This is how to decode any Manhattan address

These days, New Yorkers need only to whip out their phones to figure out the cross street for any Manhattan address.

But in the pre-Google Maps era, city residents had another way of deciphering cross streets. Not to scare you, but it involves a little math.

This guide, the size of a business card, sums up the formulas, which varied depending on what street address you wanted to decode.

Ephemeral reader Rich L. found this old-school gem while going through old papers and thinks it was printed in the 1960s. Try it, it really works!

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17 Responses to “This is how to decode any Manhattan address”

  1. aspicco Says:

    These kinds of things were often printed on the back of credit card sized calendars as a promotional handout for a company… the year on one side, the street decoder on the other. Had a few varieties of them. To this day, in my head, I do the math…

  2. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    Back when I was a messenger in the 1960s had that in my wallet, it sure helped.

  3. ksbeth Says:


  4. LuLu LoLo Says:

    Yes this was regularly printed in the back of telephone books you received. I happen to have one of these little cards still

  5. Dymoon Says:

    what a great little piece… interesting tidbit with morning coffee!!

  6. Sheldon Schwartz Says:

    That was always in the yellow pages telephone book
    In the front

  7. Ty Says:

    Sometime in 19th century the city wanted to change the address system to a block system where any address on an avenue would indicate the block. For example 2400 would be at 24th Street.

    The proposal was killed by small group of wealthy fifth avenue merchants who didn’t want to change their stationary.

    The numbering system actually exists in city owned properties. The River Arts Apartments are at 158-14 Riverside Drive. Near West 158th.

  8. ironrailsironweights Says:

    I Love Lucy fans shouldn’t bother; 623 E. 68th Street would be in the middle of the East River.
    On the other hand, Jerry Seinfeld’s 129 West 81st is a real building near Columbus.


  9. J. Richard Villarin Says:

    Yes, I remember the street finder. In addition to the phone company, many banks and other businesses had it on the back of their promotional pamphlets, and some also had guides to the subways, still referred to as the IRT, BMT and IND lines.

  10. Peter Bennett Says:

    I used it all the time, I believe there was always a copy in the White Pages.

  11. Tom Hakala Says:

    My father (1915 -1981) who worked in Manhattan for 50 years (from 1930 to shortly before his death in 1980) had it committed to memory. I believe his first job was as a ‘page’ for First National City Bank (Citibank) which was a sort of messenger who ran errands – both business and personal – for executives and officers at the bank. He also had the subway and elevated stops and transfer points committed to memory so, when the elevated still existed, he could get to within a few blocks of any destination in Manhattan (or ‘downtown’ Brooklyn) on the train – although that sometimes cost an extra nickel because transfers between the IRT, BMT and IND were not free in those days.

  12. Chip Says:

    These city address finders were ubiquitous on many different types of cards, and of course in the telephone Red Books. I always found it rather amazing that there really was a method to the madness of city addresses – as compared to much, if not most, of Brooklyn’s addresses whose logic is quite straightforward.

  13. Ken K in NJ Says:

    I always had one in my wallet, I’m guessing until at least the mid 1990’s.

  14. Robert Swartz Says:

    I don’t know if they still do, but the Princeton Club used to send its members one of these with a full year calendar printed on the other side every year.

  15. aspicco Says:

    By the way, the Manhattan Bus Map online via the MTA has it in the upper right!

    Click to access manbus.pdf

  16. Chip Says:

    Thanks aspicco for pointing to that. Just downloaded the locator from there.

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