Monday, May 31, 2010

Memo: Who was Lenox Avenue named after? When was it co-named Malcolm X Boulevard?

Since moving to Harlem, I've often wondered who Lenox Avenue was named after.  Sure, it's pretty clear who Malcolm X was and it even makes sense that a major thoroughfare in Harlem was named for him.  But everybody seems to refer to the road as "Lenox".  So who was Lenox and what did he do to get such a major road named for him?  I decided to look into it.

The NYC Department of City Planning
website gives a brief history of Lenox Avenue:

First known as Sixth Avenue, the portion of the Boulevard above Central Park from West 110th Street/Central Park North to 147th was named Lenox Avenue in 1887 after a millionaire philanthropist and book-collector. James Lenox donated his private collection as part of the founding material of the New York Public Library.
So Lenox donated his book collection to the NYPL?  And that gets a major avenue of the city named after the guy?  Should I start collecting books?

Turns out that it wouldn't help.  Lenox helped found the Presbyterian Hospital in NYC in 1868 and his book and art collection eventually became a whole library unto itself.  From Wikipedia:

James Lenox (19 August 1800 - 17 February 1880) was an American bibliophile and philanthropist, born in New York City. A graduate of Columbia College, Lenox was a founder of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. His collection of paintings and books eventually became known as the Lenox Library and later became part of the New York Public Library in 1895. In 1913, the collection was moved to the central library. The Frick Collection stands on the library's former Fifth Avenue site. Lenox Avenue in Harlem is named for him.
He is buried in the New York City Marble Cemetery.
His book collection included an extensive collection of Bibles, including the first Guttenberg Bible in the U.S.   When he founded the Presbyterian Hospital of New York City, he demanded “be open to all, without regard to race, creed, or color,” and the Presbyterian Home for Aged Women.  He became president of the American Bible Society and distributed bibles to the men fighting for both the North and the South in the Civil War.  He made many charitable gifts during his lifetime, and was the rare breed that sought to hide them from the public eye.

Hell of a guy!  (No pun intended related to his bible collection).

A number of NYC streets and avenues were renamed (or co-named) in 1987, including Lenox Avenue, which was co-named Malcolm X Boulevard.