Reading a tenement on the Lower East Side

A century ago, in New York’s densely packed neighborhoods, corner buildings often had the names of the cross streets carved into the facade, usually on the second story.

It’s never been clear to me if this is because poorer neighborhoods lacked real street signs or if it was part of an ornamental trend.

It makes sense on corners that would be seen from elevated trains — but sometimes the street names appear on buildings where no elevated line ever passed. (Maybe an elevated train was planned for the corner at one time and never came to pass?)

In any event, it’s always a treat to spot a new one though, like this one on a tenement at Canal and Eldridge Streets. It’s hard to see, hiding under 120 or so years of grime and traffic exhaust.

Here’s a whole bunch more, some fanciful and lovely, others more utilitarian.

5 Responses to “Reading a tenement on the Lower East Side”

  1. Tom Hakala Says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. You will see some of the same street markings on buildings in the old sections of other U.S. cities (I can remember a few in San Francisco) and very frequently in the older sections of European Cities. I suspect that NYC (and other cities) may have had ordnances requiring the owners of corner buildings to place the signs or allow the City to do so. The builder of the photographed building very nicely cut the (required?) street markings in stone – fortunate, as they are still there for us to admire.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Tom—very interesting. I almost wish someone would start an urban history site exploring these street markings in various cities around the world.

  2. Bella Stander Says:

    Street names are engraved in the corners of the wall at the south end of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (erected 1809) on Mott/Mulberry at Prince St.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      One of my favorite corners in New York—and I’m not sure I’ve seen this one!

  3. Andrew Porter Says:

    This is common throughout British cities, and I see it here in Brooklyn Heights.

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