The writing on the wall of an East Side tenement

Sometimes in New York you come across a building that’s trying to tell you something. Take this red-brick tenement on the corner of Second Avenue and 109th Street.

At some point in the past, ads were painted on the facade—designed to catch the eyes of Second Avenue El riders and pedestrians in a neighborhood that was once a Little Italy, then became Spanish Harlem by the middle of the century.

Now, perhaps nine decades later, enough faded and weathered paint remains to give us a clue as to what the ads were about.

The ad on the right side of the facade might look familiar to faded-ad fans; that familiar script used to be painted all over the city.

Fletcher’s Castoria was a laxative produced by Charles Fletcher all the way back in 1871. The company promoted the product until the 1920s with ads on the sides of buildings, a few of which can still be seen today.

This photo taken by Charles von Urban (part of the digital collection of the Museum of the City of New York) shows a similar ad on East 59th Street in 1932.

The ad—or ads—on the left side of the tenement are harder to figure out. “Lexington Ave” is on the bottom, and it looks like the word “cars” is on top.

A garage? A gas station? For a while I thought the word in the middle might be Bloomingdale’s, a good 60 or so blocks downtown on Lexington. There was—and maybe still is—a very faded Bloomingdale’s ad on a building at 116th Street and Lexington.

Exactly what riders and walkers saw when they passed this corner is still a mystery.

[Third image: MCNY 3.173.367]

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11 Responses to “The writing on the wall of an East Side tenement”

  1. snufflegrinbooks Says:

    Would an ad of this vintage refer to ‘cars’ rather than ‘autos’ ? Any thoughts, anyone.

    • Bob Says:

      Bloomingdale’s advertised on wall signs visible to riders in elevated train cars that “All Cars Transfer to Bloomingdale’s.”

  2. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    Your readers will enjoy this amplification:)

  3. Bob Says:

    It is a faded Bloomingdales ad. See https://www.fadingad.com/fadingadblog/2014/05/05/bloomingdales-all-cars-transfer-to-bloomingdales-chas-h-fletchers-fletchers-castoria-second-avenue-east-harlem-nyc/

  4. Mike Davi Says:

    Here is an old Bloomingdales brochure with the “All Cars Transfer…” slogan:

    https://picclick.com/Vintage-Bloomingdales-NY-January-Sale-Advertising-Brochure-1920s-123637831111.html#&gid=1&pid=1

  5. Bob Says:

    At this link below is a photo taken in 1915 of a painted Bloomingdale’s sign saying “All cars transfer to …” (on an umbrella) at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 116th Street. 

    https://forgotten-ny.com/1998/05/bloomingdales/

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you all for the links to FadingAd and ForgottenNY to solve the mystery…it seems so obvious now!

  7. David Handelman Says:

    I think the second line is “ROADSTER”

  8. The 1868 rowhouses built into Bloomingdale’s | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Stand at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue and look up at the Art Deco main entrance of Bloomingdale’s. […]

  9. The 1868 rowhouses built into Bloomingdale's | News for New Yorkers Says:

    […] Stand at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue and look up at the Art Deco main entrance of Bloomingdale’s. […]

  10. The 1868 rowhouses built into Bloomingdale’s | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

    […] Stand at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue and look up at the Art Deco main entrance of Bloomingdale’s. […]

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