Over the last few hundred years, New York City has designated 54 honorary Squares. LeRoy McCarthy is in a fight with Manhattan’s Community Board 3 to make Beastie Boys Square the 55th. While many have debated the validity of this proposed honor, maybe it’s time to examine the previously named public spaces.
Squares named after local men who died four our country.
Kimlau Square (Chinatown) – Second Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau. Kimlau was a Chinese-American who died on a Japanese bombing mission in WWII.
McCarthy Square (West Village) – Private First Class Bernard Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was the first reported death of a Greenwich Village resident in WWII.
McKenna Square (Washington Heights) – William J. McKenna. The West 173rd St resident died from wounds suffered in WWI.
Worth Square (Flatiron) – General William Jenkins Worth. Worth died of cholera while fighting in the Mexican War.
Mitchel Square (Washington Heights) – John Purroy Mitchel. Mitchel was the youngest elected mayor of New York City in 1913. After his term he enlisted to fight in World War I but was killed during a training exercise.
Donellan Square (Hamilton Heights) – Private First Class Timothy Donnellan. The Irish immigrant and Hamilton Heights resident died in World War I.
Dorrance Brooks Square (Harlem) – Private First Class Dorrance Brooks
Brooks was a Harlem resident who died in France shortly before the end of World War I. This was the first public square to be named after an African American soldier.
This is also a mostly-unassailable group.
Fredrica L. Teer Square (Harlem) – activist, founded the National Black Theatre. Teer also helped organize and deliver busloads of people to the March on Washington.
A Philip Randolph Square (Harlem) – Civil Rights leader. Randolph organized and led the first predominantly black labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
African Square (Harlem) – The location of speeches delivered by famous black activists Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois. (One could argue that giving it the vague name of “African Square” instead of honoring a specific individual lessens the honor. “African” can also mean Somali warlords, Idi Amin, or Muammar Gaddafi.)
Yes, they did good deeds. No, nobody is saying, “Meet me at Gustave Hartman Square.”
Gustave Hartman Square (Alphabet City) – Municipal court judge and philanthropist Hartman devoted a great deal of time and his own money founding and running the Israel Orphan Asylum.
Rheba Liebowitz Square (Lower East Side) – Community activist Rheba is one of the last people on earth to not exist on a Google search.
Mulry Square (West Village) – President of Emigrant Savings Bank, Mulry was pivotal to the success of the oldest bank in NYC and was a charitable member of the community. But, the end of the day, Emigrant Savings Bank turned out to be yet another bank in need of a bailout.
George & Annette Murphy Square (Upper East Side) – The Murphies created Asphalt Green recreation complex. The couple spearheaded an effort to transform an abandoned asphalt plant on 90th and York and converted it into a nonprofit five and a half acre recreation complex.
John McKean Square (Tudor City) – Advocate of the Tudor City Association. Unfortunately, Tudor City’s most famous moment was appearing in Godfather III.
Pierre Toussaint Square (Downtown) – Haitian-slave-turned-successful-and-charitable-New-Yorker. Toussaint used his substantial hairdressing income to help out the less fortunate. The city returned the favor by erecting a sign with a misspelled street sign.
Some are exceptional… Others? Not so much.
John Jay Square (Upper East Side) – American statesman and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay’s most famous action was negotiating a treaty that resolved post-Revolutionary War tensions between the United States and Britain.
John J. Lamula Square (Lower East Side) – State assemblyman and key sponsor of the Alfred E. Smith houses in Lower Manhattan. Lamula also was chairman of the “Truth Squad,” a group dedicated to wasteful government spending. Ironically, his actions led to the city spending money and resources dedicating a square in his honor.
Samuel A. Spiegel Square (Lower East Side) – City Civil Court and NY Supreme Court Judge Samuel Spiegel. Spiegel was known as “The Forgotten Man in Housing.” He helped create laws to stop enabling slumlords.
Foley Square (Downtown) – Tammany Hall Leader and local saloon owner “Big Tom” Foley
Yes, Foley and Tammany Hall helped empower thousands of lower-class Irish people in New York City. But, they were also responsible for decades of political corruption. In fact, in 2011, there was even a proposal to rename the square.
Tompkins Square (Alphabet City) – Daniel D. Thompkins was James Monroe’s VP and early 19th century New York governor. Thompson altered New York legislation so all slaves would be free in 1827. Helped establish a Staten Island ferry service. So, in some ways, he was responsible for paving the way for the Wu Tang Clan.
David B. Friedland Square (Washington Heights) – City Council Member
Don’t get your hopes up. He’s not David Friedland, the crooked NJ politician who faked his own death only to be discovered after becoming a successful SCUBA chain operator in Maldives.
Just like everywhere else in America: If you have enough dough, you get to have your name up on a sign.
Gracie Square (Upper East Side) – Scottish shipping magnate Archibald Gracie. It should be noted ol’ Archie had some trouble paying the bills and that’s why Gracie Mansion is now in the possession of the Mayor’s office.
Stuyvesant Square (Grammercy) – Peter Stuyvesant, the rich great-great-grandson donated four acres of his farm to the city. His famous great-great-grandfather has a passing resemblance to the portrait in Ghostbusters 2.
Cooper Square (East Village) – Peter Cooper, 19th Century industrialist and philanthropist. Cooper had the rare combination of building the first steam engine and also possessing the worst beard in history.
Just like everywhere else in America: If you’re famous, you get to have your name up on a sign.
Machito Square (Harlem) – Afro-Cuban jazz musician Machito, credited with creating salsa and Cubop music. If you’ve ever had a neighbor with a love of salsa, driving by a sign honoring the father of the genre isn’t exactly going to fill you up with warm feelings.
