Those Maddening Mystery Tours of New York

Those Maddening Mystery Tours of New York


A lofty goal: To have a proper address number displayed on each building in Manhattan.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

It can be difficult sometimes to find building numbers in New York, especially at business entrances. A writer named Bertram Reinitz felt moved to complain about it. To hunt successfully for the right address, “the proverbial quest for a needle in a haystack is said to be excellent practice,” Mr. Reinitz wrote in The Times. The Manhattan borough president alone, he said, receives a weekly average of 200 complaints about this form of mystery tour.

That was in 1929.

Plus ça change, and all that. The present Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer, doesn’t need constituent complaints to feel frustration. “I’m going up and down the street: ‘Where is this place? I can’t find it,’ ” she said.

In 2010, her predecessor, Scott Stringer, now the city comptroller, issued a survey of 1,837 locations along 13 busy corridors in Manhattan. It found that 729 of them, or nearly 40 percent, had no addresses displayed out front. On some stretches, the no-address rate exceeded 50 percent. Not surprisingly, this is a grave matter for the Fire Department and other emergency responders. The last thing they need is to lose precious time searching for the right building.

On that score, working in some parts of town has been made tougher by an officialdom that has bowed all too often to the wishes of hoity-toity builders. Developers’ putting on airs explains, for instance, how the 237 Park Avenue Atrium came to be when the building is actually at 466 Lexington Avenue, unreachable by way of Park Avenue.

Sensibly, Ms. Brewer has sought to end the vanity flimflam with rules forcing new addresses to bear some relation to reality. She also encouraged tougher legislation to ensure that buildings have clear numbers posted — not just out front but also at any side entrances that pedestrians routinely use. That idea is now enshrined in municipal law, though it won’t go into effect for another few months.

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