Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign

Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street has been a bustling shopping destination since the 19th century. Storefronts have changed hands many times, and signs have gone up and down over the years as the street went from Gilded Age posh to middle class to more of a discount area through the decades.

But there’s something unusual above a storefront at the corner of Fulton and Jay Streets. Look up, and you’ll see a sliver of a ghost sign between an Ann Taylor and a human hair wig shop.

What’s left of the sign at 447 Fulton Street says “teria,” for cafeteria. The cafeteria logo, an apple with a W on it, is visible as well. What was this cafeteria, and when did it serve hungry Brooklyn shoppers?

It’s a mystery solved by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. A quick search through their 1940 tax photo archive shows that it was a Waldorf Cafeteria, which appears to have two entrances at this corner: one on Fulton Street (harder to see on the photo’s right side) and one on Jay Street (at left).

Old-time New Yorkers might remember the Waldorf Cafeteria chain. Founded in 1903 in Massachusetts, franchises opened in New York City as early as the 1930s and seemed to stick around until at least the 1950s in various locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx.

The life span of the Waldorf Cafeteria on Fulton Street is unclear. But it might have been in business since the early 1930s, if this is it in a 1931 photo from the Museum of the City of New York that didn’t have a location listed in the description.

The cafeteria was certainly there in the 1940s, as the tax photo shows, and as the dozens of help wanted ads in 1940s New York City papers reveal. This ad comes from the Brooklyn Eagle on May 8. 1944. Women and girls were in demand, with so many young men away at war.

The Waldorf Cafeteria chain also figures into the backstory of a writer’s sordid death in the 1950s. Poet, gadfly, and Greenwich Village character Maxwell Bodenheim met with a literary agent at a Waldorf on Park Avenue and 25th Street the day before he was found murdered in a Third Avenue flophouse in 1954.

The Waldorf remnant sign on Fulton Street looks like it could date to the 1950s or 1960s, though photos from those decades don’t seem to be available. Whenever it dates to, big thanks to Ephemeral reader Joe Mobilia for noticing the sign and snapping the photos.

[First and second photos: Joe Mobilia; third photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; fourth photo: MCNY X2010.7.1.16877; fifth image: Brooklyn Eagle.]

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26 Responses to “Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign”

  1. pontifikator Says:

    If I’m not mistaken, I vaguely remember one being in the Garment District. I used to love cafeterias, from Horn and Hardart to a place called The Amber Lantern, where I’d have lunch in the Financial District, when I worked there.

  2. Steven Otero Says:

    Northeast corner of Fulton Street (right) and Jay Stree 10/9/1960

    http://www.brooklynvisualheritage.org/home/northeast-corner-fulton-street.html

  3. mitzanna Says:

    Great detective work!

  4. GhostBikeCollector Says:

    If you search Brooklyn phone directories for “Waldorf Cafeteria”, you’ll find a listing, the first in 1928, for a restaurant located at 762 Franklin Avenue, This place has no connection.If you searched later editions for “Waldorf Cafeteria”, you will also be out of luck. It was listed as “Waldorf Systems”, located at 449 Fulton Street, with a second location at 582 Atlantic Avenue, where P.C. Richard presently occupies the location. The first appearance at 449 Fulton St. was in the 1931 Brooklyn Classified Directory (TRiangle 5-0237). If you examine the 1940 tax photo carefully, you’ll notice that there is an entrance on the right (Fulton St.) side of the picture. That was the main entrance at 449. The cafeteria was “L” shaped, wrapped around the Bond’s on the corner and had another entrance on Jay St. Waldorf Cafeteria at 449 Fulton St. closed sometime in 1966, which was the last time it was listed in the phone book (MAin 5-8124). The Atlantic Ave. location (STerling 9-9686) closed sometime in 1965.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for the backstory! And you found the phone number with the old exchange, Triangle.

  5. DIRNDL SKIRT Says:

    What a find! Where are the architecture salvagers that allowed that beautiful W to be dinged?Somewon should save what’s left as the relics they are.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      On one hand I agree…but I also like the idea of the ghost sign remaining where it is, charming passersby who are alert and curious enough to see it.

  6. thalassa plateia Says:

    History has always been something boring for children, for teenagers bu the history you tell us is very interesting. I wish I was in New York just for a two or three weeks and see the places that you mention. The New Yorkers are really lucky 🙂 Best wishes from Istanbul.

  7. Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign — Ephemeral New York – yellow in grey Says:

    […] Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign — Ephemeral New York […]

  8. velovixen Says:

    What a find! And great detective work on your part.

    I think I went to the Waldorf not long before it closed: I used to go to the Fulton Street stores with my mother and grandmother during the early and mid-1960s. We had lunch in a cafeteria that sounds like the description you gave.

    We lived on Dahill Road and “going downtown” meant going to the Fulton Street shopping area. I wouldn’t learn, until much later, that the phrase meant going out for a night on the town!

  9. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I lived at 461 State Street, a short walk from 447 Fulton, when I was going to City College in 1980-81. I’m sure I walked past this ghost sign, but I can’t say I noticed it. Thanks for telling us about it.

    • velovixen Says:

      

      Hi! Have you seen the “ghost” sign for Coy Digbrow (?) and Bros. Paper at Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street?

      Or the sign for a “Marine Repair” on Christopher Street, near the site of the old pier?

      Just for fun, I’ve included some flower photos from the public garden at St. Luke in the Fields church.

      Thanks again for your great work!

      —Justine Valinotti (velovixen)

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        I know those signs well! I always liked Marine Repair best, because when I think of Christopher Street, boats and ships do not come to mind!

    • velovixen Says:

       

      Hi! Have you seen the “ghost” sign for Coy Digbrow (?) and Bros. Paper at Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street?

      Or the sign for a “Marine Repair” on Christopher Street, near the site of the old pier?

      Just for fun, I’ve included some flower photos from the public garden at St. Luke in the Fields church.

      Thanks again for your great work!

      —Justine Valinotti (velovixen)

  10. China Dream Says:

    I do so love reading your little stories.. thank YOU

  11. Ginger Says:

    I love you guys!!! I saw this ghost sign back on Thanksgiving but live in another borough so it was outta sight, outta mind when I left it. It’s great that so much info was acquired about it, thanks everyone…

  12. Steve Smith Says:

    The remnant seems to be the same one partially visible in the 1940 photo, not newer from the 50s. Over the Jay street entrance the ‘W’ is positioned a bit left of center, while at the Fulton entrance it must have been to the right, …as it still remains on the remnant today.

    • Steve Smith Says:

      Actually, the ‘W’ was centered under “Cafeteria’ at both entrances, now that I looked closer.

    • Steve Smith Says:

      No, you’re correct the signage is different from 1940, sorry I posted so quickly.

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