Greeley Square (Midtown) – Newspaper editor and political leader Horace Greeley. On one hand, he was a strong proponent of the anti-slavery movement, free education, and western expansion. On the other, he opposed women’s suffrage. He’s what you would call a selective asshole.
Steve Flanders Square (City Hall) – NYC journalist Steve Flanders, chief political reporter for WCBS radio. Flanders died on his way to a news conference at City Hall in 1983.
Herman Melville Square (Midtown) – Famous American novelist. This square is where Melville lived and wrote Moby-Dick, er, make that Billy Budd. He saved his good stuff for when he was living in Massachusetts.
What can you say about the church? Nothing, if you don’t want to get Catholics all hot and bothered.
Holy Rosary Square (East Harlem) – Honored during the 1984 Centennial celebration. Holy Rosary helped late 19th Century Irish and German immigrants assimilate to their new city.
Father Demo Square (West Village) – Father Antonio Demo. Father Demo provided spiritual care to the Italian community after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911.
Duffy Square (Times Square) – Father Francis Patrick Duffy, the highest decorated cleric in US Army history during World War I. Fun Fact: He was even portrayed in a James Cagney movie, The Fighting 69th. Fun Fact 2: It’s nearly impossible to even sit through the trailer.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But for this lucky group, they made it somewhere else and got honored for it here.
Duarte Square (TriBeCa) – Juan Pablo Duarte, founder of the Dominican Republic
Dominicans represent nearly one quarter of the city’s Hispanic population. Unfortunately, A-Rod is one of those New York Dominicans.
Lafayette Square (Harlem) - Named for: Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette. The French military leader assisted the US in their fight against the British in the Revolutionary War.
Golda Meir Square (Garment District) – Former prime minister of Israel.“The Iron Lady” of Israel politics was a fearless leader. Meir resisted use of nuclear weapons when given the chance. She had no problem straightening out Pope Paul VI after an ignorant remark.
Chatham Square (Chinatown) – William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham and Prime Minister of Great Britain
Pitt was respected by the colonists as he defended their opposition to the stamp act and also worked to avoid the Revolutionary War.
Verdi Square (Upper West Side) – opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. This is the street sophisticated people pretend to like.
Peretz Square (Lower East Side) – Polish, Yiddish playwright Isaac Leib Peretz. The influential writer implored Jews to adapt to the changing times while keeping their heritage. Peretz believed each culture should be accepted and celebrated.
Hanover Square (Financial District) – King George I from House of Hanover. This guy was a real zero. He had his wife (who incidentally was his cousin) thrown in jail for 30 years. Then his mistress made bad investments that put the UK on the brink of financial ruin.
Sometimes, the city just didn’t have any creative juices flowing, pulled a Brick Tamland, and just named squares after non-people.
Union Square (Flatiron) – not the union of our country but just the union of two streets (4th Ave & Broadway). It is the least inspired name of any honorary square in Manhattan.
Little Red Square (West Village) – plaza adjacent to the Little Red School House. If you owe them money, the Little Red Schoolhouse turns into the Big, Bad Loan Shark.
SoHo Square (SoHo) – Area south of Houston. The lack of naming originality rivals parents giving their child the same first and last name.
St. Vincent’s Square (West Village) – Former teaching hospital hospital.St. Vincent’s is now being converted into just what the Big Apple needs – more luxury apartments.
Legion Memorial Square (Financial District) – American Legion. The American Legion is dedicated to assisting veterans and their families.
Herald Square (Midtown) – Defunct newspaper (New York Herald). The Herald was a pioneer in financial, sports, and nonpartisan political reporting.
Times Square (Times Square) – Still chugging along newspaper (New York Times). The Gray Lady is a local business that is considered the country’s newspaper of record.
Former commanders-in-chief get their names on schools, towns… and street signs.
Jackson Square (West Village) – Old Hickory, the 7th President of the United States. Andrew Jackson had highs and lows as a president. He supported individual liberty, took down the Second Bank of the United States, which was essentially a government-sponsored monopoly, and founded the Democratic Party. For the low point, just Google “Trail of Tears.”
Madison Square Park (Flatiron) – Our nation’s 4th and shortest President. James Madison wrote one of the most important documents in our nation’s history, The Federalist Papers.
Washington Square (West Village) – The first and only NYC-based president. What he had in leadership skills, he lacked in oral hygiene.
These two risked their lives fighting for what they believed. In return, they received a street corner in their honor.
Lieutenant Petrosino Square (Little Italy) – Italian immigrant and NYC lieutenant in charge of the NYPD’s “Italian Squad.” Under Petrosino’s watch, Italian mafia crime in New York City decreased by fifty percent. He was eventually gunned down in Sicily on assignment.
Margaret Sanger Square (West Village) – founder of the modern birth control movement. The New Yorker crusaded on behalf of women of every economic class and ethnicity to have equal access to information about sex and safe birth control methods.
The final group of squares represents NYC’s desire to pay homage to famous generals who had a penchant for filling mass graves.
Pershing Square (Midtown East) – WWI/Spanish-American War General John “Black Jack” Pershing
Black Jack was one of the highest-ranking Army officers of all time. He was also infamous for ignoring the WWI armistice – which led to thousands of additional deaths.
Sheridan Square (West Village) – Civil War General Philip Sheridan. Began his career at West Point by assaulting a fellow cadet with a bayonet. He also had a very cavalier attitude about killing innocent people during battle.
Sherman Square (Upper West Side) – Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman was another Civil War hero who might’ve gone a little overboard in defeat of the enemy. Luckily for New Yorkers, he didn’t bring his scorched-earth technique up north as he lived out his later years in Manhattan.