeyer School, a bank and even a few inns all on Greenwich Avenue.
The Avenue was the hub of community life, from parades (one of the greatest being that which marked the end of WWI) to town gatherings. While the businesses may have changed over the year, the attention to preserving historic buildings and renovating newer ones to a standard that befits the town.
(picture from: Greenwich History)
1) Clark, William J. Images of America: Greenwich. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002.
2) Richardson, Susan. Greenwich Before 2000: A Chronology of the Town of Greenwich 1640-1999. United Kingdom: The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, 2000.