Vintage house numbers of an older Manhattan

I love the huge typeface and style variety of the house numbers painted on or carved into city residences and businesses.

Walk down any street in Manhattan, and you’ll likely see a fantastic mix: decorative lettering from the late 19th century, sans serif fonts from the 1920s and 1930s, spelled out numerals that are supposed to be classy.

Like this script above the front entrance to One Sheridan Square, a West Village apartment house built in 1920.

I like this understated plaque, affixed to the Greek Revival-style column fronting a residence on Murray Street near West Broadway. Streeteasy says it was built in 1920, but it looks older.

The No. 9 of this Flatiron address feels very Gilded Age New York. It must have housed a pretty swanky business.

The terracotta Water Street address is truly lovely. Unfortunately, a search through the New York Times archives reveals that in 1894, a night watchman who lived at 251 Water Street, a widower with five children, was murdered at the candy factory where he was employed on Franklin Street.

The killer, an ex-employee, admitted he’d been caught stealing by the watchman. So he murdered him with a double-headed hammer. Just one of the city’s thousands of forgotten tragedies.

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8 Responses to “Vintage house numbers of an older Manhattan”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    Wow, those are lovely. Every design tells a story, and I appreciate the history behind the terracotta address, so sad.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I agree, there’s a sad story behind that address. Sad but ordinary and forgotten.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Until I just googled, I wasn’t exactly sure why street numbers were commonly written as “No” (latin for “numero”, of course).

    Gives a far “classier” effect than spelling out the number, I’m surprised that real estate developers haven’t revived the custom (it’d be very Chanel No 5!).

    As a typography buff (and armchair sociologist), I’m always fascinated by the status signals conferred by all forms of communication design. (Examining a self-consciously “fancy” engraved wedding invite, with every date and street address spelled out in formal script, is my idea of a good time!)

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    You summed up exactly what fascinates me too–how certain typefaces are supposed to signal status and class. Yet often they come off as very aspirational and nouveau riche…like the fancy script on an engraved wedding invite.

  5. Jay Says:

    I think that Water Street doorway is the site of a famous photo of Joseph Mitchell.

  6. Lisa Says:

    “…Yet often they come off as very aspirational and nouveau riche…like the fancy script on an engraved wedding invite.”

    Of course– the transparent pretensions are what I enjoy most about the whole exercise! “Speak, so I may see thee”? I say, send me an invite to your wedding, so I may really see thee!

    (Received one recently which included a response card with boxes the invitee has the option of checking: “Accept with pleasure” or “Decline with regret”. What about those of us who decline-with-pleasure or accept-with-regret?)

  7. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    In regards to the Water Street murder, the New York Times article mentions that the killer was captured because of the diligent work of none other than Police Superintendent Thomas F. Byrnes. Whether Byrnes actually helped crack the case or just took credit for it, is another story. (Knowing what I know about Byrnes, I’ll put my money on the latter.)

  8. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    Well, actually, the article mentions Byrnes and several others… oops.

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