This article is part of NYC Street Signs, a product of the NYCity News Service at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
In 1888, the wealthy furniture-man-turned-politician James J. Coogan woke up a day after losing a mayoral election to discover a potent signal that his influence over the city had disintegrated. Someone, presumably affiliated with his opponents, had taken down all the street signs for Coogan Avenue, where he lived in what is now Harlem.
Like many streets in New York City then named after wealthy landlords, Coogan Avenue was only unofficially named when Coogan posted the signs himself. The Board of Aldermen soon officially named the street Bradhurst Avenue, after another landlord. That name remains unchanged to this day.
Coogan’s political fall and subsequent elimination from the city’s streetscape is one of the stories that Don Rogerson tells in his book, “Manhattan Street Names Past and Present.” The story of how the city’s streets were named offers “a framework to trace back to the city’s history and culture,” according to the Iowa-based author.
“Street names are a directly accessible link to the history of a place,” Rogerson said. “Every time we give a street address we push that history forward. They give us an easy opportunity to transform something usually thought of as mundane and practical into a regular reminder of our place in history.”