New York City is famous for the hyper-rational, gridded street system that covers the vast majority of Manhattan. But even a city noted for its systemic approach to street numbering, there are some baffling exceptions. As you might expect in a nearly 400 year-old city, New York has some streets whose names seem strangely out of place. Here are six NYC streets that shouldn’t have their names.

image of St Marks Place NYC

1. St. Marks Place, East Village, Manhattan

St. Marks Place (there’s no apostrophe on the street signs) needs no introduction — it’s been the countercultural epicenter of the East Village for decades, though it has backslid into something of a tourist trap over the last couple of decades. Forgotten New York has a full report on the street, with an emphasis on the mosaics of street artist Jim Power.

Why is it St. Marks Place and not plain East 8th Street? The answer lies in issues of class and cachet. Interestingly, the street never runs past the church it’s named for, St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, a 1799 structure at Second Avenue and East 10th.

Courtesy Historic Map Works

East 8th Street was laid out along with its parallel partners in the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811; the street was cut through and graded in the 1820s. Development, in the form of the odd house or two, began at that point, but the first real concentration of homes did not occur until the mid-1830s, when developer Thomas E. Davis began to build groups of Federal-style brick houses along the present stretch. To attract potential buyers, he renamed East 8th “St. Mark’s Place,” in honor of the nearby, already venerable church. Davis’ aim was to build classy dwellings on large lots set back from the street, and renaming East 8th Street for the church was one method to attract wealthy buyers. A couple of Davis’ original buildings still stand, including 20 St. Marks, the longtime home of the Sounds record store.

image of west fourth street new york

2. West 4th Street, Greenwich Village, Manhattan

For much of its route through the East Village and Greenwich Village, East/West 4th Street behaves as though it were a normal part of the grid. After ceding its name temporarily to Washington Square South, West 4th Street pushes west to Sixth Avenue. Then something strange happens. The street turns northwest, and keeps going and going. Along the way, it intersects West 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th streets, violating everything you think you know about the Manhattan street grid. All these numbered streets intersecting seems to disprove the notion that parallel lines don’t meet.

image of west 4th street and west 11th street in nyc

Of course, there’s a reason this happened. The Manhattan grid doesn’t begin in earnest until 8th Street. The streets below that, including West 4th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, once carried names, not numbers. So before the 1850s, their intersections produced no head-scratching from out-of-towners.

In the very early 1800s, West 4th Street was named for the nearby Orphan Asylum Society, which stood on Asylum Street between Bank Street and Troy Street (now West 12th). The asylum was demolished in 1833, and soon after, the street was renamed West 4th Street. Only later, sometime in the 1850s, were the other streets — Amos, Hammond, and Troy, respectively — renamed West 10th, 11th and 12th streets, sowing confusion all around.

3. Crescent Street, Long Island City, Queens

Streets in Long Island City have undergone a succession of names over the years. For example, the N train runs above 31st Street, which, before the present Queens street numbering system was adopted in the 1920s, bore the names “2nd Avenue” and “Debevoise Avenue.” The Queens Topographical Bureau devised Queens’ current street numbering system in 1915. LIC’s numbered streets begin at the East River and go higher as you travel east.

There are always a number of exceptions to the numbering, such as prominent roads like Vernon, Astoria and Northern Boulevards. There’s an especially curious one, too: the presence of Crescent Street, which is slotted in south of 24th Street. Because of Crescent Street’s various bends, however, 26th, 27th and 29th streets immediately follow it, depending on what part of Astoria you’re in. Those bends have preserved Crescent Street’s name, assuring that it doesn’t get a number.

image of crescent street map queens

Maps from the 19th century show a curved road called the Crescent between today’s 30th and 34th avenues, where Crescent Street runs today, and that slant is still in evidence, as Crescent Street is still not purely parallel to its brothers. Though it’s one-way (except for between 30th and Newtown Avenues), it is a little wider than the rest, and can handle two lanes of traffic. Crescent Street has also been called Prospect Street in the past, and that original bend may have been meant to get around a hill that the name Prospect Street referred to.

4. Senator Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Senator Street runs from Colonial Road east to Sixth Avenue in Bay Ridge, inserted between 67th and 68th streets. However, it’s not continuous; the street jags awkwardly in between Fifth and Sixth avenues, requiring a driver to make turns to stay on it.

Why would there be a named street inserted between 67th and 68th Streets? The answer is that the orientation of the streets changes subtly at about 66th Street and Fourth Avenue. This causes an extra space to open up north of 67th Street. An extra street, Senator, was inserted by town planners to make up the difference. Without it, streets running east and west could keep the same number only with difficulty.

image of senator street in brooklyn

Senator Street was named for six-term New York state Senator Henry Cruse Murphy (1810-1882) a former owner of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper and former City of Brooklyn mayor. He became a U.S. Representative from New York and an 1852 presidential candidate.

5. Bedford Park Boulevard, Bedford Park, Bronx

Manhattan and the Bronx share a street numbering system, though the Harlem River runs between the boroughs and no numbered street is truly continuous between them. The shared numbering system is a relic of a period when the Bronx and Manhattan were both part of New York County. The 1811 grid that codified Manhattan street numbering was extended into the Bronx and retained even after 1914, when the Bronx became its own borough.

For reasons unknown, both boroughs have been resolute about not having a 200th Street. In Manhattan’s Inwood, Dyckman Street takes the place of 200th, although the builders of the IND subway (now the A and C line) took some license and created “200th Street” tiled nameplates in the Dyckman Street station.

In Bedford Park, Bronx, 200th Street is replaced by Bedford Park Boulevard. The name was in place by 1906; this 1923 map shows it already in place. Why no 200th Street? Perhaps it was considered unlucky. No such fate has befallen Manhattan’s East and West 100th Streets.

6. Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn and Queens

The first thing to remember about Flushing Avenue is that it doesn’t go to Flushing. In fact, it doesn’t come within five miles of it.

Flushing Avenue takes its unusual name because of the relative isolation of Flushing, Queens. In the colonial era, marshy land and creeks cut Flushing off from traffic from the west, and because there were few good roads into Flushing, carts and coaches had to first go to Jamaica and travel north from there.

Initially, Flushing Avenue was a toll road built to be an alternative to the southern approach. It would eventually lead to Newtown (a large area known today as Elmhurst and northern Maspeth) and then to Flushing via the North Hempstead Turnpike (what is now approximately 63rd Road). Then this route went along either now-vanished roads (Strong’s Causeway, obliterated in the 1950s by the Long Island Expressway) or all-but-vanished roads (Head of the Vly Road, now a short lane called Vleigh Place) into Flushing.

Flushing Avenue joins the tradition of NYC streets named not for the neighborhoods they’re in, but for the towns they lead to: Witness Boston Road in the Bronx, which leads to U.S. Route 1, which runs all the way to Beantown.

Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY,  and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)

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