Tag Archives: broadway

  • Houston, We Have a Problem

    There are streets in New York whose names are known throughout the whole world. Some of them are so famous that they’re even associated with entire branches of industry. “Wall Street” stands for the global financial market, and the name “Broadway” is almost always followed by the word “musical.“ What is the history behind these street names? How did they come to be? LOCALIKE set out on a search for clues. We’ve collected the most interesting facts and want to share them with you.

    Before we begin, we’d like to make a brief excursion into the city’s history. Once upon a time, New York was actually called New Amsterdam and—yup, you guessed it—was a Dutch colony. The Dutch maintained power for a good part of the 17th century, but eventually the New Amsterdam business acumen became a burden: the trading posts were so lucrative that, in 1664, the British took over, and the city was renamed that same year.

    Wall Street
    Unfortunately, there’s no clear explanation for the name of this famous street, except that it was once called “de Waal Straat.” There are two different theories. One suggests that for a while, the street acted as the northern border of the young colony and was therefore called “wall.“ According to the second theory, the street takes its name from the 30 Walloon families that were some of the first Europeans to settle in Manhattan.

    Avenue of the Americas
    It’s possible this street name won’t ring a bell, and in fact, New Yorkers never use it themselves. However, it’s actually the official name for 6th Avenue. In 1945, at the insistence of Fiorello LaGuardia, the mayor at the time, the then run-down avenue was renamed in tribute to the Organization of American States. This international organization, whose members included the U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico, no longer exists. As far as Mayor LaGuardia’s name goes: it’s been kept alive by one of the city’s two airports.

    Christopher Street
    This street in the West Village was named after the British admiral Charles Christopher Amons. Today, though, it’s a symbol of the LGBTQ movement. It was at the Stonewall Inn on this street that the 1969 riots against the police force began.

    Park Avenue
    Today, Park Avenue is one of the most representative residential addresses in the world. Earlier it was just called 4th Avenue (according to its placement in the grid). What is now a green strip between the two lanes used to be tracks for the train line to Harlem. When these tracks gave way to green in the 1950s, the days of “4th Avenue” were also numbered.

    Lexington Avenue
    This avenue, which has both northbound and southbound traffic (this is unusual for New York) is named after a battle in the American Revolution. More interesting than that, though, is the fact that it shouldn’t even actually exist. It runs exactly between 3rd and 4th Avenues (the latter was renamed, as we mentioned). Why, then, is Lex, as New Yorkers call it, there at all? Because landowners expected to generate higher estate prices this way.

    New York’s oldest north-south axis was actually once called “Breedeweg,“ which in Dutch simply means “wide street.“ Today’s name, then, is a simple translation. Broadway not only runs through all of Manhattan and the Bronx—it ends about 30 km outside of the city limits.

    Another Dutch thing. “Bouwerij“ is Dutch for “farm,“ and “Bowery“ expresses the sound of that word to English-speaking ears. This spot, which connects Chinatown to the East Village, connected Wall Street to the bordering farmland back in the day.

    Houston Street
    The origins of this street name are rather boring and complicated—its pronunciation is the more important issue at hand. Let’s say you’ve just successfully hailed a cab and (justifiably) feel a little like a local. Your destination is on Houston Street, so you say “Houston Street“ as you’d pronounce the city in Texas (HIU-ston). Well, Houston, we have a problem—the taxi driver now wonders where exactly he should take you. In fact, the street is correctly pronounced (HOW-ston). Why, you ask? Oddly enough, there’s no good explanation.

    And, just so you can show off with ALL the facts on your next visit to New York, we’d like to inform you of one last thing. This time it’s not about streets but rather about city districts, namely Harlem and Brooklyn. In the Netherlands, there’s a city called Haarlem and a city called Breukelen. We’ll leave it at that.
    Keep on searching for facts—and see you soon in New York!