Monday, October 5, 2009

Petrosino Square and Kenmare Street, the Lower East Side

Today's post is by special guest-bloggers Michelle and James Nevius, authors of Inside the Apple and its corresponding blog. Michelle and James will be at Tenement Talks tonight to share more great tidbits about the Lower East Side and New York.

If the rumors are to be believed, the renovation work on tiny Petrosino Square on the Lower East Side is nearing completion. (And don’t worry if you never heard of Petrosino Square. Bounded by Lafayette, Cleveland Place, and Kenmare Street, the square lies in a distinct no-man’s land between SoHo, Nolita, and the Lower East Side.)

Until 1987, this small triangle of land was called Kenmare Square; along with nearby Kenmare Street, these were the only places on Lower East Side specifically named to honor the area’s Irish population. Prior to 1911, Kenmare Street – which is a four-block western extension of Delancey Street – didn’t exist. But with traffic increasing on the Williamsburg Bridge, the city’s board of aldermen decided to cut a street west from the Bowery to alleviate overcrowding. Rather than simply naming the new street Delancey, which would have required a complete street renumbering, the aldermen voted instead to honor Tammany Hall stalwart “Big” Tim Sullivan (and his mother) by naming the street after his mother’s birthplace, Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland.

As Alderman White noted at the time:

“In my boyhood Mrs. Sullivan exercised a motherly care over me as she did over hundreds of boys on the east side. She was one of the noblest women I ever knew, and I registered a vow a long time ago that if I could ever do anything to show my appreciation of what she did for me and other boys I would do so.”

The square was renamed in 1987 to honor police lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, a pioneer in the NYPD’s fight against organized crime. In 1909, Petrosino traveled to Sicily as part of an investigation into the Mafia and was killed by a supposed informant who turned out to be a Mafia assassination. The renaming of the square not only helps mark the area’s Italian heritage, but also its connection to the NYPD whose magnificent former headquarters stands just two blocks south of the square.

Join us for Inside the Apple Tenement Talk tonight, 6:30 PM, at 108 Orchard Street.

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