Luxe boutiques and galleries have lined Soho’s West Broadway for decades.
Which is why it’s so hard to imagine that in the 19th century, this stub of a road—then known as Laurens Street—was so wretched, residents dubbed it “Rotten Row.”
Ladies of the night tend to drag a neighborhood down. By the 1850s, the city published a report, saying of Rotten Row:
“It consists of eight houses on either side of the street, fronting each other, with as many more in the rear, containing in all about 250 families. . . . The pestiferous stench and filth of these pent-up tenements exceed description.”
Hoping to change the street’s rep, officials in the 1870s renamed it “South Fifth Avenue.”
That auspicious name turned into a citywide joke. Mayor William Strong’s administration changed the moniker to West Broadway in 1896, which stuck.
Here’s the corner of Canal and West Broadway in a NYPL photo from 1936, looking much more like the West Broadway we know today.