Decoding the words on a mystery faded food ad in the Meatpacking District

If you’ve been to one of the upper floors of the Whitney Museum lately, you’ve probably found your way to the exterior staircase and taken in the spectacular view of the Meatpacking District.

Looking east, you can see triangular blocks of mid-19th century converted dwelling houses and early 20th century warehouses. Just below you is the beginning of the steel railway that became known as the High Line. Along the remaining cobblestone streets are awnings attached to what were once food stalls when the neighborhood was known as Gansevoort Market.

The view from the Whitney offers another remnant of the Meatpacking District of old: a faded ad on a five-story, flatiron-shaped brick building built in 1887.

“Burnham’s Clam Chowder” it appears to say, on flat end of 53-61 Gansevoort Street. This former loft building was once the headquarters of the E.S. Burnham Company, a manufacturer of clam chowder and clam bouillon, according to the Gansevoort Market Historic District Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

A much clearer image of the ad can be seen in the photo above, taken in the 1930s or 1940s. The clam chowder ad makes sense here, especially considering that on the Gansevoort Street side of the building, the words “clam chowder clam bouillon” can still be seen from the street. (Below photo from 2016)

But wait, on closer inspection of “clam,” it looks like some other letters are mixed in there. According to the LPC report, the clam chowder ad is “superimposed with ‘beet wine.'”

But Walter Grutchfield, whose wonderful website explores the backstory of many faded ads in New York City, seems to think it might be “beef wine,” based on a “great restorative tonic” the Burnham company sold when it was doing business on Gansevoort Street.

Beef wine? It doesn’t sound very appetizing. But I like the idea that one old ad was painted over another, a palimpsest from perhaps a century ago on a brick and mortar New York City building.

The Burnham company left the premises in 1929, according to Grutchfield. Considering the pool on the roof, you’ve probably figured out that 53-61 Gansevoort Street no longer functions as a food manufacturing site. Today, it’s the RH Guesthouse—with rooms once used for canning chowder starting at two grand per night!

[Second image: NYPL]

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19 Responses to “Decoding the words on a mystery faded food ad in the Meatpacking District”

  1. Victor Jung Says:

    I was delighted to come across your article about 53-61 Gansevoort Street, a building that has always held a special place in my heart. Like you, I have long been drawn to the building’s unique blend of historical character and modern functionality, and I was thrilled to learn that it now serves as the home of RH guest house.

    As someone who holds an equity stake in the building, I can attest to the care and attention that has gone into preserving its historic features while also outfitting it with all the amenities modern guests could want. The result is a truly special destination that combines the best of old and new, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

    It was also fascinating to learn that Berenice Abbott had a special connection to the building, and I can only imagine the incredible images she captured of this iconic Meatpacking District landmark during her time there in the 1930s. The fact that this building continues to capture the imaginations of artists and visitors alike is a testament to its enduring appeal and rich history.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights about this very special building. It is always heartening to see others appreciate the unique beauty and cultural significance of this gem in the heart of New York City.



    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you for your comments…and for preserving some of the historic features of the building! Especially by keeping the faded ad in place. It’s quite appealing to many New Yorkers.

  2. andrewalpern Says:

    Multiple layers of signs may be difficult to decipher but they reflect the vibrant change that is New York.

  3. Says:

    Your article mentions Beef Wine. Attached are photos of an Ale & Beef  product that was sold in NY. Thought you might like them.

  4. Oluseyi Akinyode Says:

    thanks for the posts

  5. Bob Says:

    The LPC designation photo seems to read “Beef Wine” pretty clearly.

  6. Bob Says:

    This photo by Brian Rose from 1985 shows “Beef Wine.”

  7. Bill Burns Says:

    “Wine of Beef” was described in a number of formularies around the turn of the century, along with several variants with additional ingredients. Here’s an example:

    v. car’nis (N.F.), wine of beef, beef and wine; extract of beef in alcohol, syrup, and sherry flavored with compound spirit of orange; tonic in dose of 32 (8.0).
    (scroll down in first column)

  8. countrypaul Says:

    On Laight Street west of the Holland Tunnel exit is recent painted signage of street names (Laight and Washington in particular), giving the neighborhood a classic enchanted feeling. There may be more elsewhere in the area. I also wonder how many of the murals on the sides of buildings today (not to mention much of the more artful graffiti) will be viewed by writers and contributors to a future “Emphemeral New York”-style blog!

  9. Nana Anderson Says:

    What a fabulous entry — the epitome of NY “ephemera” and why we can never get enough. Thanks!

  10. Bob Says:

    See at the link below “Trade card for Burnham’s Beef Wine and Iron Tonic, E.S. Burnham & Co., 53 to 61 Gansevoort Street, New York City, New York, undated”

    Description: “The verso describes the tonic benefits. Five different dolls will be sent to the customer on receipt of two red Diamond Trade Marks from Burnham’s Clam Bouillon, Clam Chowder, Hasty Jellycon, Beef Wine & Iron or Liebig’s Extract of Beef”

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That’s a fabulous find Bob! Thank you for posting the link. The trade cards of this era are fascinating as well.

  11. velovixen Says:

    Whatever “beef wine” was, clam chowder has to be infinitely more appetizing!

    It makes sense that one sign would be painted over another. That is done on billboards. And artists have painted paintings over other painting–sometimes, I suspect, because they were too poor to afford another canvas.

    This gives new meaning to “layers of history!”

    Victor–Thank you for your work!

  12. michael g. giuseffi Says:

    Beef wine was also known as Beef Tea. My grandmother in the Bronx used to make it. It was served to what were called invalids at the time, perhaps sufferers of TB or persons weakened by illness. It was made by placing a piece of beef into a sealed jar and boiling the jar until all the juice was extracted from the meat. It was thought that this “tea” had restorative properties.

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