Posts Tagged ‘slum neighborhoods NYC’

West Broadway: once a slum called “Rotten Row”

March 16, 2011

Luxe boutiques and galleries have lined Soho’s West Broadway for decades.

Which is why it’s so hard to imagine that in the 19th century, this stub of a road—then known as Laurens Street—was so wretched, residents dubbed it “Rotten Row.”

The blight started in the 1830s, when expensive brothels moved into former residences, writes Timothy J. Gilfoyle in City of Eros.

Ladies of the night tend to drag a neighborhood down. By the 1850s, the city published a report, saying of Rotten Row:

“It consists of eight houses on either side of the street, fronting each other, with as many more in the rear, containing in all about 250 families. . . . The pestiferous stench and filth of these pent-up tenements exceed description.”

Even social reformer Charles Loring Brace condemned the street, complaining of “the notorious rogues’ den” there “where, it was said, no drove of animals could pass by and keep its numbers intact.”

Hoping to change the street’s rep, officials in the 1870s renamed it “South Fifth Avenue.”

That auspicious name turned into a citywide joke. Mayor William Strong’s administration changed the moniker to West Broadway in 1896, which stuck.

Here’s the corner of Canal and West Broadway in a NYPL photo from 1936, looking much more like the West Broadway we know today.