The billboard eye candy of Columbus Circle

Okay, so it was no rival to Times Square.

But in its 20th century heyday, the former Grand Circle (laid out in the 1860s; the Columbus monument didn’t arrive until 1892) boasted an impressive number of eye-catching signs and landmark billboards.

Here’s the West side of Columbus Circle in a 1907 Library of Congress photo, where the Time Warner Center is today. Ads for cigars, booze, and Uneeda Biscuits dominate.

A slightly different camera angle in the teens or 1920s reveals more billboards: for cigarettes and cars.

The famous Coca-Cola ad, photographed in 1938 by Berenice Abbott (through another alcohol ad), stood for decades until the building supporting it was bulldozed in 1966.

The site then hosted the Gulf & Western Building, which was remodeled into the Trump International Hotel in the 1990s.

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12 Responses to “The billboard eye candy of Columbus Circle”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    In the early 1960s I used to travel to Haaren High School on 59th Street and 10th Avenue passing the Coca Cola building every day. Don’t recall if the WMCA Good Guys had their radio studios on the site, advertising Murray the K, Cousin Brucie, etc., or if it was a big ad for them. Used to catch the No 1 train, right across the street, either that or get the BMT subway on Broadway.

  2. T.J. Connick Says:

    Two good Haaren stories, one of which may be familiar:

    I knew a guy from Yorkville who was a clean-cut, no-trouble kid, but no pushover. His best friend – no scholar – is headed to Haaren, so he figures he’ll go there, too. After months of spotty appearances as a freshman, the truant squad wants to know where he’s been. Turns out he was terrified of going to school, mostly because of fellow inmates.

    Robert Mitchum is interviewed, asked where he went to school:
    “I went to a finishing school: Haaren. You went there, you were finished.”

  3. Cooper Says:

    I stumbled across these photos of columbus circle, thought you might find them interesting. One of them looks like a wider shot of the one you posted.

  4. Joe R Says:

    Mykola is right about the building with the Coca Cola sign. There was a radio station on the second floor. I think, though, that it was WINS. In the early 60’s, before they went all news, Murray the K was their prime-time DJ.
    I think that there were car dealerships at that time along the Broadway side of that building.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      Yes, in the early 60s there were car dealers all up and down Broadway. I remember there was a Bonneville (don’t know what car brand, Chevrolet?) on 57 Street & Broadway. And the dealers never paid us any mind that we were in the store and sitting in the cars, as if we were going to buy them.

      • T.J. Connick Says:

        I too, remember well being a teenager before it became illegal. Car dealers, shop owners, factory yard workers, gas station operators — most of them seemed to treat the ever-present kids as part of the scene. We were never in the house, we were just part of the natural landscape, like sparrows. If some hothead grownup wanted us to shove, we didn’t take it so bad, because we all knew that most times we were tolerated. If one of us was the junior edition of the hothead grownup, it always seemed like most grownups could walk up to us, size us up, and say a couple of sensible words to the guys among us who would in turn rein in our hothead pal.

        Plenty of things have improved since we were young, but the total exclusion of kids from the world of adults is a rotten shame. We had less “buying power”, less status, but we could claim, and act on, a position in the adult world. It taught us things that you wouldn’t learn at home or behind a desk. It put us into contact and relation with people of all ages. It was a great classroom for developing skills with people of all kinds. It gave us an experience that made us more compassionate and tolerant of kids when our turn came as grownups.

        Now New York feels like a place where anybody obviously too young for the labor force is someone who must be constantly corralled, monitored by cops, and, when discovered outside sanctioned locales, shunted into either a school or a prison. I haven’t lived elsewhere, is it like this all over the country?

        Bonneville, I remember, was a top-of-the-line Pontiac. My last car was a 1967 Catalina, a cut below, but also by Pontiac. Had it a week and a half before it was stolen. That was strike three, as I’d had two stolen before it, so it’s been the subway and shank’s mare ever since.

  5. Matt Pascale Says:

    There is an old movie called “It Should Happen To You” (1954) about an unemployed woman who spends her life savings to buy a billboard in Columbus Circle to advertise herself in order to become famous… Lots of great views of the circle (and its billboards) and the surrounding area including Central Park.

    • petey Says:

      with the famous judy holliday.
      i saw that film years ago on a double bill with “the solid gold cadillac.” hmmm … time to see again?

  6. petey Says:

    further on what tjc says above: i’m from yorkville, it was about the time that the yuppies replaced the ethnics that kids disappeared from view. no more pixie football, milk-crate skateboards, chinese handball, just no presence. (i might mention that this was not just working class kids like yrs truly, high-rise kids were in it too. but not park avenue kids.) now that there’s been some kind of family-life rebound in manhattan you still don’t see them playing on streets, it’s all scheduled into approved zones.

  7. What Columbus Circle looked like in the 1920s « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] I can’t figure out what the billboard on top of the white building says. United States something? Columbus Circle had big, bright billboards and signage for decades. […]

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