Posts Tagged ‘Old alleys of New York City’

When Sullivan Street had a “Murderers’ Row”

August 30, 2012

Wouldn’t it be great to travel back in time and poke around the city’s old alleys and courtyards, the remnants of pre-street grid Manhattan?

Murderer’s Row in today’s West Soho was one.

No trace of this colorfully named nook exists there, amid Sullivan’s tenements and Federal-style homes. Luckily Charles Hemstreet recalls it in his 1899 book Nooks & Corners of Old New York.

“‘Murderers’ Row’ has its start where Watts Street [the top street on the map at left] ends at Sullivan, midway of the Block between Grand and Broome Streets.

“It could not be identified by its name, for it is not a ‘row’ at all, merely an ill-smelling alley, an arcade extending through a block of battered tenements.

“After running half its course through the block, the alley is broken by an intersecting space between houses—a space that is taken up by push carts, barrels, tumble-down wooden balconies and lines of drying clothes.

“‘Murderers’ Row’ is celebrated in police annals as a crime centre. But the evil doers were driven out long years ago and the houses given over to Italians. . . .

“Constant complaints are made that the houses are hovels and the alley a breeding-place for disease.”

If you wander down to look for the intersection of Sullivan and Watts Streets, you won’t find it. When Sixth Avenue was extended to Tribeca in the 1920s, the corner was obliterated—along with several tiny blocks.

But the NYPL Digital Collection has a 1916 street map of the corner.

Right: Watts and Sixth Avenue near Sullivan, about where the characters of Murderers’ Row plied their trade.