Identifying an eerie drugstore in a 1927 painting

The “eerie nocturnal view” of this corner apothecary painted by Edward Hopper in 1927 is easy to get lost in.

At first glance, Silbers Pharmacy looks like an ordinary city storefront, whose bright electric lights and colorful window display on a dark night feels inviting.

Here is a place city residents can turn to for late-night prescriptions, or even for an emergency laxative (Ex-Lax was invented in 1906 and manufactured in Brooklyn, hence the Ex-Loft lofts on Atlantic Avenue).

Yet the more you look at the painting (simply titled “Drug Store”), the more ominous it becomes, strangely devoid of any sign of humanity. It’s classic Hopper, of course, an artist whose work reflects the isolation and alienation of modern urban life.

So where was Silbers Pharmacy? Hopper apparently never identified the street corner; he was known to obscure identifying details of many of the storefronts he painted, as he famously did with his late-night diner masterpiece, Nighthawks.

But it was likely near his studio on Washington Square. One guess comes from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which put forth the possibility that Silbers occupied the Waverly Place building where Three Lives & Company bookstore is today.

Three Lives’ official address is on West 10th Street. But the door to the left is 184 Waverly, just like the “184” on the Silbers sign. And hmm, doesn’t the cast-iron column outside the door looks quite similar?

[Second photo: Alamy]

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17 Responses to “Identifying an eerie drugstore in a 1927 painting”

  1. donna marsh Says:

    It isn’t Three Lives. It is a drug store located in Brooklyn. Driggs or Bedford avenue if I remember correctly.

  2. George Says:

    What was the store in the 1930’s? Are there any tax photos from that era?

  3. Zoe Says:

    The column in front really does look the same Ephemeral. (How many could there be in GV?).

    Aren’t there city business records? (Despite it’s more fun to guess!). I found my grandfather’s shop records in Ohio from the early 20th c. in a city directory. (A town librarian sent them to me). Silber is a fairly common German occupational name (Silver); but how many pharmacies in GV were there at the time of this painting w/ this name. Also wouldn’t a pharmacist need a special license?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m sure the right info could be found with deep digging. But I always trust the GVSHP info too!

  4. Bob Says:

    “The ca. 1940 tax photo (a very poor photocopy of which is below), indicates that a delicatessen was present in the building at that time. But this would have been 13 years after Hopper finished the painting.”

    http://gvshp.org/blog/2011/03/31/edward-hoppers-drug-store/

  5. Indigo Spider Says:

    Completely off topic but was rather surprised to see my brother in that photo. Neither he nor I even knew he was in a stock photo!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Wow! He’s a stock photo celeb!

    • Zoe Says:

      So funny Indigo Spider… that was my fear & pet hate in NYC — cameras pointed in my direction. Especially for the filming as one walks by (usually at Grand Central & St.Marks Place etc.). Since tiny mobile phones it’s impossible to avoid the event you’ve just described.

  6. Ty Says:

    In my mind, Hopper’s theme revolved around the alienation of Edward Hopper, not of urban living.

    People have forever come to New York to escape their loneliness believing that a greater quantity of humans will improve the quality of their relationships.

    New York, in its unfathomable complexity, will be whatever you want it to be. Pale yellowish light on a people-less street corner reflecting your intense emotional isolation? Served right up.

    Meanwhile, further uptown, families still break out the lawn chairs, Corona’s, music and chat the night away while children weave in and out until bedtime oblivious to Mr. Hopper and his longings.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I like your thinking Ty.

    • Zoe Says:

      I was going to compliment Ty on this comment also; but as I’d already done so moments before on another thread I was afraid he would think I was a groupie.

      It’s an insightful comment regarding illuminating the artist vs. the subject matter/the City.

      • Ty Says:

        Zoe, that earns you a seat on the tour bus.

      • Zoe Says:

        “… count the headlights on the highway…” (Elton John/Tiny Dancer)…

        … I’ll only be a moment — just pouring my hair & cosmetics products into travel size bottles…

  8. Stacey Says:

    This was in Cambridge or a suburb of Boston.
    Ir was my grandfathers pharmacy.

  9. Michele Mindlin Says:

    My great Uncle Sam Silber Had a drugstore in Newark named Silber’s Drug Store, 10 miles across the river from New York, from the early 1920s on.After seeing the painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I did some research as to its location in the 1920s. Unfortunately doing it at a distance from archives in New Jersey where I had hoped to get a picture made it impossible to pin down.

    • Zoé Says:

      Michele – I hope you’ll find something someday. Have you asked the town hall & public library & historical society there? I am doing research long distance from NYC area to a city in Ohio. I was sent amazing photos & paperwork via email from the public library & the coroner (who was kind enough to go through his old files from the 20s & 30s in his free time). They even sent photos of my dad in various drama & music clubs from his high school yearbook.

      My mother & I asked for a photo of our old ancestral house in Frankfurt Germany which had been torn down & they (City Hall) mailed us a photocopy of a photo.

      Silber is a beautiful name! (German for *silver* of course).

  10. The mortar and pestles of a former city pharmacy | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] a New York pharmacy at its finest, the kind of place with a pharmacist-owner running the show that every neighborhood had, before the era of Rite-Aid and Duane Reade (which have their benefits but are low on […]

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