MEET ME AT… Those mysterious names over apartment building entrances.

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There are hundreds…perhaps thousands…of names over apartment house doors and building cornices all over town, memorialized for decades but known to no one. Of course, some are just made-up names thought impressive by the builders, but some commemorate wives, relatives, pets, companies…who can tell? Their names, at least, are known to passersby brefly as they rush past, to be forgotten a moment later. There’s no real research possible here, since these names have significance only to the dead. But there they are. (above: 8th Avenue, Chelsea)

My own apartment building in Bay Ridge growing up was called Tilden Court; since it was built in the 1920s it was built long after, say, NY Governor Samuel Tilden‘s narrow electoral loss to Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1876 presidential election. However, the name over the door can definitely be that of a politician as on 2nd Avenue and East 14h Street.

Woodside, Queens. Maybe they have heard of Termite Terrace?

Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Perhaps Thomas Harris’ FBI heroine was conceived here?

Above: Astoria, Queens; right, Chelsea, Manhattan

Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Those are Ionic columns, notDoric.

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Quite naturally found on Elm Avenue and East 17th Street in Midwood, Brooklyn. The diagonal streets are a remnant of an old town called South Greenfield.

Ghosts of streets

On occasion the names over apartment building doorways tell us the former names of the streets where they are located. This is especially true in Queens, where most named streets were assigned numbers from 1915-1925.

Carver Arms, 30th Street north of Newtown Road in Astoria, was built when 30th Street was called Carver Street. Ritter-Swenson real estate map, 1938

23rd Street was called Ely Avenue before the 1920s, and the subway is still calls it thusRitter-Swenson real estate map, 1938

Kindred Street, formerly Merchant, was named for U.S. Rep. John J. Kindred (1864-1937), a Virginia native who moved to Queens and was elected to the House of representatives, serving from 1911-13 and 1921-29. Kindred Street kept its name for a couple of deacdes after its brother streets had been assigned numbers, but it is now 26th Street. Neighboring Crescent Street, because it bends somewhat in its journey through Astoria, has never been given a number.

A few blocks down, Singer Street was renamed 29th Street.

Astoria Street Necrology
Steve Morse’s Queens Street Name Changes

Both streets are memorialized in Astoria,but in the case of Kindred, not where you’d expect.

The Kindred Building is found not on 26th, the former Kindred Street, but on 31st in the shadow of the el near Ditmars. Former City Council President and gubernatorial and mayoral candidatePeter Vallone and current (2006) City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. have their law practice here.

The Singer Apartment building, though, is to be found where expected, on 29th just south of Ditmars.

Staying with Astoria: The Evelyn

A. Faranda, 60th Street in Woodside

Gustav, 86th Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Leonia, Bowne Street, Flushing, Queens

Terra cotta Edna, Jerome Avenue, Bedford Park, Bronx. The sun shines on Edna as it cannot do on the rest of Jerome Avenue: between West 169th Street and Woodlawn Cemetery, Jerome Ave. toils in the shadows of the el, but here it takes a bend that brings it very briefly into sunshine.

A building at 9th Avenue and West 34th Street has an inscription in Greek, “Levas Politopulos,” which was probably the name of the builder or architect.

Astoria, Queens; Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

A pair of adjacent tongue twisters on 33rd Street, Astoria, Queens. 33rd, of course, used to be Rapelje Avenue.

From the 1870s-1890s it was commonplace for the builder to emblazon his name on the facade, as on M. Puels’ sunset-bathed building on 7th Avenue South in Greenwich Village.

Roxana, Sereno together in Prospect Heights. Unadilla, West 11th Street, West Village

Shot mostly fall 2005; page written January 29, 2006.

erpietri@earthlink.net

©2006 Midnight Fish

 





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2 Responses to MEET ME AT… Those mysterious names over apartment building entrances.

  1. Joseph says:

    Great article. I always wondered about the name over the entrance to the tenement I grew up in on the lower East Side: TILENE. No one, but absolutely no one had a clue as to who or what it referred to. A steak dinner to anyone with any information.

    Thanks.

    jc

    • Dovid Fraiman says:

      i saw in google books a cleaning product in the early 1900′s called tilene maybe the person who built the building made money off tilene

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