Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

A Brooklyn anti-spitting ad to bring back today

March 23, 2020

Public health messaging doesn’t get more straightforward than this ad, which in plain language told the people of Brooklyn to stop “careless” spitting. (Is there any other kind?)

The Brooklyn Tuberculosis Committee put out the ad, probably in the 1910s. Is it time to bring back this message and add “coronavirus” to the list of diseases that can be spread by spit?

The ad was part of a 2011 Ephemeral New York post on the anti-spitting law passed in New York in 1896, which called for a $500 fine for anyone caught hocking a loogie in public. The aim of the law was to reduce rates of illnesses transmitted by respiratory fluids, many of which were at epidemic levels in poor neighborhoods and often fatal…not unlike the disease New York is trying to get under control in 2020.

[Ad courtesy of J. Warren]

Let the Subway Inn’s neon sign inspire you

March 16, 2020

We’re in a challenging moment in New York history; how things will unfold in the coming weeks is uncertain.

So take a moment to behold the strange allure of the gorgeous neon sign outside the Subway Inn, at Second Avenue and 60th Street since 2014, and allow yourself a moment to feel inspired.

Yep, it’s the same sign the Subway Inn had when this old-school dive was located a few blocks west on 60th Street near Lexington, a site the bar had occupied since 1937. Here’s a flashback photo from 2012.

“Hugs and kisses” on a Murray Hill manhole cover

February 17, 2020

New York City’s old manhole covers have an artistry all their own. Some feature glass bubbles that looks like jewels in the right light. Others are decorated with stars or similar emblems, and almost all have the name of the designer or foundry on them, advertisements for their work.

But what to make of this manhole cover spotted in front of East 35th Street near Fifth Avenue?

Jordan Wouk, a manhole cover enthusiast, noticed it on the way to the Morgan Library recently. It lacks an identifying name, contains a single starfish-like star, and the Xs and Os decorating the lid were a mystery.

The message I got was “hugs and kisses,” says Mr. Wouk.

It’s a little late to make this a Valentine’s Day post, but I like this interpretation. The cover is sending love to contemporary New Yorkers—and asking us to take notice of this and other hiding-in-plain-sight remnants of an older Gotham.

[Photo © Jordan Wouk]

Old subway sign beauty on a 23rd Street platform

February 17, 2020

You won’t notice them as you descend the grimy stairs into the 23rd Street station.

But once you’re on the platform waiting for your R or W train, the uniqueness of the individual tiles and swirly typeface hits you.

These are the original mosaic tile bands and tablets added to platform walls when this station opened in 1918, per Subway.org.

What is it about the tiles themselves, as well as the curlicue numbers and serif lettering, that are so much more magical than the helvetica signage used in many stations today?

They turn an otherwise drab local station beneath Broadway into a time machine to the early days of the subway system, when architects were brought in to refine and beautify rough, industrial-looking platforms.

This is the station with the beloved hat tiles as well, a recent installation that’s a nod to the area’s history as an entertainment and shopping district.

But there’s just something about the colors and craftwork of those “23” and “23rd Street” tiles that really enchant and delight.

Why did almost all of the McAnn’s Bars disappear?

February 10, 2020

Finding a black and white photo of a busy New York corner taken in May 1968 is quite a treat—especially when the photo shows iconic old city stores like an Irish pub, a Chock Full o’Nuts, and a Fred Astaire Dance Studio.

But where exactly are we? That’s what I really wanted to know.

It looks like Midtown, and after zooming in on the street sign I can make out a 45 or 48. Perhaps we’re at 45th or 48th Street in or near Times Square.

I thought I could figure out the location by looking into where McAnn’s Bar once was, which I assumed was just another Irish dive in a city that was once filled with thousands of Irish bars like it.

Little did I know that McAnn’s was actually a chain of Irish bars similar to the Blarney Stone, which old-time New Yorkers remember seeing all over the city. (Along with imitators, like the Blarney Cove on East 14th Street, RIP.)

But back to McAnn’s. The chain got its start in 1945 and at its height in the 1980s, there were 28 McAnn’s in the city, wrote Alex Vadukul in the New York Times in 2017. “The chain was known for its steam-table lunches and corned beef,” he wrote.

McAnn’s spanned the island, but most seemed to be clustered in Midtown. One was near Penn Station on West 33rd Street; another occupied 216 West 50th Street. A McAnn’s existed at 687 Lexington Avenue and just blocks away at 692 Third Avenue.

With so many McAnn’s, it was impossible to figure out where the 1968 photo was taken.

One McAnn’s with a gorgeous neon sign (above) made a famous appearance in a movie: the Third Avenue McAnn’s appeared in a nighttime scene in 1976’s Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle apparently stops in for a drink.

So why did almost all of the McAnn’s disappear? New York has changed a lot since the 1980s, and that kind of workingman’s watering hole was edged out of existence.

With one exception: inside the Port Authority. The last McAnn’s has been in this second-story, window-free space for more than two decades.

It attracts plenty of customers, including many regulars. Vadukul describes it in his New York Times piece this way: “It has existed behind a blur of miserable commuters for 20 years, and it is the last location of a forgotten chain of New York bars founded in 1945.”

