Mystery messages on tenement buildings

New York City’s ubiquitous six-story walkups often have what I think of as mystery monikers: a name, initials, or word carved into the facade. 

But what’s the story behind them? Like these four letters above, strangely placed at the upper right of a Hell’s Kitchen tenement.

ELSW, shorthand for the name of the builder? Or a term whose meaning has been lost to the ages?

“Progress” proclaims the entrance to this walkup in Astoria. Compared to the kind of housing people lived in before this type of dumbbell tenement hit the scene, it definitely qualifies.

Women’s first names are all over city residences, like this one on St. Mark’s Place. Who was Juliette, the builder’s daughter? Or a lost love?

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6 Responses to “Mystery messages on tenement buildings”

  1. FG Says:

    Having grown up in the area near the building “Juliette” there was a local tale that building was built by the same man who built the “Puck Building.” It was his habit to name his buildings after things related to Shakespeare. I don’t remember if it was because he so liked the Bard or if he wanted to raise his pedigreed. Any how he built this building. Again I don’t remember if he built it for his wife or in honor of her but hr did name as for Romeo and Juliette. Again this was the “neighborhood” story.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Ah, a Shakespeare connection—pretty neat if it’s true. I’d like to believe it is!

  3. snoh Says:

    ELSWorth. According to the Forgotten NY, that is the left half of the building(s).

    http://www.forgotten-ny.com/forgottentour12/12tour.html

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    The right half has been replaced by something ugly and modern.

  5. Nabe News: September 10 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] the meaning behind the names carved on so many tenement buildings across the city [Ephemeral […]

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