CORNERED. Building street signs in Brooklyn

by Kevin Walsh

A few weeks ago ForgottenFan Chris Beal passed along some pictures of some of NYC’s corner building street signs, and since things move glacially in Forgottenville (it’s a 1956 kind of world around here) just now your webmaster is getting around to posting them. (Above, Hicks and Orange Streets.)

I’ve been criminally ignorant of these signs, only noticing them when they mark streets that have since changed their names. Now I recognize even the ones that are still accurate as valuable artifacts that require cultivation. I’m going to go about snapping every building street sign I can find from now on, so I’ll be lookingup even more than usual, and my cousin-in-law the chiropractress may be seeing me soon. Meanwhile here are a few from Chris.

The practice of identifying streets with building signs is older than hanging signs on light posts, as is done these days. With motorized traffic it became important for drivers to see where they were from afar and street signs have gotten ever larger; in 2005, the NYC Department of Transpoortation began hanging huge ones from the arms of the guy wired stoplights that can be found at busy intersections.

In previous decades, when carriages were pulled by nags, things were more leisurely and you could be right on a street corner before you really needed to know where you were; life was so much slower.

The oldest examples are from buildings erected in the 1850s and 1860s, when the cross streets were simply chiseled onto the corners of buildings in pairs. The above two can be found in Brooklyn Heights.

Brooklyn Heights again. Atlantic Street is now Atlantic Avenue.

The sign on the other corner opposite Cheever Place is Harrison Street, which was changed to Kane Street in the 1920s.

In later years — still not in the modern era — enamel or metal signs were hung on buildings to identify the street. These blue and white signs still appear frequently around Brooklyn, and were all likely installed at the same time.

A rare pair from my own collection. In Brooklyn, 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street meet as do 4th & 4th and so on up to 8th and 8th. In Queens such number pairings are much rarer; since there are many more opportunities for this kind of thing in Queens, you’d think it’d happen more often but it doesn’t.