The Queensboro Bridge—or, if you prefer, the 59th Street Bridge—is about to get yet another identity. Pending City Council approval, the span (b. 1909) will soon be rechristened for Edward I. Koch (b. 1924). A similar gesture is in store for former governor Hugh Carey, whose name will appear atop the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. As big an honor as it is to get your moniker on a piece of infrastructure, it doesn’t ensure fame a generation or two down the road. Consider these giants of their eras, now largely unknown* to the gridlocked commuters who curse their names.
CLIFFORD M. HOLLAND
Honored by: Holland Tunnel, opened in 1927
The rare exception to typical public-works nomenclature, the Holland is named for the man who actually built it—by figuring out how to dig what was, at the time, the longest underwater tunnel in the world. His great innovation: the system of ventilation towers that keep drivers from gagging on their own exhaust.
Honored by: Outerbridge Crossing, completed in 1928
The southernmost bridge linking Staten Island and New Jersey did not get its name because it’s farthest from the city center; instead, it commemorates Eugenius, the first chairman of the Port of New York Authority (as it was known back then) and a Staten Island resident.
GEORGE W. GOETHALS
Honored by: Goethals Bridge, completed in 1928
The Outerbridge’s northern twin is named for an engineer who had little to do with New York: Goethals was the man who fought malaria, tough terrain, and bureaucracy to build the Panama Canal.
Honored by: Kosciuszko Bridge, renamed in 1940
A Revolutionary War hero, Kosciuszko superbly planned the Battle of Saratoga, generally held to have turned the war’s momentum toward the Colonists. Today, he tongue-ties traffic reporters, who tend to fall back on “Kosky-osko,” rather than the more-or-less correct “Kosh-oosko.”
Honored by: Bruckner Expressway, opened in 1972
A seltzer magnate who served as commissioner of public works, as congressman, and finally as Bronx borough president, Bruckner was also tight with Tammany Hall bosses and lost his borough presidency after a fraud investigation.
WILLIAM F. DEEGAN
Honored by: Major Deegan Expressway, opened in 1956
Yes, he was an Army major during World War I. But Deegan was principally a Bronx Democratic political operative who served in various posts. Among them was a stint as commissioner of tenement housing, which put him in the orbit of Robert Moses—who, while ramming yet another highway through the Bronx, named it for him.
ROBERT ANDERSON VAN WYCK
Honored by: Van Wyck Expressway, completed in 1963
Van Wyck was the first mayor of the consolidated five-borough New York we know today. Like Koch, he had a late brush with scandal (Van Wyck was accused of taking $500,000 in stock from an ice company) and emerged similarly vindicated (Governor Teddy Roosevelt cleared him of all the charges). The family pronounces its surname to rhyme with “like,” not “lick.”
*This is not true of the editors of The Encyclopedia of New York City, whose second edition (Yale University Press, $65) has just arrived in bookstores, and from which nearly all the information here was drawn.