How an East Village alley was renamed for a Ukrainian poet hero

From the city’s earliest days, streets were named after local bigwigs, typically a landowner. So in 1830, when it came time to name the one-block alley between today’s East Sixth and Seventh Streets (part of an early 18th century enclave called Bowery Village), the tradition continued.

The little slip between Third and Second Avenues became Hall Street, after Harlem landowner Charles Henry Hall, who sold the property to the city in 1828, according to a New York Times piece by Michael Goldman from 1999.

Hall Street didn’t always make it onto 19th century street maps, and it was changed in 1855 to Hall Place for unknown reasons. For 148 years, as Bowery Village morphed into the Lower East Side and then broke off to become the East Village, the Hall name stuck.

Hall Street, between Seventh Street and Tompkins Market on an 1840 map

Then in 1978, Charles Henry Hall was replaced by Taras Shevchenko, and the street officially bore the name Taras Shevchenko Place. Who is Taras Shevchenko, and what prompted the name change?

Hall Place made it on the map in 1903

“Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a Ukrainian writer, painter and political activist whose novels and poems, written in Ukrainian, gave forceful expression to his countrymen’s nationalist sentiment at a time when aspects of the culture, including the language, were being suppressed by the Russian czar,” Goldman wrote.

Taras Shevchenko in 1859

Considered a hero to many Ukrainians, the name change was pushed by the Ukrainian immigrants who settled around East Seventh Street after World War II and built a community dubbed “Little Ukraine” that topped 60,000 people in the years following the war, according to Village Preservation.

The site of Tomkins Market in its Hall Street days, Taras Shevchenko Place ends at McSorley’s to the north and borders St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on one side.

It also borders a newish Cooper Union building. Back in 2001 as plans for the new building unfolded, Cooper Union wanted to “demap” Taras Shevchenko Place and create a pedestrian walkway. Thanks to community pushback, that never happened.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Wikipedia]

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10 Responses to “How an East Village alley was renamed for a Ukrainian poet hero”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    In the late 1950s early 1960s I used to attend St George School which was located on Hall Place & Sixth Street. On Saturdays & Sundays a few of us kids would meet on Hall Place and hang out on building stoops, mostly lying about ourselves and watch life going by. It was great to be young and carefree alive, more so than being a responsible adult and really having nothing to contribute. Ah, but what adventures did we make up on Hall Place! Really Dead End adventures going nowhere. I’m glad I spent some time on a Hall Place building stoop.

  2. boxwoodbooks Says:

    The importance of hanging out on stoops can not be underestimated.

  3. velovixen Says:

    It seems that Ukranians had to emigrate to preserve their language and culture.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I like that the community fought Cooper Union’s plans and won. There’s a tenacity I admire.

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