A curious detective agency sign on Ninth Street

Appearing on the facade of Randall House, an apartment building at 63 East Ninth Street, is this very noir-ish and mysterious sign.


It’s for the William J. Burns Detective Agency. Who was William J. Burns? Known as “America’s Sherlock Holmes,” Burns started out as a Secret Service Agent and then became head of the FBI in the 1920s before founding his own detective agency.

“His exploits made national news, the gossip columns of New York newspapers, and the pages of detective magazines, in which he published ‘true’ crime stories based on his exploits,” states the FBI website.

It’s still a mystery why this sign is on Randall House—an otherwise ordinary residential building in Greenwich Village. As far as I know, it’s the only sign of its kind in New York City.

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6 Responses to “A curious detective agency sign on Ninth Street”

  1. Mod Betty Says:

    What a cool find! I love little details like that – so glad you spotted it, and thanks for sharing!

  2. Tom Hakala Says:

    Actually I remember seeing signs like this and similar signs from other private detective agencies (like Pinkerton) on buildings, fences around factories, and even on private homes (I’m 68 and have spent my whole life in the NYC area). If memory serves, the father of a good friend of mine at one time worked for the Burns Agency guarding Pfizer properties. (I’ll ask him to comment.)

  3. nwpaintedlady Says:

    Fun find! It would be interesting to learn who was living in that building at the time the sign was posted. I guess we would need William J. Burns to help us figure that out 🙂 Thanks for the post!

  4. George Says:

    There was a sign inside the elevator at 7 West 30th Street in midtown with a sign from the William J. Burns Detective Agency. It was removed recently when the elevator was renovated.

  5. Frank Says:

    These signs were all over Manhattan when I was growing up. Competitive companies included Holmes Protective and others which I can’t recall at the moment. These outfits would respond to burglar and other alarms at residential and commercial properties, similar to today’s ADT and other companies, some of which bought out the old-time alarm companies.

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