By Allyn Freeman
Joyce Carol Oates once wrote, “She stayed in a loft on Vandam Street, below Houston; they’d met, for drinks, in a restaurant on Seventh Avenue.” Hoo-hah! No, they did not walk blocks uptown to find one of the few dining places north of West 14th Street on Seventh Avenue. Oates’ fictional character enjoyed cocktails at one of the restaurants closer to Vandam Street on Seventh Avenue South!
Oates became an unknowing literary casualty of the street nomenclature blight of the West Village, the “South”—that unwanted, useless, and unclear extension of Seventh Avenue. And, it’s time to bid farewell forever to this hundred-year-old, perplexing addition. It’s time to rename the short thoroughfare after a deserving, former Village resident.
The story begins in 1905 with a measure passed to construct an IRT subway line on the west side, from West 42nd Street to South Ferry. The cut-and-cover method of subway construction mandated the connection of Seventh Avenue, which terminated then at Greenwich Avenue, to hook up with Varick Street at Carmine Street.
Map A illustrates the West Village in 1911 when Seventh Avenue ended at West 11th Street. This map also displays the cross-street buildings intact on West 11th, Perry, Charles, West 10th, Christopher, Grove, and Barrow Streets. Through eminent domain, the subterranean subway and the above-ground roadway would demolish all of these buildings, and also eliminate the Bedford Methodist Church, a landmark since 1840.
By 1916, as seen in Map B, the subway line’s removal of cross-street buildings indicated a newly carved out wide road heading downtown. This map specifically indicates that this short strip would be called the ‘Seventh Avenue Extension.’ But planners soon realized that retaining the name ‘Seventh Avenue’ would require renumbering every building from the avenue’s downtown section beginning at Carmine Street to its uptown terminus at West 155th Street. Every shop, restaurant, and residential and commercial building on Seventh Avenue would need to be adjusted, along with the numbering on City maps.
The final naming decision, by 1918, was to stick the ‘South’ suffix onto Seventh Avenue to create a newly named, autonomous street with a distinct set of numbers. Thus, the two avenues would share a corresponding numbering system that consists, for example, of 178 Seventh Avenue and also 178 Seventh Avenue South, home to the Village Vanguard. Today, Seventh Avenue below West 14th Street and Seventh Avenue South also share the same 10014 zip code, adding another layer of needless confusion to residents, visitors, and post offices.
It’s time to replace Seventh Avenue South with a new name to honor a former resident who helped preserve much of Greenwich Village. That person is Jane Jacobs. She led the fight against Robert Moses’ two upsetting projects to extend Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Park, and to build an elevated, Lower Manhattan Expressway that would have destroyed large swaths of Chinatown and Little Italy. The newly named Jane Jacobs Avenue/Street/Boulevard could keep the current numbering system. Only the street signs and mailing address street names would need to be changed—a small price to pay for clarity.
In the future, maybe people might say, “Let’s meet at Charles and Jacobs.”