by Kevin Walsh

John Jacob Astor, né Ashdor, was the richest man in the United States for a time in the early 1800s. He was originally a dealer of musical instruments as a young man in Walldorf, Germany but while en route to Baltimore in 1783 he was told about the fur trade in America and set up shop on Water Street downtown, and subsequently made $30 million. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel remembers both Astor and his hometown, as does Astoria, Queens, a town he never entered, and Astoria, Oregon, where he sent fur traders in 1811.

The beavers whose pelts made Astor rich are depicted in the station by Grueby Faience Company of Boston: “Faience” is a ceramic that differs from terra cotta in that it is double-fired for greater opacity and color brilliance.

Astor Place is the first IRT station on the line in which a graphic element of this type was executed: there would be many more in the IRT and continuing on new BMT construction on into the 1920s. While later stations would use mosaics, though, here faience was used, and you can see what we meant by rich color. The beaver, resting on a tree stump and gnawing on a trunk, is surrounded by the bellflower motif and also by the precise geometric shapes, squares and diamonds, that are also a hallmark of original subway stations: the diamond surrounded by four squares is repeated at other stations further up the line. At 22.5×14 inches these plaques are the largest in the system (excluding station name plaques), and the ten-inch borders give them added size.

The MTA sign shop made an error on this directional sign in the Astor Place station. What is it?

Photo: Bob Mulero

Robert Mulero is the webmaster of Street Lights of New York City and the co-author of The History and Design of New York City Streetlights, Past and Present  (2016, Dorrance)

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Edward July 10, 2020 - 6:39 pm

Should read 3 Avenue, not 8.

Tal Barzilai July 10, 2020 - 8:06 pm

The fact that it’s supposed to 8th Street rather than 8th Avenue and that 8th Avenue is nowhere near this subway stop.

tom July 10, 2020 - 8:11 pm

Should be 8th Street, not Avenue

Tony L July 10, 2020 - 8:18 pm

The 8th Avenue was a dead giveaway for a native New Yorker like myself.

Steve Soldwedel July 10, 2020 - 8:29 pm

It would be quite the trip to get to 8th Avenue from the Astor Place station. Teleporter, maybe?

Andy July 10, 2020 - 8:29 pm

Should say “8th Street”, not 8th Avenue.

John Ulrich July 10, 2020 - 8:45 pm

Isn’t 4th Ave really Madison Ave?

John Ulrich July 10, 2020 - 8:51 pm

8rh Ave is not adjacent to Madison.

Hart Sastrowardoyo July 10, 2020 - 8:52 pm

That’s a nice long walk. Should be 8th Street, no?

AC July 10, 2020 - 9:05 pm

It should be 8th “Street” not “Avenue”

Leslie Perelman July 10, 2020 - 9:09 pm

Eighth Avenue is nowhere near Astor Place. Should it read Eighth Street instead?

Jeff B. July 10, 2020 - 10:07 pm

They called 4 Avenue? Should be Park Avenue. But that might not have fit well on the sign which looks small.

AJ July 10, 2020 - 11:11 pm

8 Av

Anonymous July 10, 2020 - 11:22 pm

8 Street 4 Avenue

Larry Gertner July 11, 2020 - 5:05 am

No one noticed that it should read 8th Street until now?

Larry Gertner July 11, 2020 - 5:06 am

No one noticed that it should read 8 Street until now?

Ty July 11, 2020 - 5:52 am

Technically 8th Avenue IS out there somewhere.

Jeffrey Liss July 11, 2020 - 6:06 am

Wow… shouldn’t it say 8th Street???

Marco Strambolo July 11, 2020 - 7:57 am

Astor Place is nowhere near 8th Avenue. It’s hard to imagine how that mistake wasn’t picked up somewhere along the road to having the sign mounted in the station.

Ben July 11, 2020 - 7:58 am

it should be 8th Street, not 8th Avenue

James July 11, 2020 - 7:59 am

Should read 8th Street and either Lafayette or Broadway

Tom July 11, 2020 - 9:10 am

8 Street, not 8 Avenue

David July 11, 2020 - 9:26 am

Should be 8th Street, not Avenue..

Fred Glazer July 11, 2020 - 10:14 am

It should be “8 Street” not “8 Avenue”

Bruce Appelbaum July 11, 2020 - 10:17 am

I went to Cooper Union and know the local subway stations intimately. 8th Street, not 8th Avenue.

Ron S July 11, 2020 - 11:14 am

Astor Place is nowhere near 8 ave.

Pete July 11, 2020 - 11:49 am

4th Avenue was renamed Park Avenue in the early 1800s. I was born and raised in the city but have not been back to NYC for many years. As I recall only a very small area of the original Fourth Avenue still exists at the base of Union Square and runs down to Cooper Square at Eighth Street. So this sign may be correct depending on its location.
Thanks for all the great posts!

Brian Lawson July 11, 2020 - 1:09 pm

For the question, I think that the MTA meant to say 8th Street instead of 8th Avenue.

David Janover July 11, 2020 - 3:04 pm

Should be 8th Street (not 8th Avenue).
This is the stop for my alma mater, The Cooper Union.

Sheridan Waverly July 11, 2020 - 6:14 pm

Aw c’mon now – that’s way too easy: 8th Avenue should be 8th STREET!

Mark Olesnicki July 11, 2020 - 7:39 pm

It should be 8 STREET not 8 Avenue! Duh!

John Shea July 11, 2020 - 9:20 pm

Should read 8th Street

Jerry Friedman July 11, 2020 - 10:00 pm

Should be “Street” and not “Avenue” in both cases?

Jerry Friedman July 11, 2020 - 10:02 pm

Or should be 8th “Street” Anyway……

Susan Pratt July 12, 2020 - 12:53 pm

Not a New Yorker (although I’m sure I lived there in a previous life). I thought 4th Avenue. There’s no 4th Avenue.

Tal Barzilai July 15, 2020 - 6:21 pm

There is still a 4th Avenue in Manhattan that is in East Village while the rest of it was absorbed into what’s now Park Avenue South.

Mark Olesnicki July 13, 2020 - 8:14 am

There IS a 4th Avenue! Google Maps shows it running from Astor Place North to Union Square. It has street signs showing 4th Ave.

Hagstromboli July 13, 2020 - 12:35 pm

Oh yes there is; it runs from East 8th Street to East 14th Street. Check the map & see for yourself!

Dan July 15, 2020 - 5:21 pm

Three bigger questions remain unanswered:
1) How many MTA geniuses did it take to order, create, approve, and hang the sign?
2) How many have actually noticed that it’s incorrect?
3) Why hasn’t it been fixed or replaced?

Johnny Culver July 24, 2020 - 3:14 pm

Shhh, don’t tell anyone!!!

Andy Frobig August 18, 2020 - 2:26 pm

There’s a 4th Avenue from Cooper Square to Union Square. The old 4th Avenue farther uptown became Park Avenue after the New York Central tracks were covered.


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