I wrote up a few preliminary thoughts about the call to change the name of a portion of Centre Street "Avenue de las Americas" and argued that using "Avenue" as part of the proposed name just didn't sound right from a historical perspective. After re-reading the history of Centre Street in Roxbury and West Roxbury, I'm now convinced that renaming Centre Street is a bad idea not only in terms of the history, but for planning and wayfinding purposes as well.
The Centre Street in Roxbury/Jamaica Plain is part of the historic road which stretched from the Roxbury meeting house (First Church in Eliot Square) to Dedham and on to Connecticut. It survives almost intact: the missing piece is where Columbus Avenue breaks it, as seen in the map below:
Other than the one break, it continues all the way down to the Dedham Mall, where the name changes as it crosses into Dedham, close to where it intersects with Washington Street, the colonial era highway running out of Boston.
Centre Street's current name helps with navigation through Boston. Losing a street only to have to find it again is frustrating. The current break in Centre Street is about six hundred feet long, so people can presumably pick up Centre Street again fairly easily by going down Columbus Avenue. Renaming Centre Street in Jackson Square would make it almost impossible for one to find Centre Street in Jamaica Plain again.
The name Centre Street also serves history by reminding us of the importance of First Church in Roxbury and of the historic colonial road pattern. I also think Centre Street is a good name because the current stretch of Centre Street between Jackson and Hyde Square is, after all, one of the most important centers for Boston's Latin community. Rename that stretch of Centre Street "Centro Street" and give Jackson and Hyde Square new names to provide emphasis at either end of the renamed section. There should be a Park de Las Americas and a statue of Simon Bolivar as well.
I look forward to seeing the flags of many nations along the street. The image I have in my head is of Childe Hassam's flag paintings. Hassam, a Dorchester native, painted dozens of pictures of flags lining the avenues of New York City during World War I and its aftermath. Below is Avenue of the Allies, Great Britain, 1918 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Note: I should add that Boston being Boston, people might simply believe "Centro Street" to be a typographical error (or worse, just a misspelling) given the number of street signs in Boston which are incorrect.
Centre Streets in Boston
Streets named "Centre" have long been popular in Boston and the towns which were eventually annexed by the city. Several of the Centre Streets have disappeared: the one in Boston's North End which ran between North and Hanover Streets has been lost, another Boston Centre Street which opened into Cambridge Street was renamed Anderson Street in 1861. East Boston's Centre Street became Haynes Street in 1868 (the annexation of Roxbury spurred street name changes throughout Boston) and South Boston's Centre Street was renamed Ward Street in 1855. Brighton had a Centre Street, at least on paper, in the mid-19th Century.
The three remaining Centre Streets are in Dorchester, Roxbury/Jamaica Plain, and West Roxbury.
Centre Street, Dorchester, 1837; from 608 Washington Street, opposite Norfolk Street, to 411 Adams Street; mistake in locatoin (road from Plymouth to Lower Road) rectified, April, 1804; named from Upper Road (now Washington Street) to Lower Road (now Adams Street), March 11, 1840.
Centre Street, Roxbury and West Roxbury, 1825; from Eliot Square to Dedham line; that part of this street lying in Roxbury, and to South Street in West Roxbury [ed. note: the boundary between Roxbury and West Roxbury ran across Centre Street in Jamaica Plain] laid out, January 19, 1662; called the Middlepost Road from Boston to Hartford; altered from Colonel Draper's through Dedham to Dover line, May, 1795; called "Old road to Dedham" 1823; "Road from the parting stone by J. Riley's store, by Rev. Mr. Gray's meeting house, by Captain Winchester's to Rev. Mr. Flagg's meeting house, and on to Dedham line"; named Centre Street, May 9, 1825; called Boston Road, 1833; name of part in West Roxbury changed to Austin Street, May 3, 1852; name of Austin Street changed to original name of Centre Street, Dec. 2, 1861.