In an ode to both the old Big Apple and its current residents, city officials on Monday unveiled the first nine restored medallions along Manhattan’s Avenue of Americas, with dozens more set to go up in the coming months.
The new medallions depict the national emblems of each of the nations and territories of the Western Hemisphere, with the first nine paying tribute to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Argentina, St. Lucia, and Uruguay.
The medallions were hung by Department of Transportation crews to lampposts along Sixth Avenue from West 42nd to West 59th Streets.
At a Jan. 30 press conference, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez lauded the new medallions as an ode to the Avenue’s origins.
“The creation of the Avenue of the Americas in 1945 was a great gesture that celebrated the cultures of our hemisphere, and these beautiful new medallions now once again properly honor the nationalities of so many of the people who live, work, and visit New York City,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
Rodriguez, who was joined at the unveiling by Mayor’s Office of International Affairs Commissioner Edward Mermelstein and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro, thanks Mayor Eric Adams for bringing the department’s dream to life.
“I want to thank Mayor Adams, who had heard from the leaders of the proud nations and territories of our hemisphere that we should get this done, as well as the dedicated staff at DOT who have done the incredible hard work to make this vision a reality,” he said.
Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue was renamed Avenue of the Americas by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia at the end of World War II. Nearly 300 medallions were installed along the avenue during the Eisenhower presidency and the Administration of Mayor Robert Wagner to reflect unity across the Western Hemisphere.
The medallions grew old over the decades and were largely ignored, officials said. Made of materials hard to replace, many had to be removed for safety reasons as they fell into disrepair.
Since taking the helm of DOT in 2022, Rodriguez vowed to preserve and protect some of the city’s most iconic symbols — especially those that represented New York City’s melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities.
Today we unveiled the first nine medallions on Manhattan’s Ave of the Americas — with dozens more to be completed in the coming months. The medallions installed today were Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia & Uruguay. pic.twitter.com/JSbY6yQBpx
— NYC DOT (@NYC_DOT) January 30, 2023
Mermelstein called Monday “a historic day in New York City.”
“NYC is a global city, and now people walking down the Avenue of the Americas can admire and reflect on our rich history,” he said. “Thank you to Mayor Adams for his leadership and vision. We are also proud of the great collaboration between my office, the consulates general, DOT, and MOIA that lead to this successful day.”
Castro, for his part, said the new medallions will serve as an important reminder to the Big Apple’s more than 3 million immigrants.
“Our city has been a symbol of hope for generations of immigrants and we must continue this commitment to the American Dream,” he said. “As New Yorkers travel through this avenue and see these medallions they will be reminded that they are welcomed here no matter where they were born.”
The new medallions are three feet in diameter and constructed out of lighter and more weather-resistant aluminum than in the past. They were designed, fabricated, and — perhaps most importantly — wind-tested by DOT, and look closer to highway signs than the department’s standard street signs. Their lightweight will also make them easy to adjust (and protect) during some of the city’s biggest events, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Whether you’re from Haiti, Uruguay, or Puerto Rico, where I’m from, New York City is a place we can all call home,” said Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga. “Thank you to DOT Commissioner Rodriguez and his team for celebrating NYC’s deep cultural heritage.”
Less than two weeks earlier, DOT came under fire for the removal of the storied the ‘Graham Ave-Ave of Puerto Rico’ street sign at Graham Avenue and Moore Street in Brooklyn. The sign was taken down — by mistake, according to the commissioner — but quickly put back by DOT workers.
At a rally held near the East Williamsburg street corner on Jan. 21, activists demanded answers from Rodriguez and Adams, as well as an apology. At an unrelated event that same day, Rodriguez said the sign was back up within three hours.
“Was the sign removed? Yes. Was a mistake made? Yes. Did I fix it? Yes,” the commissioner said.