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Question: The corner of 44th Street and Eighth Avenue includes a "vanity" street sign that says 44th Street is "Rodgers & Hammerstein Row." Is there a reason this designation is specific to 44th Street? — J.D., Astoria, NY
Honorary street signs — or "vanity" street signs, if you wish to take a more derogatory tack — are those additional, and often temporary, designations found on sign posts either above or below the actual street name. Over the past couple of decades, vanity street names have become as common as taxi cabs in New York City. For instance, West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue is now also known at Leonard Bernstein Place. From 1942 to 1969, West 48th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue was the home of the Latin Quarter nightclub, run by Lou Walters, Barbara Walters' father. Today, that block is called Lou Walters Way. And the corner of Bowery and 2nd Street, just down the block from the former location of the punk club CBGB, is Joey Ramone Place, named after the member of the group The Ramones. (It had the honor of being the most stolen street sign in New York City; Ramones fans are fierce.) Often the signs declare themselves by being in a different color — green or blue — than regular street signs.
We didn't really need to check with The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization to know why West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth, of all blocks in Manhattan, was chosen to honor the songwriting duo. The block is home to the St. James Theatre, which presented the Broadway premiere of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's first collaboration Oklahoma!, a show that made the partnership's reputation, back in 1943. Other noteworthy shows that premiered there included The King and I and Flower Drum Song. But we asked the folks at R&H anyway.
West 44th Street began its double life on March 31, 1993, according to Bert Fink, spokesman for the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. "March 1993 marked the 50th anniversary of the partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein," said Fink. "As part of the celebration, we suggested to New York City, which they agreed to, the renaming of the block of West 44th Street between Eighth Avenue and Broadway."
The designation of the block was more appropriate than we at Playbill imagined. Of the nine musicals Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, a whopping eight premiered on the block. In addition to the above-mentioned St. James shows, Carousel, Allegro, Me and Juliet and South Pacific all bowed at the Majestic, and Pipe Dream was unveiled at the Shubert. "Their only musical that didn't open on the street was a little show called The Sound of Music, which opened at the Lunt-Fontanne," said Fink.