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The stories behind the honorary street names in the East Village and Lower East Side

Photo by Bob Krasner

By Bob Kranser

Back in 2003, the corner of 2nd St and the Bowery became ‘Joey Ramone Place’. If you’re a New Yorker, you know who Joey is. And if you don’t, please don’t admit it in public. There are almost 1,700 streets in NYC with honorary names, the results of City Council enacted bills that have been signed by the Mayor.

While many of the names will be familiar (we hope), such as Bob Marley, Gilda Radner, Humphrey Bogart and Harriett Tubman, there will be many others that make even the best repositories of trivia say, “Who the heck is that?”

The East Village and Lower East Side are filled with examples of luminaries being honored, from concert promoter Bill Graham- near the former site of his legendary Fillmore East – to champion of avant-garde theater Ellen Stewart, on the street where her beloved La Mama theater still resides. 

Photo by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner

But who are all those other names hanging onto the poles between the street numbers and the one-way signs?  Some are community leaders, some are firefighters or officers who died in the line of duty. Victims of 9/11 have been noted, as well as activists such as Frieda Zames, whose name graces East 4th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. Zames was the president of Disabled In Action of New York. She fought for disabled access to buses and subways, as well as polling places.

Further downtown you can find Hy Genee Way, named for the late president and spiritual leader of Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue, which is the only Greek Jewish Romaniote synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Back in the EV, Miriam Friedlander Way occupies East 6th St, between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Friedlander represented the East Village and Lower East Side in the New York City Council from 1974 to1991. She was an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, women, tenants, and homelessness issues.

East 9th Street between Avenues B and C is a testimonial to Armando Perez, co-founder of The Real Great Society, a community empowerment organization that was dedicated to stopping gang violence. 

The intersection of Stanton Street and Pitt Street has been designated  Marie Christopher Way to honor a respected community leader. A member of the Citizens Committee for New York and a founding member of the Alliance for a Drug Free City, Christopher was a consultant for dozens of community organizations and fought for affordable and sustainable housing and economic justice in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Another woman who made a difference in her neighborhood was Mary Spink, a former addict who turned her life around after doing time for dealing drugs. Mary Spink Way occupies the southeast corner of East 2nd Street and Avenue A, commemorating her work advocating for low income tenants as well as her helping many organizations, including the Lower East Side Girls Club, and the East Village Community Coalition.

One East Village icon who has yet to be honored is the recently deceased Jimmy Webb, who was the manager and main buyer for the pioneering St. Marks punk rock clothing store ‘Trash and Vaudeville’ for twenty years, before starting his own shop “I Need More’ on Orchard Street. A petition is in the works at Change.org to remedy that and over 5,000 names have already been collected. Besides his contribution to the world of punk, Webb deserves the honor for being one of those people who just radiated good vibes, treating everyone he met like they were special and simply making the world a better place.

You can find the Jimmy Webb petition here: www.change.org/p/mayor-bill-de-blasio-tell-nyc-to-rename-the-block-where-trash-n-vaudeville-was-jimmy-webb-place. Info on all the honorees throughout the boroughs is compiled here: http://nycstreets.info

Photo by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner
Photo by Bob Krasner

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