Eighty years after it was first invented, the classic American board game Scrabble remains popular as ever (despite some competition from various digital copycats). The location of the beloved word game’s humble origin, in a church basement in Queens, is today commemorated with a creative street sign that includes the Scrabble value for each letter of 35th Avenue. The Jackson Heights Community Development Corp was responsible for the sign.
Scrabble’s story began in 1938, when architect Alfred Mosher Butts sought out to invent a new game that combined his love of anagrams and crossword puzzles, while utilizing gameplay that required both skill and chance. Butts then tested out his new game, which he called “Lexiko” at the time, in the social room at the Community United Methodist Church.
After experimenting with this early version of the game, he made updates to the rules and gameplay. Initially, the revised version of the game was called “Criss-Crosswords.” When the game became commercially sold it was given the name “Scrabble,” and to this day that’s the game played by millions of people.
In front of that Queens community church, right on the corner, there is a street sign commemorating Scrabble’s local origins, with letters designed to look like tiles of the game. The novel design choice has attracted many admirers to that corner, some of whom have tried to steal the sign, and at least one of whom succeeded.
Most mysterious was the response from the New York City Department of Transportation when asked if they planned on replacing the special sign. The city had no clue who had put it up in the first place. There was no record of the original historical marker. Perhaps a devoted Scrabble fan installed the sign on their own? Despite the original sign’s unofficial status, the community’s love for it convinced the city to provide a new one retaining the Scrabble numerical values, which remain there to this day.
In addition to the street corner sign, there is an oval plaque commemorating the birth of Scrabble about 12 feet up on the exterior wall of the classroom building that is on 35th Ave.
Know Before You Go
The sign is located on the corner of 81st Street and 35th Avenue. The Q49 bus takes passengers to 82nd Street and 35th Avenue. The 7 train drops commuters off at 82nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue and it's just a two-block walk to the Community United Methodist Church and the Scrabble street sign from there.