Posts Tagged ‘Jackson Pollock’

Before SoHo was SoHo (Part III): The Etymology of Street Names

June 11, 2011

One way we New Yorkers define ourselves is by where we live—in what neighborhood, on what street.  We’ve repeated our own addresses an untold number of times, yet we usually do not know for whom or for what the streets that make up our neighborhood are named. As I discovered during my research for this post, the etymology of street names reveals much about the history of the areas through which those streets run.

Houston Street

Four Views of Houston Street, late 1800's (photo: NYPL)

In the early 1800’s, Nicholas Bayard, once the largest landowner in Manhattan, cut a street through his land and named it after his son-in-law, William Houstoun, a congressman from Georgia, who, it is thought, pronounced his name house-ton, instead of hews-ton, like the city in Texas.   There is a Houston County in Georgia that is also pronounced house-ton.  At some point, the second “u” in Houstoun was dropped, but the pronunciation remained. Some have said that the name comes from the Dutch words huijs tuijn, meaning “house garden,” but this etymology is false.

Canal Street

Early Canal Street (photo: via The Bowery Boys)

Collect Pond was a fresh water pond located just southeast of the present-day corner of Broadway and Canal Street.  In the 1700’s, it was used for recreation as well as a reservoir, but as industries began dumping waste there, it became a toxic wasteland.  In 1807, the city widened a small spring that ran from the pond to the Hudson River to drain it and planted rows of trees along both sides of this new canal.  This path was known as Canal Street, even after it was paved over in 1821 because residents complained of its foul smell.

West Broadway

West Broadway at Canal, 1936 (photo: NYPL via Ephemeral NY)

Until the mid-nineteenth century, West Broadway was called Lorenz Street, after a general in George Washington’s army.  The street was nicknamed “rotten row” because it was lined with numerous brothels.  Briefly renamed South Fifth Avenue, it was re-renamed West Broadway in the 1870’s.

In 1972, Auguest Heckscher, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administrator, proposed that the stretch of West Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets be renamed “Jackson Pollock Place”  The proposal was not very popular amongst residents (read my post on the controversy surrounding this proposal here).

The portion of West Broadway that is north of Houston was renamed La Guardia Place, after former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, in 1967.

Broadway

And early view of Niblo’s Garden, at Broadway and Prince Streets, ca. 1930 (image NYPL)

Originally a native American trail called Wickquasgeck that meandered through Manhattan, Broadway was made into a wide thoroughfare by the Dutch.  Before 1899 when the name “Broadway” became the official name for the entire road, it was known by different names in different parts of the island.  The name is a literal translation of breede weg (Dutch).

Spring Street

Lispenard's Meadow taken from the N.E. corner of the present Broadway & Spring St. (Drawn by A. Anderson, 1785 via Art NYC)

Spring Street was named for a spring that flowed in Lispenard’s Meadow, which, along with Collect Pond (see “Canal Street” above), was used for recreation by early European settlers.  Spring Street was earlier known as Brannon Street, because it ran through the garden of a man of that name.

Collect Pond was located just southeast of the present-day corner of Broadway and Canal Street. (Image via The Bowery Boys)

Many of the other streets that run through SoHo, such as Mercer Street, Greene Street, and Prince Street, were named for Revolutionary War heroes whose legacies stretch beyond the borders of New York City.

So the next time you are wandering through the neighborhood, if you picture it as a seedy red light district, perhaps you will feel grateful that instead of brothels, we now have not one but TWO Camper stores along Prince Street.  But if you instead conjure an image of the bucolic expanse of Lispenard’s Meadow, perhaps your yearning to run barefoot through grass will remind you that we could use a little more green space on SoHo and a little less Spanish footwear.

Meet Me on the Corner of Pollock and De Kooning

February 5, 2011

West Broadway @ Houston, 1970's (photo by Straatis on Flickr)

Did you know that West Broadway could have been named Jackson Pollock Place?  I guess those of you who were already grownups in 1972 might remember that in February of that year, Auguest Heckscher, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Administrator, proposed that the stretch of West Broadway between Canal and Houston Streets be renamed “Jackson Pollock Place.”  The proposal was not very popular amongst residents.  According to David L. Shirey of the New York Times, some said it would commercialize SoHo, some felt that Pollock did not represent the current aesthetic of SoHo and would therefore misrepresent the neighborhood, and others thought that some of the artists living in SoHo at the time still felt they were in competition with Pollock and would therefore not want to see his name on every piece of mail they received.  If the proposal had been approved, it would have been the first time a street was named after a modern American painter in New York City.  West Broadway was previously called Fifth Avenue South and before that it was Lorenz Street, after a general in George Washington’s army.  The portion of West Broadway that is north of Houston was renamed La Guardia Place, after former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, in 1967.

A few years later, in 1976, artist Gary Reister planned to paint a mural depicting twelve pioneer abstract expressionist painters, including Jackson Pollock, at 393 West Broadway.  This plan also came up against strong opposition from the SoHo community.  Does anyone know if the mural was ever painted?  I don’t remember it.

P.S. Does anyone know the name of the artist who did the mural in the photo above?

P.P.S. Here’s a photo of the hardware store mentioned by SoHo Man his comment, with the Jason Crum mural visible in color in the background (source unknown):


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