Corbin Place Renaming
First read this article from the New York Times: “A Street Named Trouble“
Here is my response to Council member Michael Nelson
April 23, 2007
Hon. Michael Nelson
Dear Council member Nelson,
I am writing to express my displeasure at the community board’s decision to rename “Corbin Place” in Manhattan Beach after Margaret Corbin (as mentioned in yesterday’s New York Times article). My family lived in Manhattan Beach for over 50 years, starting in 1942. My late grandmother, Jessie Bankoff, taught kindergarten at PS 195 where both my father and I went to school. In 1984, my family moved from Dover Street to Corbin Place, where we lived until 1993. I went to Hebrew School at Temple Beth El of Manhattan Beach, where my grandmother was President of the Sisterhood, and had my Bar Mitzvah there, as did my father. I mention all these facts to simply show my long connection with the neighborhood.
Corbin Place was named for Austin Corbin, who essentially created Manhattan Beach. His disgusting views on Judaism aside, his role in the development of the neighborhood can not be overstated. One of the enduring reminders of this history is the name “Corbin Place”. It is the only reason why school children who grew up in the neighborhood knew about its development because unless the school curriculum has greatly changed, local history is still not offered at PS 195. Knowing about Austin Corbin linked my neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn with “the city” (as it was and probably still is called).
Conversations like the following would happen: “Why is the street named Corbin Place” “Because Mr. Corbin built a railroad to bring people to his hotel”. “There aren’t any hotels in Manhattan Beach” “There used to be, and one of them was where the big apartment building is now”. The very name “Corbin Place” sparked an interest and provided an entry into the history of my neighborhood in a way that no school course ever could.
Finally, in the course of my professional life, I have become involved with the preservation of the Corbin Building on John Street in Lower Manhattan, which is getting incorporated into the Fulton Transit Center. When I discovered it was named after the same person as the block I lived on, another resonance was formed and Manhattan Beach seemed that much more a vital part of New York City.
To change the name of his street to assuage the concerns of the current residents is the wrong thing to do. I understand their dismay at the discovery of Mr. Corbin’s offensive prejudices but removing his name from the street will actually accomplish nothing other than to obscure the history of the neighborhood. Better to post some kind of historic signage that explains the development of the neighborhood and Mr. Corbin’s role in it than to indiscriminately white-wash the truth.