No apostrophe: The St. Marks Hotel and the St Marks Pl street sign put up by the Department of Transportation. It seems the street sign may have led to the current apostrophe confusion on St. Marks Pl.
The great St. Marks/Marks punctuation debate solved
By Bonnie Rosenstock
A stroll down the stretch of Eighth St. known as St. Marks Pl. in the East Village is an exercise in controlled and not-so-controlled excess, chaos and contradiction. The legendary street runs from Third Ave. to Avenue A, where it abruptly ends at the western perimeter of Tompkins Sq. Park. Its inelegant epicenter, between Second and Third Aves., includes an abundance of locales that entertain, educate, clothe and feed the hungry of all appetites.
Out-of-towners can lodge at the St. Marks Hotel at the southeast corner of Third Ave. Tourists and locals alike can enjoy a pint at the next-door St. Marks Ale House, or eat at the inimitable Dojo at 30 St. Marks Pl., go grocery shopping at the St. Marks Market or order takeout at the St. Marks Deli, purchase vintage, gently used or new rags at Andys St. Marks and browse or buy reading material at St. Marks Comics and St. Marks Bookshop.
If you have noticed an inconsistency in the above spellings of Marks/Marks, no, its not because an editor fell asleep on the job. This is how these establishments write their address or spell their name. Houston as in Texas icon Sam, not as in the street in the Village (named after William Houstoun, a Georgia delegate to the Continental Congress) we have a problem.
Joining the ranks of the apostrophe conflicted is the Pearl Theater Company, between First and Second Aves., housed at big overhead sign Theater 80 St. Marks. In contrast, the delivery notice taped to the door of the theater gives the address as 80 St. Marks (with apostrophe). As it turns out, the delivery sign is the last vestige of the Old Order. Matthew Coleman, associate marketing director, explained that for the 10 years since the repertory company has resided here, they had always used an apostrophe on all their letterhead and material. Then just three months ago, Matt Schicker, the new marketing director, decided it was incorrect. It destroyed my world, knowing that Ive been wrong for the five years Ive been here, Coleman said. Were in the process of great reform. I still have to stop, proofread and change everything to without an apostrophe. It was a passionate debate for a while.
At St. Marks Comics, owner Mitch Cutler, has no such uncertainty. When he bought the place 21 years ago, he inherited the apostrophe from the previous owner and just kept it. We seem to be on the right side of this conversation [grammatically], he said.
In agreement is Terry McCoy, one of the erudite founding owners of St. Marks Bookshop. From 1977 until 1987, the bookstore was located at 13 Saint Marks Pl.; from 1987 to 1993, they were across the street at 12 Saint Marks Pl. McCoy says that they spelled out Saint in order to avoid the possible confusion of 13th Street Marks Pl. Now that they are at 31 Third Ave. and Stuyvesant St., their name in iridescent green lettering is punctuated with a no-nonsense blue period at the end of St. and a blue apostrophe in Marks. We dont know the reasons that street-naming people have. Were not trying to deny the possessive because its correct grammar, he said.
Apostrophe: The St. Marks Bookshop, left, and historic St. Marks Church, the latter after which the street is named.
Whats going on here? First and foremost, the green street signs read St Marks Pl (without period or apostrophe), although the street is named for St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery (with period, apostrophe and two hyphens), which is neither on the present-day Bowery nor St. Marks Pl.. (Its two blocks north, on Second Ave. and 10th St.) The strict and unwavering rule of English grammar calls for a possessive, i.e., an apostrophe. Like the signage, The New York Times also chooses to ignore the apostrophe, which the Timess Metro newsroom confirmed.
Eric Robinson, a librarian at the New-York (with hyphen) Historical Society, takes umbrage with the Times. According to The Iconography of Manhattan Island (known to scholars simply as Stokes), by Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, six volumes, published in 1913, which Robinson asserts is still a widely respected text, St. Marks Pl. is definitely endowed with an apostrophe.
The perplexed folks at the Pearl Theater, desperate to resolve the issue, tried to reach the Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for putting up the punctuation-challenged street signs, but we got nowhere with 311, says Coleman.
In a phone interview with Gerard Soffian, D.O.T.s director of Signs and Marketing, the matter was finally clarified. Soffian stated that the agency tries to be faithful to the correct spelling of names as documented in the official city map, which is maintained by the borough presidents office (specifically by the borough historian) with the exception of abbreviations and punctuation marks. The purpose is to convey information clearly, quickly and as concisely as possible, he said. We do what is essential for that. The white letters on green background are consistent with federal D.O.T. standards for size, color and font. We dont believe that punctuation marks are essential parts of the sign. Our philosophy is to have them quickly understandable. Sometimes the niceties of grammar are lost. I dont think an English teacher would like it, he acknowledged.
He also pointed out that the DONT [sic] WALK crossing-light sign, since replaced by a figure and a hand, didnt contain an apostrophe either. I hope it didnt cause school children to leave out the apostrophe, he added.
Of course, this doesnt quite explain the hearty writing on the handsome blue signs in parts of Midtown west that say, for example, West 35th St or Eighth Ave (with only a loss of a period). In contrast, E 6 St or 3 Av on the green has been reduced to an instant text message. Soffians advice: use proper punctuation when writing our own addresses. And that includes St. Marks Pl.