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Walk his Way: Coney Islanders vote to co-name street after folk legend Woody Guthrie

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Knock on Wood: American folk legend — and former Coney Island resident — Woody Guthrie should be honored with a street bearing his name, Coney Island’s Community Board 13 unanimously voted at its Nov. 28 general meeting.

This lane is his lane!

A Coney Island street will likely soon bear the name of folk legend and former Coney Islander Woody Guthrie, after local civic gurus unanimously voted to co-name Mermaid Avenue between West 35th and West 36th streets as Woodie Guthrie Way.

The new moniker for the block, which is just steps from the icon’s former Coney home, will honor the neighborhood’s impact on Guthrie’s life and work, according to Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island), who pushed for the co-naming with Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay) at the Nov. 28 general meeting of Community Board 13.

“Mermaid Avenue has significant history in the Coney Island community and it is a place where Woody Guthrie was further inspired to pursue causes in social justice and diversity, and to really address the issues of inequality in our country,” Treyger said. “It’s inspiring to know the impact Coney Island had on this music legend’s life, and I believe this is a small token of appreciation to Woody Guthrie’s family.”

The Oklahoma-born singer moved to Coney Island — to 3520 Mermaid Ave., now the site of senior housing — in 1943 with his wife, Marjorie, according to neighborhood historian Charlie Denson, and the pair raised four kids in the home. During his years in the neighborhood, Guthrie wrote “Mermaid’s Avenue,” a poem celebrating the street’s diversity, as well as children’s songs inspired by his close relationship with his kids — including “Riding In My Car,” “Why, Oh Why,” and “Howji Do” — Denson said.

Guthrie also developed his appreciation for Jewish faith and culture while living in Coney, writing tunes including “Hanuka Dance” and “Happy Joyous Hanuka,” and penning Yiddish poems with his mother-in-law, poet Aliza Greenblatt, who lived in nearby Sea Gate.

Guthrie left for California in the early 1950s, but returned to New York City before dying in Queens in 1967, at the age of 55, and his ashes were spread off the shores of Coney Island Beach.

During his lifetime, the music man composed more than 2,500 songs — including the classic American anthem “This Land Is Your Land.”

Cymbrowitz said the co-naming would honor Guthrie’s commitment to peace and social justice — themes he often explored in his music.

“This co-naming would be a fitting way to honor Woody Guthrie and to educate young people about his southern Brooklyn history and his legacy of social justice and grassroots advocacy,” Cymbrowitz said.

The street co-naming will next go before Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee, and then proceed to the full Council for a final vote, said Treyger.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Posted 12:00 am, December 3, 2018
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