Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

A 1940s handbag store sign comes back into view

February 18, 2019

There’s a handsome building on Lexington Avenue at 73rd Street built in the late 1890s with a ground floor now hidden behind scaffolding.

That’s bad news for the retailers trying to attract street traffic along this slender retail stretch of Lenox Hill.

But it’s good news to fans of old New York store signs, which often reemerge from behind newer signage during construction.

That’s the case with the shop on this corner, which sold handbags—or as the sign painted on the window says, “ladies hand made bags.”

“Custom made,” another painted window sign tells us, hard to see behind the building’s decorative storefront.

How far back does this long-gone bag store date to? Here it is in a 1940 tax photo from the online gallery of the New York City Municipal Archives.

It’s not the best image, but you can make out the same signage that’s at this corner store today, spotted by Ephemeral reader Robert C. Thanks for sending it in!

The writing on the wall of an East Side tenement

February 11, 2019

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]

A remnant of Avenue A on the Upper East Side

January 28, 2019

Contemporary New Yorkers know Avenue A as a downtown-only street spanning 14th Street to Houston.

So it’s a shock to the system to be faced with evidence that in the 19th and early 20th century city, Avenue A actually picked up again and ran 34 blocks through the Upper East Side, from 59th to 93rd Street.

Proof, aside from several old Manhattan maps? (Like this one, from the 1870s).

Check out the address engraved into the corners of P.S. 158, an elementary school on today’s York Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets.

“Ave. A” it clearly reads. And it should, because when the school opened in the 1890s, this was Avenue A.

York Avenue didn’t get its name until 1928, when the city officially decided to rename Avenue A uptown in honor of World War I hero Sergeant Alvin York (who was actually from Tennessee, but was feted by the city after the war ended).

The renaming had another purpose: It was hoped that a new name would be “symbolic of the rehabilitation of the East Side,” according to a New York Times article.

As far as I know, this is the only remaining vestige of Avenue A’s uptown stretch.

[Second image: NYPL]

What remains of 3 old-school corner drugstores

January 14, 2019

Neon signs, decorative mortar and pestles, brass chandeliers, wood shelves with sliding ladders…there’s a lot to love about New York’s longtime independent pharmacies.

Many of these corner stores have been in business for over a century, yet have somehow resisted getting steamrolled by Duane Reade.

I don’t know how long M&M Pharmacy has been on Avenue M and East 19th Street in Midwood. But the signage, at least, dates to the 1940s.

The corner neon sign with the Rx is a wonderful relic—and when was the last time you saw the word “toiletries” on a store sign?

The English lettering on M&M’s weathered neon sign looks very 1940s (the Cyrillic script, clearly, is not quite as old).

But inside the store, past the wood shelves, are Art Deco–inspired signs at the prescription counter that look like they’re from the 1920s or 1930s. (Thanks to D.S. for getting the inside and outside views.)

Another old-school corner drugstore that caught my eye is Health Wise, on York Avenue and 79th Street.

The website says this pharmacy has been run by the same family since 1992. But based on the gorgeous neon sign that casts a lovely glow at York Avenue and 79th Street, I wonder if the store has been there a lot longer.

Also in Yorkville on First Avenue and East 65th Street is Goldberger’s, in business since the Spanish American War. It’s the signage on the sides of the store, however, that make me feel like I’ve stepped into a noir.

Cosmetics, drugs, prescriptions…and then the fanciful Goldberger’s lettering, in script. New York drugstores had everything. Now if only this sign still lit up in neon!

[Top 3 photos: D.S.]

The mysterious furrier of West 46th Street

December 31, 2018

West 46th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is shadowy and gritty; it’s a low-slung block of restaurants and small shops occupying converted brownstones and renovated office buildings.

Because it’s one of those unusually frozen in time blocks, it’s a stretch with many mysteries. One I’ve always wondered about has to do with the box-like structure with big windows at number 34-36.

Built in 1914 as a loft, the building’s entrance has what looks like a frieze with scenes of a charioteer and crowds of women and children, something right out of ancient Greece.

It’s a strange and mysterious scene. But even more mysterious to me is the sign in a small second floor window: furs.

West 46th Street is a little north of the city’s former fur district, where furriers and fur manufacturers reigned through much of the 20th century.

