May 15, 2024, 06:27AM

The Little Streets of New York City

There are no “big” streets in NYC; where applicable, the adjective “great” is used, as in Great Jones St. in Noho.

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I was thinking about the streets in New York City that are “Little.” In most cases that’s just what they are, but there are exceptions. I thought it’d be fun to list NYC’s streets here that have “Little” as a prefix, and note why they have that name.

If you look at a street map of western Manhattan (you can do so here) Little W. 12th St. runs between West and Gansevoort Sts., just south of W. 13th, occupying territory that W. 12th St. would be expected to occupy. But W. 12th isn’t here, since there’s already a W. 12th in the Village, running on the slanted street plan of the neighborhood, a few blocks south of here.

What happened to complicate things?

The answer goes back to the mid-1850s when the city decided to get rid of three Greenwich Village Streets: Amos, Hammond, and Troy, making them western extensions of W. 10th, 11th and 12th Sts., respectively. When the Orphan Asylum Society on Asylum Street was torn down in 1833, the city also renamed Asylum St. as a northwest extension of W. 4th, creating the familiar odd intersections of 4th and 10th, 4th and 11th, etc. that Villagers take in stride these days. These machinations left that orphaned bit of W. 12th between Gansevoort and West St. out in the cold. By 1885, that section was called N. 12th, to differentiate it from W. 12th, but apparently something a bit stronger was needed and by 1890 or so it was Little W. 12th.

Until the 1990s, Little W. 12th was the heart of the Meatpacking District, with overnight activity both from wholesale meat distributors, hookers and hustlers, but chic restaurants and retail overspread that area beginning in that decade. High rise apartments followed and today, it’s an exclusive enclave.

Little St. is little: what you see here, one block between Evans and Plymouth Sts. in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn with just one address (#60, behind the Brutalist building on the corner) is the entire length of the street. Until a few decades ago there was another block, but the modern Con Ed plant took it over, and you have a better chance of visiting the Sea of Tranquility on the moon than you do getting into Con Ed territory.

However, Little St. isn’t named for its short length. According to Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss in Brooklyn By Name, it honors a local tavern owner, John Little, who ran a ferry with Captain Samuel Evans (also honored here with a street name) from Little St. across the East River to Walnut St. in Manhattan. (Walnut St. is now called Jackson St.) Unfortunately, this is the best view you can get of the Naval Commandant’s House, which, when the Navy Yard closed in 1966, was sold to a private owner. The mansion was built in 1806. The New York Times’ late great Christopher Gray got inside for a look in 2006.

Little Nassau St. runs for one and a half blocks, from Taaffe Pl. to just past Kent Ave. in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, just south of Flushing Ave. Much of its north side is taken up by this massive former stable and administration building for the Department of Sanitation, then the Department of Street Cleaning, constructed in 1904-05 for $370,000. It occupies an entire block and today houses offices for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection.

I’ve never ascertained why it’s called Little Nassau St. Flushing Ave. is an eastern extension of Nassau St. east of Navy St.; however, at this location, Nassau St. is a couple of miles away and the street should be called “Little Flushing Ave.” Flushing Ave. south of the Navy Yard has always had that name on maps going back to the 1850s.

Little Clove Rd. is fairly busy, running west and north from Clove Rd. about a mile to Victory Blvd. on the north side of the Staten Island Expressway in Staten Island’s Sunnyside.

When I first encountered it on bus rides to Staten Island as a kid in the 1960s, I’d thought it was created as a service road along with the expressway, but this 1949 Hagstrom proves otherwise. Little Clove Rd. isn’t particularly “little” but it’s shorter than Clove Rd. itself, which “cleaves” a valley in Staten Island, cutting from the north shore all the way to Hylan Blvd.

Little Neck Parkway is hardly “little” at all as it’s a major thoroughfare from just north of the LIRR tracks south to Jericho Turnpike at Floral Park. The parkway, and the neighborhood, are named for the smaller of two peninsulas jutting into Long Island Sound: the larger one is Great Neck. In the 19th century, clams harvested in the Sound were delicacies in NYC restaurants until the waters got too polluted to support them.

Until 1920 or so Little Neck Parkway went by a number of different names; north of Marathon Parkway it was Old House Landing Rd., which went to a former dock at Virginia Point, remnants of which are still visible. South of that, it was Little Neck Rd. When the Queens Topographical Bureau decided to number Queens streets and re-number addresses, the entire length became Little Neck Parkway (instead of the “boulevard” other lengthy roads got).

As an aside, there are no “big” streets in NYC; where applicable, the adjective “great” is used, as in Great Jones St. in Noho.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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