52 years after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened, a controversy continues over how to spell it
Since the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island—was constructed in 1964, there has been controversy on whether New York got the spelling right. The bridge was named after the Italian explorer widely known as Giovanni da Verrazzano, who spells his name with two z’s—not one. The persisting typo just got spotlighted by the New York Times at a time when New Yorkers have brought renewed attention to it through an online petition. (The petition name: "Correctly Spell "Verrazzano" in Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.") As Joseph V. Scelsa, the president of New York's Italian American Museum told the Times, "By rectifying Verrazzano’s name, we’re really saying to all Italians and Italian-Americans that we respect them and appreciate them."
The bridge opened to tons of fanfare in 1964 as the world’s longest suspension bridge. Officials decided to name it after the explorer because he was the first European to sail into New York Harbor and anchor his ship in the Narrows in 1524. But even before the Verrazano opened, there were public arguments regarding the spelling. The name, according to the Times, "has appeared both ways in books, historical documents and newspaper archives." Even a bronze bust of the explorer located near the northern edge of Battery Park spells it differently than the bridge, with "Verrazzano" on display in large gold letters. The city hasn't changed that spelling because, simply, that's how his name was spelled when the statue was dedicated in 1909.
In 1960, after the executive director of the Italian Historical Society of America consulted authorities in Italy and photographed the explorer’s signature in the Latin form (Janus Verrazanus), they city settled on a single "z." Gay Talese, a journalist who wrote a book about the bridge, called it "a typo set in stone."
Being set in stone, the MTA isn't eager to start correcting it. An MTA spokesman told the Times that "at this time, we are not considering any name change for the Verrazano Bridge," considering how it’ll cost the agency a lot of money, labor and time. (It was estimated to cost $4 million to replace the Triborough Bridge with the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge on road signs when the name changed in 2008.) When Mayor de Blasio was asked about the Verrazano petition, he joked that he would create a task force to investigate the issue.
But Scelsa, of the Italian American Museum, is fighting for gradual fixes, with workers replacing road signs over time as a part of regular maintenance. Basically, he says, "I think it should be spelled correctly."