January 30, 2013 is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 131st birthday, and what better way to celebrate in a FNY manner than to finally nail down the source, or the southern end, of where the Drive begins — at least as far as the Department of Transportation determines it. For me, that’s always been a gray area.
Before the elevated parkway that shrouds South Street was built in the early 1940s, and renamed FDR Drive after the president’s death in 1945, South Street itself was right at the edge of the island, and the East River licked at it and occasionally inundated it. The prows and bowsprits of sailing ships hung over it.
At its northeastern end, it made a dogleg at Montgomery Street, with Front Street taking its place and running northeast. In the 1890s, South Street came to an end at the now-vanished Corlears Street. the bend in the East river north is called Corlear’s Hook.
This 1949 Hasgtrom finds the Lower East Side in transition. The East River Drive is still new, while most of the major housing projects that dominate the neighborhood haven’t appeared yet with the exception of the Vladeck Houses, the Al Smith Houses, and Knickerbocker Village, and most of the area’s cross streets are still completely intact.
The city has never quite known what to call the elevated viaduct over South Street. It’s called the East Side Express Highway, or the South Street Expres Viaduct, or a combination of those terms. (I imagine most motorists just call it the FDR Drive.)
Here, the South Street dogleg is preserved, ending at Pier 45 (today there are no piers north of Pier 17, in the Seaport). Front Street continues to run along the East River Drive, which is a surface road east of Gouverneur Slip. Today, Front Street gets no further north than Dover Street.
Today the DOT marks the FDR Drive as far south as Montgomery Street, which is a two-lane route with a center mall running along the Vladeck Houses. Montgomery has always been the point where South Street doglegged to the east, and to this day, traffic uses it to gain access to the FDR Drive going northbound.
Thus, Montgomery can claim to be the only street that intersects both South Street and the FDR Drive.