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(Opinion) Let’s Call Samuel Dickstein Plaza Pitt Street!

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Earlier this month, the New York Times revisited efforts to rename Samuel Dickstein Plaza, a small stretch below Grand Street, for Henry Street Settlement founder Lillian Wald. Susan LaRosa, who works for Henry Street, believes the move would right a historical wrong (Congressman Dickstein provided sensitive information to the Soviet Union in the 1930s). A local resident, however, has a different concern about this street.

Micah Arbisser, who lives near Samuel Dickstein Plaza, says it’s just too hard to find. He wrote a letter to Community Board 3 in 2014 and recently updated it on The Seward Spark, his website:

I write regarding efforts to rename Samuel Dickstein Plaza and to request that whatever it be named, that “Pitt Street” be included in the official name and signage. As a resident of 264-266-268 East Broadway, which is located at the tangled confluence of Grand Street, Pitt Street, East Broadway and Montgomery Street, I am often frustrated trying to explain my building’s location to visitors and delivery people. Having a fifth street name involved (Samuel Dickstein Plaza) does not help. And if the two blocks of Samuel Dickstein Plaza were renamed to something entirely different, it would only compound the problem.

Samuel Dickstein Plaza was constructed in the early 1960s (amid the urban renewal that redrew the neighborhood’s map) as an extension of Pitt Street below Grand. The original site plans for the Seward Park Cooperative show it as Pitt Street, and many maps today still show Pitt extending below Grand. This is logical since the street is a direct, colinear extension of Pitt from Grand to the intersection of Henry and Montgomery. Yet when the extension was officially named by the city in 1963, it was named exclusively Samuel Dickstein Plaza. Today, all the street signs between Grand and Henry say Samuel Dickstein Plaza (not Pitt).

Other streets in the neighborhood that carry honorary names (like Abraham Kazan Street and Bialystoker Place) still retain their historical names and corresponding signage (like Columbia and Willett).  In the case of Bialystoker/Willett, a portion of Willett was renamed exclusively Bialystoker Place in 1979, but to alleviate confusion the city backed off and in 1987 renamed the street again to be co-named Bialystoker Place/Willett Street.

I realize that it may not be possible to simply rename Samuel Dickstein Plaza to Pitt Street, since the building numbering on Pitt Street starts at Grand Street and runs north (1 Pitt Street, if it still existed, would be on the northwest corner of Grand and Pitt). But it would still ease navigation if Samuel Dickstein Plaza could be named Pitt Street South (like Park Avenue South, south of 1 Park Avenue at 32nd Street) or Pitt Street Extension (like Flatbush Avenue Extension, north of 1 Flatbush Avenue at Fulton Street) or something similar. And it would be perfectly fine with me to co-name the street in honor of Lilian Wald or even leave it co-named for Congressman Dickstein (treason notwithstanding). But including the phrase “Pitt Street” in the name and the signage to help people find their way around a complicated corner of Manhattan seems far more important than choosing which other dead person should join William Pitt, the First Earl of Chatham, in his cartographic glory.

Please include the phrase “Pitt Street” in any future name for Samuel Dickstein Plaza.

A few years ago, LaRosa collected around 300 petition signatures. She’s thinking of resuming her campaign.


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