On 52nd Street, a Co-op’s Members Think Numerals Are Holding Them Back
To say “I live on Beekman Place,” a tiny street on the Far East Side of Manhattan that holds a handful of lush, ornate buildings, is, in some ways, to brag.
To say “I live on Sutton Place,” a lavish and rarified avenue flush against the East River, is to brag even more.
To say “I live on 52nd Street” might mean you can see Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club from your kitchen.
So a group of shareholders at the Southgate co-op, a cluster of buildings anchored on 52nd — sandwiched between Sutton Place South at 53rd Street and Beekman Place at 51st — have set out to change the name of their block. Their goal, they say, is to toss the “52” into the dustbin altogether and replace it with something a little less evocative of a Midtown office building or a West Side strip club and a little more reminiscent of sumptuous Manhattan real estate.
“Somebody stood up at a shareholders’ meeting and said, ‘I know a way to raise the value of all our apartments that won’t cost us any money,’ ” said Steven R. Wagner, a real estate lawyer and a member of the Southgate co-op board. “And everybody goes, ‘We’re in!’ ”
A ceremonial second name has become commonplace on the streets of New York, but those monikers are all but ignored. (Ever tried to meet anyone on Edgar Allan Poe Street?) Much rarer is to actually change the name of the street.
City Council records indicate that only 10 streets have been renamed in the last five years. Among them: 163rd Road in Old Howard Beach, Queens, became Burlingham Court; Little Vesey Street in Manhattan became River Terrace; and Dr. Theodore L. Kazimiroff Boulevard, named for a Bronx dentist, had its name restored to Southern Boulevard, for the sake of clarity. (Dr. Kazimiroff lives on as an honorary name of the street.)
To build momentum for their cause, Southgate committee members have been reaching out to community groups and local politicians, like Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin and the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, but they have yet to get a firm thumbs up or thumbs down from anyone.
Ms. Lappin, who represents the stretch of 52nd Street in question, and once bid on an apartment there, abstains from all co-naming bills. She says that a commemorative plaque, or perhaps a nice tree, is a more appropriate memorial than a street sign.
“For an actual renaming, I would be open to listening to their argument,” she said. “But that’s a much higher bar.”
But what would its residents like to call 52nd Street? Perhaps Sutman? Beekton? Or could they honor a certain famous neighbor and go with Kissinger Place?
While no name has been officially decided upon, Mr. Wagner said, River Place has generated the most support.
In addition to, well, the river, that name pulls from the River House, an extravagant prewar co-op that was built at the end of the block, complete with a dock out back where residents could park their yachts, according to Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program. The dock was removed when the F.D.R. Drive (née East River Drive) was built, Mr. Dolkart said, but the building has retained a driveway that could easily hold the footprint of a nice new condo building.
The rest of the street is quite lovely as well, said Robert Bloom, a retired advertising executive who has lived in the Southgate with his wife, Harvi, for about 20 years. (Mrs. Bloom, who also worked in advertising, describes herself as the woman who introduced Monistat products to the world, taking part in its first over-the-counter ad campaign. One vote here for Harvi Place!)
Four of the Southgate buildings create a uniform line of reddish brick and polished brass down the south side of the street — the co-op has a fifth building, but the entrance is on 51st Street — and few cars drive down this dead end. It feels more consistent, Mr. Bloom said, with the streets above and below than with its neighbors to the west.
It was Mr. Bloom who came up with the idea of rebranding the block.
“I’ve had the idea for a long time that this was a very special street, and that East 52nd Street, the 400 block, was not consistent with that uniqueness,” Mr. Bloom said. “I prefer to look at it that way, as opposed to the fact that it’s going to advance the value of this,” he added, waving an arm around his living room, its walls sheathed in art. “However, in order to sell it to the board, that’s what I emphasized.”
According to StreetEasy, a Web site that tracks sales and listing data, homes on the neighboring streets do tend to be more expensive than on Mr. Bloom’s own: Since 2004, the median prices for homes on Beekman Place and Sutton Place — once called Avenue A — were higher than the median prices on 52nd Street every year except for one. And some real estate brokers agree that a more elegant name on 52nd Street might give prices a small boost.
“When you think of Beekman, you think expensive,” said Daniela Kunen, a managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman. “You think wealthy people and architecture, and you form a certain image. If you say ‘the low 50s,’ it really doesn’t tell you anything.”
Whether 52nd Street will find its way to River Place (or some such), glory remains an open question. The Council tends to grant a new name when the current one is cause for some confusion, as was the case with Dr. Kazimiroff and his boulevard, or when a local community board wants to bring back something historical.
But even if the residents do succeed, not everyone is convinced that the letters on a street sign add any more heft or dollar value than flowery words painted on a building’s awning.
“I don’t think changing the name — to something that nobody is going to catch on to for quite a while — is going to do anything for value,” said Jill Sloane, an executive vice president at Halstead Property who works in the area.
If an apartment isn’t selling on that block, she added, that’s called something else: “The market.”