The mysteries surrounding some tenement names

The names chiseled onto city tenement building entrances are often pretty puzzling.

The typical tenement is more than 100 years old. With the original builders long-gone, who can explain where some of these names come from, and why they were chosen?

Like Novelty Court, on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg. Actually, a little research turned up an explanation: this used to be the site of the Novelty Theater, according to Cinema Treasures, which disappeared from city directories by the 1920s.

A. Segal’s (Secal’s?) Apartments are also in Williamsburg. But who was A. Segal, and why did he put his first initial and last name on his building?

Blennerhasset sounds like Manhasset, a town in Long Island. I’ve never seen the name anywhere else but on this tenement near Columbia University.

Who was Frances, and how would she feel about the terrible shape the building named for her is in, on Lexington Avenue in East Harlem?

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15 Responses to “The mysteries surrounding some tenement names”

  1. tacony Says:

    I’ve always wanted to live in a building with a name… I’ve lived in 6 buildings in New York, all nameless.

  2. Josie Says:

    Blennerhasset might relate to Harman Blennerhasset, a figure in the Aaron Burr conspiracy, who had a tenuous connection with New York. See: I expect there are websites and books that tell his story in interesting detail. E.g., search under Blennerasset Island.

  3. Parnassus Says:

    I don’t know which Blennerhasset the building is named after, but they were an interesting and important family. They built a home on Blennerhasset Island in the Ohio River, which has recently been restored (i.e., rebuilt) and in which they sheltered traitor Aaron Burr.

    Author Elizabeth Enright (also friend of the Glackens family mentioned in your recent “Green Car” post) wrote a story about a woman who was named “Bonnadilla” after a New York apartment building, and then traced the name to an old Western mining town.
    –Road to Parnassus

  4. aspicco Says:

    There is also “Blennerhasset and Torpenhow,” a civil parish in the Allerdale district of Cumbria, England. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 437.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Great sleuthing! The Aaron Burr connection links this English name to New York, but why the developer took it for his building remains to be seen.

  6. Bob_in_MA Says:

    I had located the Novelty Theatre myself last week. I found it in Trow’s business directory for Brooklyn & Queens from 1899:,+brooklyn&hl=en&ei=1F_mTpTkLcHw0gGEjdmBAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CHEQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=Novelty%20Theatre%2C%20brooklyn&f=false

  7. Blayze O'Brien Says:

    Hey, I recently did some research on Novelty Court. It’s also the building where Frank Serpico was shot in. If you’d like to see a copy of a report on it, I’d be glad to send it to you.

    Or simply check out this website me and the Pratt Institute worked on this past semester. Feel free to link to it!

  8. Blayze O'Brien Says:

    If you have an email address, I can send you the paper in a word doc. It’s chock full of information (nigh 15 pages worth!)

  9. tmdpny Says:

    I was always curious why WWI-era dumbbell buildings often used the word “Arms” in the name. Thoughts?

  10. wildnewyork Says:

    I have no idea. Anyone know?

  11. gimelgort Says:

    I believe “arms” originally referred to heraldry (coat of arms) in the naming of English public houses.

  12. Somebuddy Says:

    What street was A. Segal’s Apartments on?

  13. Bibi Says:

    A. Segal’s (or Secal’s, it’s hard to tell) is on Roebling between S. 2nd and S. 3rd.

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