[Top photo: Ephemeral New York; second photo: themoviedistrict.com]

 

The unromantic tale of Bronx’s Valentine Avenue

February 10, 2020

Old New York had many romance-themed paths and street names.

18th century Chelsea used to have a meandering road called Love Lane; some city parks also had Lovers’ Lanes. And Brooklyn Heights still has its own Love Lane, a sweet former mews off Henry Street.

But with Valentine’s Day coming up this week, it’s only fitting to recognize the Bronx’s long, bustling Valentine Avenue.

Valentine Avenue really isn’t all hearts and flowers, unfortunately. This crowded corridor runs alongside the Grand Concourse from Fordham to Bedford Park, a long stretch of small apartment buildings and neighborhood shops.

The street didn’t get its name for any romantic reason, either.

Valentine Avenue likely honors Isaac Valentine, a young blacksmith and farmer who built a house near the former Boston Post Road in the village of Fordham in 1758—when the Bronx was a collection of farming hamlets and not even part of New York City.

Even after part of the Bronx joined New York, it was still quite rural—there was even a spring named after Valentine, seen in the photo above in 1897.

Valentine didn’t stay in his house for long. During the Revolutionary War it was used by American General William Heath and his troops, according to the Bronx Historical Society.

The war ruined Valentine, and in 1792 his house was purchased by Isaac Varian. Today, the Valentine-Varian House still stands, a monument to the old agrarian Bronx and the borough’s second-oldest house. (Above)

Speaking of Valentine, there was a Valentine Street in Queens…but it looks like it was renamed 66th Street at least a century ago and doesn’t appear on Google maps. If it does still exist, I’d like to know!

[Second photo: New-York Historical Society; third photo: Wikipedia]

How old is this Manhattan laundry room sign?

January 27, 2020

If you’re lucky enough to have a basement laundry room in New York City, then you probably find yourself down there poking around as you wait for the final minutes of the spin cycle to finish up.

That’s how this old-school sign was discovered, hiding on the back of a basement utility door.

The building it was found in is a 12-story residence built in the 1920s. But how old is this sign? Considering the typeface and that “tenants” were replaced by “shareholders” at least 30 years ago), I’m guessing at least half a century.

A grocery sign comes back into view in Brooklyn

January 20, 2020

Every summer for more than 40 years, 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst has hosted a festival honoring the patron saint of Palermo, Italy. It’s the kind of event that features all the good stuff you’d expect at an Italian-themed street fair, like carnival rides and zeppole stands.

Did the I & C Food Market get to be a part of it?

The sign for this little corner store recently reemerged on the corner of 18th Avenue and 70th Street, but it’s hard to date the signage and get a sense of how old it is.

“Groceries” it says on one side—such an old-fashioned word for the kind of establishment we call a deli or bodega today.

[Thanks to Eric V. for the pics!]

The skyscraper tree grates at Rockefeller Center

January 13, 2020

Look up to the sky at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue, and you’ll see the iconic skyscraper 30 Rock—the sleek, 66-story beauty at the center of the Art Deco complex of towers developed by the Rockefeller family in the 1930s.

Now look down at the sidewalk you’re standing on. Embedded into the concrete are metal tree grates with a similar Art Deco skyscraper design.

A lovely touch, right? The interesting thing is that the skyscrapers in the grates don’t exactly look like the gleaming buildings at Rockefeller Plaza.

With their stacked shape and tall antennas, these mini-scrapers actually resemble the Empire State Building, standing proud since 1931 just 16 blocks south.

Perhaps the skyscraper grates are less of an homage to Rockefeller Plaza as a mini-city of silver towers and more of a nod to the skyscraper era itself—when the Empire State Building, 30 Rock, the Chrysler Building, and others defined the New York City skyline and became emblems of optimism during the bleak years of the Depression-era city.

[Rockefeller Center, 1930: MCNY]

A downtown neon candy store sign is falling apart

December 30, 2019

What in the world is going on with this Loft’s Candies sign? Faded and falling apart, it’s been hanging on for dear life at 88 Nassau Street for several years, after another store sign came down and brought it back into view.

I’m not sure how long it’s been visible again, but it seems that it reappeared long after what remained of the once-renowned Loft Candies company closed its existing stores for good in the mid-1990s.

Not only have the neon red letters long gone dark, but the small, unusual building—at the edge of the Financial District—looks like it’s coming apart at the seams.

An Ephemeral reader who worked downtown for years snapped this recent photo (at top) of the sign; it’s the first time the reader spotted it and was astounded enough to take a picture.

The sign is in worse shape since I captured it in a photo in 2017 (at left). And while I don’t know when the store closed, it didn’t occupy this space until after 1940, since it doesn’t show up in the Department of Records 1940 tax photos database.

As dilapidated as it looks, imagine the Loft company in a sweeter time, say the first half of the 20th century—when its candies were popular all across New York City and ads for their holiday sweets appeared in all the city papers as Christmas approached.

Just think about how wonderful it was to get the “De Luxe Round Gift Box” as a gift, pictured above in the New York Daily News ad from holiday season 1941.

Or imagine the thrill of being a kid and finding a pound of “glass candies” in your stocking on December 25, as the 1914 ad in the Evening World suggested!

[Thanks to NA for snapping the recent photo!]