It didn’t take long to locate the furrier who occupied this storefront and find out that he worked here as far back as 1916. William C. Emerick advertised his “furs of the quality sort” in Harper’s Bazaar (above right) back then, 103 years ago.

In 1920, he also appeared in a fur trade journal (above center).

I don’t know when Emerick left the premises, but amazingly, his furs sign remains, slightly faded but perfectly legible.

Ghost signs of New York’s small business past

December 24, 2018

All the turnover lately among the small shops of New York City has one upside: Store signs from decades ago that had been long buried come back into view—like these two signs spotted by Ephemeral New York readers.

The first is at 7105 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst. Up until recently, it was covered by a sign containing Chinese letters, a reflection of the influx of Chinese immigrants in this corner of Brooklyn.

But when that sign came down, this understated one for Charlie & Brothers Fish Market emerged. The building dates back to the 1930s, and the sign looks like it could be that old too.

Apparently the store had been a fish market until the 1990s under a different name, Mola. Who was Charlie?

Just as mysterious is this sign on Seventh Avenue and 56th Street, for an establishment called Wilson’s.

The small store is surrounded by the usual Midtown jumble of tourist spots, cafes, and electronics shops. The entire building has construction scaffolding around it, so it probably won’t be with us much longer. What remains of Wilson’s is destined to be bulldozed with the larger building it’s part of.

[Thanks to Eric V. and Amy S. for these photos!]

Brooklyn’s secret old-school comic book store

December 17, 2018

Tucked beside the elevated subway tracks on McDonald Avenue in Gravesend is Pinocchio Discounts—just about the best name ever for a comic book and baseball card store that looks like a holdout from a totally different Brooklyn.

My guess is that the sign goes back to the 1970s; I almost expect the cast of Welcome Back, Kotter to be inside.

A Yelp review says the shop has been owned by the same couple for 30 years, but it must be older than 1988. Yelp and Google reviewers give the place a definite thumbs up.

[Thanks to Ephemeral reader D.S. for the top photo. Second photo: Yelp]

The remains of a defunct downtown subway exit

December 10, 2018

When Fulton Center opened in 2014, city officials heralded this massive transit hub as a superstation uniting 12 subway lines with a connection to PATH service.

But the extra convenience when it comes to transferring between lines cost New York some of its lovely early subway architecture.

Case in point is this stylized subway exit on the downtown East Side IRT platform.

 

Bronze and with slender ionic columns, this exit once lead to stairs and no leads nowhere. The second photo shows the exit in 2011, as the station was undergoing construction; the turnstiles weren’t pretty, but one could still leave the platform here and get a feel for what the station was like decades ago.

Now, the exit remains—but its passageway is sealed forever.

The remnant of the exit isn’t even accessible as an artifact to look closely at or even touch while you’re waiting for your 4 or 5 train, thanks to the escalator blocking it off.

Where did subway riders who disembarked here and took this exit to the street end up?

Thanks to the exhaustive New York City subway archive at nycsubway.org, it appears to have once taken riders to 195 Broadway, the former AT&T Building. Number 195 is directly across the street from Fulton Place and is noted for its Doric columns.

[Third photo: nycsubway.org, 1999]

The Oldsmobile sign that once lit up in Brooklyn

November 5, 2018

Oldsmobile has come and gone, but this vertical neon sign on Flatbush Avenue and Avenue D still stands. It seems a little out of place—was this an area of car dealerships in postwar Brooklyn?

That seems to be the case. This corner brick building at 1217-1219 Flatbush Avenue was the home of Gaines Motor Co., an Oldsmobile dealership, as this ad from the Daily News in October 1963 shows.

The dealership lasted at this location into the 1960s. But to my knowledge the sign hasn’t glowed gorgeous neon for years; I’m not even sure the clock works.

The sign is rusted and the green has faded, but it stands as another totem of New York’s past.

[Photo courtesy of D.S.]

A 1970s yellow store sign hangs on in Midtown

October 29, 2018

How long has Phil’s Stationery been at 9 East 47th Street, a low-rise gritty stretch between the gleaming towers and hotels north of Grand Central Terminal?

I’m not sure, but that mac and cheese yellow sign with the partly cursive lettering feels like it’s from the early 1970s.

Something’s missing from it, though. The sign used to say “Zerox Copies.”

In the last decade, as 47th Street went from the edge of the Diamond District to a side street adjacent to Little Brazil, that charming misspelling was removed.