While poking around the streets of Soho (South of Houston) and Noho (North of Houston) you can find several hidden and not-so-hidden alleyways that contain a few surprises here and there.
CBGB, the capital of underground NYC rock and roll in the 1970s, was instrumental in introducing bands like Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones, as well as many others; it hosted cutting edge rock and roll until the fall of 2006.
What’s CBGB got to do with the Alleys of Noho?
Well, the back service alley of CBGB is Extra Place, which has been there since about 1800, when landowner Philip Minthorne divided his 110-acre farm equally among his four sons and five daughters. A tiny parcel was left over, which became Extra Place.
RIGHT: The Ramones in Extra Place in the late 70s. Tommy (second from right) is there, so this is in the early days of the band. L. to R.: Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy, and Joey. The music world remembers Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone as true innovators, and more importantly, as some of the world’s great rockers. It’s hard to believe three are gone.
In early 2007, plans were announced by Bowery developers Avalon to turn Extra Place into “a slice of the Left Bank, a pedestrian mall lined with interesting boutiques and cafes.” The plans were largely realized by 2010, although the shops have not immediately appeared, the street has been paved and street signs have been installed.
Franklin Place is a one-block alley at the heart of the Castiron District, a neighborhood full of gorgeous buildings whose iron fronts were molded to match Renaissance stone designs built mainly in the late 1800s.
60 White Street, a classic castiron building constructed in 1869, can be seen at the end of Franklin Place.
Franklin Place has kept something that makes it a true oddity: worn Belgian blocks, almost cobblestones.
Jersey Street, an alley connecting Crosby and Mulberry Streets (crossing Lafayette) just south of Houston, forms the south border of the distinctive Puck Building. It’s unknown why it’s called Jersey Street; it was once known as Columbian Alley.
[photos: Herbert Steed]
Staple Street is a tiny lane running between Duane and Harrison Streets just west of Hudson Street. It’s tiny, but not so small as to not get its own pedestrian bridge, which once bridged New York Hospital buildings, arching over the tiny lane.
This part of town was once home of the butter, eggs, and cheese market, so one of the lanes running through the area was named Staple Street.
Jones Alley, an L-shaped alley running between Great Jones Street and Lafayette Street, was named for Samuel Jones, lawyer and “Father Of The New York Bar” in 1789. Jones also served as New York City’s first comptroller.
Jones originally owned the land on which Great Jones Street runs. When he deeded the land to the city he demanded the city named any street opened through the grant for him, as part of the agreement. Because the city already had a Jones Street to the west in Greenwich Village, it was decided to call it Great Jones Street because it was wider (In the 1800s, “great” also meant “large”, a meaning that the word no longer has.) Jones Alley, also in Samuel Jones’ old property, was also named for him.
If Samuel Jones could see Jones Alley now, he would probably wonder why he bothered to make the stipulation.
The rather daunting Shinbone Alley has also been remembered in song titles by artists as diverse as the Spin Doctors and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.
Shinbone Alley, connecting Lafayette Street (across from Jones Alley) and Bleecker Street (across from Mott Street) is currently blocked by barbed wire, although a close look on the pavement will reveal its ancient Belgian blocks.
It looks forbidding now, but the name “Shinbone Alley” is revered in story and song. Early 20th Century Illinois author Don Marquis used Shinbone Alley as the setting for his Archy + Mehitabel stories, about a talking cockroach, Archy, and Mehitabel, an alley cat.
Due to a tragic mishap of destiny, Archy, once a great poet, was reincarnated as a roach, but maintained the poet’s soul, which he poured out in verse each night by hopping from key to key on Mr. Don Marquis’ rusty old typewriter. Archy told stories about Mehitabel the cat, Freddy the Rat, and other denizens of the garage he lived in. Since he couldn’t manage the shift key, his verse was relatively unadorned by punctuation.
Archy + Mehitabel became a Broadway play (“Shinbone Alley”, and ultimately, Shinbone Alley became ananimated feature in 1971 with the voices of Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken.
Shinbone Alley’s street sign has been repeatedly stolen.
I know next to nothing about Freeman Alley, other than that it appears on some maps and is on the chunk of Rivington Street cut off from the rest of the street by Sara Roosevelt Park. It’s an extremely narrow laneway just off the Bowery. Improbably, it has become a nightlife hotbed, with the clubs Silo and Freeman’s.
According to Sanna Feirstein’s Naming New York, it is possibly named for surveyor Uzal Freeman, who in 1810 lived in the area.