2011-10-26 / Front Page

Historic Scrabble Sign Makes Triumphant Return To Jackson Heights

Seen here are (L. to r.); Assemblymember Francisco Moya, NYC Landmarks Preservation Center Chair Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and state Senator Jose Peralta holding the new 35th Avenue sign that commemorates Jackson Heights resident Alfred Mosher Butts who invented and perfected the game, Scrabble.Seen here are (L. to r.); Assemblymember Francisco Moya, NYC Landmarks Preservation Center Chair Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Councilmember Daniel Dromm and state Senator Jose Peralta holding the new 35th Avenue sign that commemorates Jackson Heights resident Alfred Mosher Butts who invented and perfected the game, Scrabble.A beloved street sign that commemorated the birthplace of a popular word game is returning to the Jackson Heights community thanks to efforts of Councilmember Daniel Dromm.

The original sign was installed in 1995 outside of the Community United Methodist Church where an architect named Alfred Mosher Butts first invented and perfected the game, Scrabble.

Mysteriously, the sign was taken down in 2008. Upon being elected in the following year, Dromm vowed to have the sign replaced. After introducing legislation to approve its reinstallation on the southeast corner of 81st Street and 35th Avenue, the Department of Transportation authorized the creation of a street sign that spells out 35th Avenue with each letter assigned a point value as in the game.

“The Scrabble sign was ingenious and added a special historical charm to the neighborhood,” said Dromm. “Scrabble is celebrating its 62nd anniversary this year, and Alfred Butts’s achievement in Jackson Heights should be recognized.”

The sign that was installed in 1995 was made possible through a program created by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Center and creator of the city’s historic district street signs, to commemorate Butts’ invention and compliment the nearby Cultural Medallion which details the game’s history.

“This lovely terra cotta sign has taken on new meaning because of the significance with which neighbors and passersby have endowed it,” said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. “The sign has become a neighborhood landmark of its own. The creator of Scrabble and the residents of Jackson Heights share certain traits: they are creative, persistent and unwilling to give up easily.”

In 1938, in the midst of the Great Depression and after being laid off from his job as an architect, Butts set out to create something new. Butts was a resident of Jackson Heights and after meticulous study and trial and error, he invented Scrabble.

"The Scrabble street sign will again be a point of pride in our community, thanks to the inventive genius of Jackson Heights resident and Community Church congregant Alfred Butts,” said Jackson Heights Historian Daniel Karatzas. “It always brought a smile to those who bothered to look up at the corner of 81 Street and 35 Avenue."

Scrabble is a word game played on a board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned a number point based on the letter’s frequency in the English language. Two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles placed on the board. The aim of the game is to come up with words with the highest point values based on the points assigned to each letter.

Currently, the game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different languages. 150 million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets can be found in one out of every three American homes. More than 100 million sets of the game have been sold, easily making it the world’s best selling word game.
 

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