That Time When Locals Wanted to Rename the Bowery ‘Piccadilly’ or ‘Parkhurst Avenue’

Posted on: September 18th, 2014 at 10:33 am by and
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“The Bowery as it is today [1900],” Photo: NYPLIn an age when the Bowery moniker is gold – emblazoned across apparel and television screens – it’s difficult to fathom how its name was once threatened. At the turn of the last century, a collection of local Bowery merchants petitioned on numerous occasions to force the city to rename the thoroughfare.

At least three times in twenty years – between 1895 and 1915 – said merchants wanted to disassociate the Bowery from its nasty reputation of saloons, shore-leave sailors, and tattoo parlors. Apparently business had worsened, and shopkeepers wanted to attract customers again. Many blamed the contemporary hit song “The Bowery” for scaring away customers.

A New York Times article published in April of 1895 reveals that some business owners wanted to swap Bowery with “Parkhurst Avenue” to have more mass appeal.

Talk with any of the officers of the association or the reputable merchants there who favor the change, and one will see how strongly they feel regarding the popular aversion to work on the Bowery or even purchase goods bearing a Bowery mark. One of the large wholesale firms there whose building runs through to Elizabeth Street uses the Elizabeth Street number entirely for its business address.

The Bowery is still suffering from its disagreeable history. The proposal to change the name is not due to any lack of sentimental interest, but because it seems absolutely necessary to make a fresh start under a new name to stimulate substantial business conditions.

This image has been archived or removed.

New York Times clipping from 1897, Photo: NYT

Two years later, the same concerns prompted another petition to change the Bowery’s name to “Piccadilly.” Again, the New York Times published the story. They polled random characters on the street, most of whom seemed against the action.

In all instances of name petitioning, opposition ultimately won out. According to Eric Ferrara’s The Bowery: A History of Grit, Graft and Grandeur, a local Alderman argued that:

Where will all the soldiers and sailors go if we change the name of the Bowery? They will get lost looking all around New York on their days off ship and the efficiency of the army and navy will be impaired. Change the flag of the country, but don’t change the name of the Bowery.

However, it’s worth mentioning that the community had been successful in carving “Cooper Square” from the Bowery in the 1880s.

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