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Norman Rockwell's UWS Roots Marked by Student-Led Street Renaming

By Emily Frost | February 10, 2016 4:49pm
 The City Council approved a renaming of the southeast corner of West 103rd and Amsterdam Avenue after Norman Rockwell. 
'Norman Rockwell Place' Approved by City Council
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The City Council voted to rename the southeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue at West 103rd Street "Norman Rockwell Place" after the famed American artist who spent his young life there. 

The idea emerged last spring in a civics class for five juniors and seniors from the Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, an alternative school on West 102nd Street for students who've had trouble finishing high school.

The students, led by their teacher Rene Mills, started to look into Rockwell and why the Upper West Side played a formative role in his upbringing. 

Known for his paintings of small-town America, Rockwell spent his early years living in a brownstone at 206 W. 103rd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. He later lived on West 67th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West, a legendary artists' haven.   

During their yearlong project, the students did research on Rockwell's life, visited the the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., and canvassed the neighborhood on Election Day in November 2014 to get support for the renaming. They even made T-shirts and pamphlets.

Community Board 7 supported their efforts, as did City Councilman Mark Levine, who introduced the renaming to the Council. It was approved on Feb. 5. The excited group of students watched the vote in what was a "seminal moment" in their efforts, Levine's spokesman said.

Attending the Council vote was a big deal to her students, who "really didn't know what to expect," Mills said. 

"We all felt proud and we were excited... At first it seemed overwhelming, but they knew as they entered the hall that they were a part of something big," she said. 

As they watch Mayor de Blasio sign the bill authorizing the street renaming next week, "students will have one of those 'Aha ' moments of the rewards of community involvement," Mills added. "They will have experienced the best hands-on course in citizenship and empowerment; to realize the power of the people."

Councilman Levine said in a statement he was "grateful to the students at West Side High School and their teacher, Rene Mills, for bringing Rockwell’s connection to this neighborhood to the attention of the world."

“No doubt [Rockwell's] experiences in the UWS helped inspire him to produce powerful works depicting everything from the Civil Rights movement to FDR’s Four Freedoms," he said.

A street renaming ceremony, in which the new street sign will be affixed, will take place on June 9.

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