Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #70

Fiorello La Guardia (1882 – 1947)

70 Fiorello La Guardia

New York’s 99th mayor is popularly considered the city’s greatest. Seeing us through the Great Depression and World War II, Fiorello La Guardia was a leader of immense magnetism and authenticity, while also seen as irascible and domineering. Nicknamed “the Little Flower” for his diminutive stature, La Guardia was a Republican who defeated the notorious Tammany Hall Machine. But he was also a “New Deal” mayor who opposed bank control, enhanced public facilities, and supported federal work-relief programs. During his three terms, he unified the public transit system, created the Essex Street Market, hosted the 1939 World’s Fair, named the Avenue of the Americas, and oversaw the creation of two airports, the East River Drive, the West Side Highway, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and of course the Triborough Bridge. 12 years after La Guardia’s death, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick premiered Fiorello!, a fanciful Broadway musical about his life, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

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3 Comments

  1. Judy Baker

    Are you sure that he named Avenue of the Americas? The reason I ask is that I am pretty certain that I remember that as being 6th avenue and I remember being totally pissed that someone had renamed it. And I’m really not old enough to remember that if La Guardia was the one who did it.

    • Matthew Baker

      LaGuardia signed the bill renaming the avenue on October 2, 1945.

  2. Fiorello LaGuardia was a remarkable man. He was an “aviator” during World War I, hence his drive to have a major airport in New York City. He was fluent in Italian and Yiddish – Italian father who was a US Army bandmaster and a Jewish mother. He was also a bit of a prude. He banned burlesque in New York so if one wanted to see classic burlesque one had to go to Newark or Union City, NJ. He also banned organ grinders because of his short stature and Italian surname “organ grinder” was an ethnic slur directed towards him.
    However, he was one of our greatest mayors. The Pulitzer Prize collaboration of Jerome Weidman (libretto), Jerry Bock – music and lyrics by the incomparable Sheldon Harnick features some Broadway gems – “Little Tin Box”, “Politics and Poker” and a magnificent love song, “When Did I Fall in Love”. Sheldon Harnick recommends Audra McDonald’s recording of his beautiful lyrics and the late Jerry Bock’s superb melody

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