Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Corner of Locust and Eleventh-and-One-Quarter Street

Reading a post about old Philly street names on Naked Philly yesterday by everyone's favorite snarky, potty-mouthed local architecture critic GroJLart, a commenter mentioned a failed 1894 plan for fractional numbering in Philadelphia.The system would have given names like Eleven-and-One-Quarter Street to Jessup Street, one of three streets running north/south between Eleventh and Twelveth Streets. An article in the New York Times described the system thus:

I had a couple of quibbles with the articles' discussion of Chicago's regular, but named street grid as an exemplary system. First, Chicago's system does have named streets, running east-west and going south from the Loop, and secondly, in a way, the coordinate system in Chicago accomplishes what the Board of Surveyors seemed to be trying to do in Philadelphia. While most streets are named, all intersections also fall on a coordinate point. For instance the (beautifully-named) intersection of Belmont & Ashland Streets can also be described as 3200N, 1600W.* So, while beautifully named, the Chicago system also overlays a set of geographic information, relating distance and direction from the downtown centerpoint at State and Madison Streets (0EW, 0N/S.) In the case of Belmont & Ashland, one is four miles north and two miles west of downtown. 

So, while I like the intersection Locust and Jessup more than Locust and 11 1/4, I see no problem with directing someone unfamiliar to Locust and 11 1/4 Streets. I can't recall ever hearing this in Philadelphia, but it seems to make sense that one could describe things in this manner, even though it doesn't work going North-South at all. Perhaps I just might use it one of these days.

*I tried searching Google Maps for the 3200N & 1600W Chicago, IL and it doesn't work. I guess the coordinate system only makes sense for cartophiles and a pre-Google Maps world.