9 City Streets Named After Real People

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It seems strange that streets these days—from the cul de sac around the block to the major roadway that runs through the whole town—can be named after just about anything, inevitably leading to plenty of eye-popping and head-shaking moments while you’re meant to be focusing on the literal road ahead. There are plenty of famously wacky street names out there (favorites range from Psycho Path in Traverse City, Michigan to Tater Peeler Road in Lebanon, Texas), but there are still more alleys, avenues, and drives dedicated to something far better—real people. But just who is getting their moniker slapped on a street sign? And how exactly did they make that happen?

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. – various cities

America’s most famous activist has been honored with his very own streets in hundreds of American cities—at last count, there were over 730 streets named after the civil rights leader, with his own home state of Georgia laying down the pavement for at least 100 of them (the most of any state by far). The most famous of the hundreds of MLK streets can be found in Atlanta, his hometown, where Martin Luther King Jr. Drive borders the Atlanta University Center, a collection of historically black colleges and universities—including Morehouse College, where King went to school. Elsewhere across the country, MLK’s names adorns highways, byways, interchanges, and city streets. And while Georgia may have the most MLK streets, Illinois was the first state to use the good doctor’s name to mark a roadway—they dedicated Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive back in 1968.

2. George Balanchine Way – New York City

Beloved ballet choreographer, co-founder of the New York City Ballet, and father of American ballet George Balanchine got his very own street (well, portion of a street) named after him in New York City back in 1990. Positioned near the New York State Theatre on West 63rd Street, George Balanchine Way honors one of the world’s most famous choreographers and a true visionary when it came to artistic pursuits of the feet and mind. Balanchine is also honored by another street that bears his name in Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia, where it's home to the U.S. Embassy.

3. Peter Jennings Way – New York City

New York City loves honoring its most famous citizens with streets named after them, and veteran newsman Peter Jennings is no exception. A year after the ABC anchor passed away, a portion of West 67th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West was named for Jennings. The stretch of road is particularly meaningful: It's exactly where ABC Headquarters is located. It’s a fitting location and, hey, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from good ol' George Balanchine Way.  

4. Bob Hope Drive – Burbank, CA and Rancho Mirage, Ca

If there’s one key to getting a street named after you, it’s to just be wildly famous. The national treasure who was Bob Hope—comedian, vaudevillian, actor, singer, dancer, author, athlete, and Broadway star—has a whole mess of things named after him, especially around the areas of Southern California where his Hollywood career took place. Hope’s got an airport named after him, along with a square, a number of theaters, and even a golf tournament. The star even has four literal stars to his name, at least of the Hollywood Walk of Fame variety (one each for his contributions to live theater, radio, motion pictures, and television). But Hope also has two streets named after him—both “Bob Hope Drive”—located in Burbank, California and Rancho Mirage, California. Basically, you can’t move too far in SoCal without hitting something named after the superstar.

5. Astaire Avenue, Garland Drive, Lamarr Avenue, Skelton Circle, and Hepburn Circle – Culver City, CA

Elsewhere in Southern California, still more stars are honored with streets bearing their names, and we daresay they’re all talents with just as much class as Hope himself (good luck locating a Miley Cyrus Drive or a Britney Spears Circle out there, but we’ll give it some time). Culver City, a new mini suburb built on what was the back lot of the classic MGM Studio, includes a cluster of roadways named after some of the movie house’s most famous stars—including (Fred) Astaire Avenue, (Judy) Garland Drive, (Hedy) Lamarr Avenue, (Red) Skelton Circle, and (Katharine) Hepburn Circle. A few of those sound good enough to dance on.

6. Sam Cooke Way – Chicago, IL

It may have taken some time, but a change did indeed come to Chicago when soul singer superstar and pioneering talent Sam Cooke was honored with “Sam Cooke Way” back in June of 2011. The small stretch of the city’s Cottage Grove Avenue was picked because of its proximity to a corner where a teenaged Cooke would hang out and exercise his trademark pipes. Cooke had long since passed when the street was finally given a fresh moniker—he was shot by a hotel manager back in 1964—but fans of the singer can still visit the street named after him and imagine what it was like to hear him bust out a groove on a once-nondescript avenue.

7. Dave Grohl Alley – Warren, OH

All apologies to Nirvana, The Foo Fighters, and Them Crooked Vultures, but only drummer and singer Dave Grohl has earned his own street back in his hometown of Warren, Ohio. The street was dedicated in August of 2009, and Grohl returned to the town he was born in to receive both a key to the city and the honor of having an entire alley named after him. While an alley might not scream excitement, the town put on a real show, with Grohl himself putting on an actual show along with other local bands. The alley itself is also something special—it’s covered with murals dedicated to Grohl and crafted by local artists.

8. Flaming Lips Alley – Oklahoma City, OK

Grohl isn’t the only musician with his own alley. Oklahoma City’s own Flaming Lips also have one named in their honor. The rock band earned the distinction back in December of 2006, when the city bestowed a street in their entertainment district, Bricktown, with the name “Flaming Lips Alley.” Succinct, right? Not content to have Bricktown celebrate just one street named after a popular musical act, the city also gave streets to both Vince Gill and Charlie Christian during the event. Bricktown is also home to the Oklahoma City Redhawks’ baseball stadium, located on the corner of Johnny Bench Drive and Joe Carter Avenue, both baseball players who were Oklahoma City natives.

9. Korn Row – Bakersfield, CA

Did you know that American nu metal band Korn has two Grammys? No? Then you’re probably not aware that the SoCal band also has a small stretch of road in their hometown of Bakersfield, California named after them. Back in February 2006, the band not only got the portion of road (a back access road to the town’s Rabobank Arena) dedicated to them, their hometown also honored them with an entire day in their honor. Yup, Korn Row was dedicated on Korn Day, and now you’re up to date on your Korn honors. 

BONUS: Tupac Lane – Las Vegas, NV

While Las Vegas’s own “Tupac Lane” isn’t officially named after dead rapper Tupac Shakur (who was shot dead in the city in 1996), it’s still too strange to ignore. What are the odds that a famous musician with a unique moniker would share a name with an apparently unrelated street in the very city that he lost his life in? Actually, the odds might be pretty high, considering that Las Vegas has a laughable history of strange street names (including some amazingly incorrect versions of both common words and proper names). The Awl covered the phenomenon of terrible Las Vegas street names earlier this year, but here’s a sample of other famous names attached to unrelated streets (all misspellings are, embarrassingly enough for the city, correct): Jane Austin Avenue, Alfa Romero Avenue, De Vinci Court, and Bugsy Siegal Circle. Get it together, City of Sin.

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November 5, 2013 - 8:00pm
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