5th Avenue was originally only a narrower thoroughfare but the section south of Central Park was widened in 1908, sacrificing its wide sidewalks to accommodate the increasing traffic. The midtown blocks, now famously commercial, were largely a residential area until the turn of the 20th century. The first commercial building on Fifth Avenue was erected by Benjamin Altman who bought the corner lot on the northeast corner of 34th Street in 1896.
In 1906 the B. Altman and Company Building was erected, occupying the whole of its block front. The result was the creation of a high-end shopping district that attracted fashionable women and the upscale stores that wished to serve them. The Lord & Taylor Building, formerly Lord & Taylor’s flagship store and now a WeWork office, is located on Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building and the New York Public Library Main Branch.
In the 1920s, traffic towers controlled important intersections from 14th to 59th Streets.