With a quick vote and little discussion Tuesday, the city’s planning commission agreed to make the names of magicians vanish from street signs in a soon-to-open public housing development.
The commission approved a list of nine new street names honoring historical figures, a school mascot and a creek in Southeast Raleigh.
The Raleigh Housing Authority based the namesakes on neighborhood input following outcry that the agency’s director, Steve Beam, had renamed streets for magicians. Beam is a well-respected magician who’s written a series of books about card tricks.
“We wanted to select names that were meaningful to the community and that had a local importance,” said the Housing Authority’s Allison Hapgood.
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The northern entry to the neighborhood had been dubbed Count Elmsley Way, referencing a popular sleight-of-hand technique used by card magicians. Now it’s J.W. Yeargin Street, an homage to the founder of the historic Washington School next door.
Houdin Alley is now Little Blues Alley, dropping the magician who was Houdini’s namesake for Washington School’s mascot. Other streets will memorialize local Tuskegee airman Vernon Haywood, the neighborhood’s Gas Light Creek and Dr. Lewyn E. McCauley, founder of the McCauley Hospital for black patients.
Bruce Lightner – who served on the committee to select the names – says the choices will help preserve Southeast Raleigh’s history for the next generation.
“The idea of having streets named after people who actually lived or contributed to this community has more than sentimental value,” he said. “It has value in terms of respect and recognition of people who made a difference.”
Growing up on Delany Drive, Lightner said he once headed to the library to look up the street’s namesake, a former leader of St. Augustine’s College. He hopes young people in Walnut Terrace might do similar research about their home.
The old street names in Walnut Terrace – including Holman, Branch and Bragg – dated to the South Park neighborhood’s establishment in the early 1900s. While some residents said they’d like to keep those names, the city required more distinctive names to avoid confusion for emergency responders. Similar street names exist elsewhere in Raleigh and Wake County.
Because finding unique names proved a challenge, Beam turned to magicians like Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser and Si Stebbins.
He has said he hoped the names could generate “some positive press” about Walnut Terrace’s transformation from a troubled, barracks-style housing project to a shiny new mixed-income community.
The $50 million project was accomplished without federal funds, an accomplishment other housing officials told Beam was “like magic,” he said.
The magical streets have appeared for the past year on city maps and on temporary signs at the construction site. But city officials hadn’t yet ordered permanent green signs, so Tuesday’s name change won’t come with a cost.
The first apartments at Walnut Terrace could be ready for tenants as early as this month, with the rest of the development open by year’s end, Hapgood said. “We already have a waiting list,” she said.