A Brooklyn Man Wants to Add Another Z to ‘Verrazano’ Bridge. This Isn’t the First Time New Yorkers Have Debated It.

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Giovanni da Verrazzano* made a perilous cross-Atlantic journey in the 16th century, discovering New York Harbor for Europe, and all he has to show for it is a traffic-clogged landmark that doesn’t even spell his name right. It’s the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. One “Z.” But a 21-year-old Brooklyn resident of Italian heritage named Richard Nash has started an online petition to remedy the typo and add that extra Z in the name. Only 190 people have signed the petition as of Thursday, and pretty much everyone in New York is abruptly questioning his or her ability to spell.

It’s been 52 years we’ve been spelling it wrong,” Nash told the Brooklyn Paper. “If we’re really going to honor him — and his name has two Zs — then it’s time.”

The MTA told DNAinfo that everything stems from a typographical error that dates back to 1964, when the bridge opened. The agency added that there’s pretty much no way they’re going to spend the money to update every sign, map, and brochure. The price tag was $4 million just to turn the Triborough into the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, in 2008, according to the Associated Press. 

Gay Talese, who wrote a book about the construction of the bridge and covered it as a Times reporter, told the AP that somebody spelled it wrong in the building contract in 1959. “We’re talking about a typo, and everybody let it go,” Talese said. “Nobody noticed, because nobody really knew who Verrazzano was then.” 

But the Z debate had raged for a few years before the bridge was officially christened. Construction began in 1959, and the two camps — you were either a one-Z guy or a two-Z guy — lobbied for its preferred spelling. The lowliest of consonants pitted New Yorker against New Yorker, at least among those who cared about bridge-naming, or grammar. 

The “Verrazano” spelling apparently crept in during Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s administration. John LaCorte, the head of the Italian Historical Society, who had the backing of many Italian-Americans, wanted the city to do more to honor the explorer, and, by extension, New York’s large Italian community. LaCorte pushed to name the not-yet-built span — then unofficially dubbed the Narrows bridge — Verrazano. Yes, Verrazano: LaCorte was an adamant one-Z guy. But the debate was far from settled. In “[t]he game over one-z, two-z,” as the New York Times called it in a gleeful but sadly unattributed August 14, 1959, article about the bridge’s ground-breaking, the Z preference may have split along party lines:

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April 16, 1958, Gov. Averell Harriman, a Democrat, who is once again using the W. in front of his name, told a crowd in Battery Park that the bridge would be called Verrazzano Bridge, with two z’s. And Mayor Wagner, also a Democrat, proclaimed Verrazzano Day. The two z’s head been suggested by the Italian Ambassador, Dr. Manlio Broso, who said Italians preferred it that way.

Then Nelson A. Rockefeller, a Republican and a man who holds a tight rein on all letters of his name, was elected Governor. Subsequently the explorer’s name began turning up again as Verrazano, with one z, in literature put out by the Port of New York Authority and the Triborough Bridge Authority.

At the ground-breaking, on August 13, attendees trolled the ceremony by apparently sailing in on a Staten Island ferry named “Verrazzano.” “The fanfare became slightly deranged,” the Times reporter wrote about the standoff. (The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce also crashed, but instead forwent the Z debate and sent a banner flying overhead that said:  “Name it the Staten Island Bridge.”)

LaCorte and the Italian Historical Society’s spelling had won out. But unlike one Z a single victory did not satisfy. The Society continued its its alphabetical crusade — this time petitioning the city to delete the extra Z in the Verrazzano ferry — the same one that had chugged into the ground-breaking — and the explorer’s monument in Battery Park.

At the ground-breaking, on August 13, attendees trolled the ceremony by apparently sailing in on a Staten Island ferry named “Verrazzano.” “The fanfare became slightly deranged,” the Times reporter wrote about the standoff. (The Staten Island Chamber of Commerce also crashed, but instead forwent the Z debate and sent a banner flying overhead that said:  “Name it the Staten Island Bridge.”)

LaCorte and the Italian Historical Society’s spelling had won out. But unlike one Z a single victory did not satisfy. The Society continued its its alphabetical crusade — this time petitioning the city to delete the extra Z in the Verrazzano ferry — the same one that had chugged into the ground-breaking — and the explorer’s monument in Battery Park.

The Society was particularly perturbed with the Museum of the City of New York, which had gone ahead and published a paper that said Verrazzano was “beyond dispute, the correct Italian form.” The Museum’s expert, Lino Lipinsky, blamed the confusion on “the inept product of a vogue for Latinizing names in the sixteenth century.” That hot Renaissance trend got copied and recopied, in error, he said.

That did not stop the Italian Historical Society from disputing it. LaCorte told the Times in May 1960:

He himself went to Italy and consulted authorities in Rome and Florence, he related. All agreed on one z, including the Florentine, Vatican and Triccani encyclopedias, not to mention the Britannica.

And yet the “great and most indecisive ‘Z’ battle of the world” continued, according to a November 1960 Times article. The state law listed the bridge as the “Verrazano,” but “the sign announcing the work in progress on the Belt Parkway” spelled it Verrazzano. This didn’t sit too well with the Italian Historical Society, of course:

Virgil Pontone of the Italian Historical Society wrote to Governor Rockefeller yesterday that this “utter disregard to the preponderance of books and learning” was a violation of the law. Mr. Pontone is a zealous one-Z man.

That Verrazzano construction sign was purposeful: The manager of the Bridge and Tunnel Authority, Arthur Hodgkiss, strongly advocated for the double zed. He cited the National Committee for the Commemoration of Verrazzano in Rome, which donated stones from the explorer’s house to the bridge, and — you guessed it — the Museum of the City of New York. 

The Verrazano bridge opened in 1964. In September 1966, Councilman Woody Kingman, a Republican from Manhattan, put up a City Council bill to change the spelling to “Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.” It went nowhere.

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The History of the Verraz(z)ano Bridge Z Debate