Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

Travel back in time with vintage NYC store signs

June 29, 2020

The New York City of the moment is bringing many people down. Luckily, we can escape with a little time traveling thanks to these old-school store signs.

Matles Florist has been in Manhattan since 1962, and the vintage sign with the very 1960s typeface shows it. The store is on 57th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Is there anything better than a not-fancy New York pizza place? I don’t know how long Belmora, on East 57th near Lexington, has been cranking out slices, but the sign in the colors of Italy looks like it goes back to the 1970s.

Mike Bloomberg was apparently a fan of J.G. Melon, the corner restaurant made famous by its burgers. The place got its start in 1972, and it’s certainly possible the no-frills vertical neon sign dates back to the 1970s as well.

The mystery manhole cover on Central Park West

June 1, 2020

The most interesting manhole covers are the ones that tell us who made it and when it was put in place: the name of an ironworks company, the initials of a city department, a date.

This cover, on Central Park West south of 86th Street, doesn’t offer much in the way of clues.

The two decorative stars feel very 19th century. “Water Supply” could certainly mean it was part of the Croton Aqueduct system; its location outside Central Park could be evidence that it had something to do with the receiving reservoir that existed in the park.

It looks like no other manhole cover I’ve encountered in Manhattan. But there is an identical one in Brooklyn (above). It’s on Eastern Parkway near Prospect Park.

What did this old NYC phone exchange stand for?

June 1, 2020

You see these two-letter old phone exchanges around occasionally—often on old signs off the beaten path, even though New York City phased out the letter exchanges in the 1960s.

In the East 80s of Yorkville, I spotted a mysterious one: a parking garage sign with a phone number that begins with “TW.”

TW? It’s one I’d never seen before, and I can’t figure out what local landmark or old neighborhood lent its name to a phone exchange that could be as old as the 1920s.

Of course, the garage door company that used the number might have been located in any part of New York City. If anyone knows or wants to throw out a guess as to what TW stands for, I’d love to hear it!

A Downtown plaque for a soldier who died at sea

May 25, 2020

It’s a simple marker inside the dog run at Stuyvesant Square, the leafy park on either side of Second Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets.

“In honor and memory of Pvt. Moses Miller, who died at sea January 26, 1944.” The plaque was dedicated in 1946, it says.

The dog run is currently closed, unfortunately, but a photo of the plaque, taken by Larry Gertner, is on the Historical Markers Database—a site that keeps track of markers and memorials across the country.

Who was Moses Miller? His exact fate remains a mystery, but the Brooklyn Eagle in March 1944 included him on a list of men from Brooklyn and Queens who were deemed missing in action by the War Department.

Private Miller’s address was listed as 417 South Fifth Street, making him a Williamsburg resident. He was lost at sea in the Mediterranean, according to the Eagle.

New York City has many elaborate war memorials. But sometimes it’s the simple plaques in out-of-the-way spots that really hit home what it means to die for your country.

[Photos: Larry Gertner/Historical Markers Database]

A vintage neon garage sign lights East 76th Street

May 11, 2020

Fellow fans of New York City in gorgeous neon: feast your eyes on this vertical vintage beauty on quiet East 76th Street between First and Second Avenues.

The glowing sign tells us that the blond-brick garage is open to “transients.” That must mean short-term parkers, but it’s a word you don’t see on city garages anymore.

I don’t know how old the sign is. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s almost as old as the garage, which dates to 1930.

This might be part of the garage, in a 1940 tax photo. It’s on 76th Street but the building number is slightly off…possibly a typo? The smaller sign is to tiny to read.

[Third photo: Department of Records and Information Services]

Is this the city’s oldest Croton manhole cover?

April 27, 2020

Manhattan still has several manhole covers that mark the Croton Aqueduct, the 1842 engineering masterpiece that fed fresh water to the 1840s metropolis from a series of gravity-powered pipes and city receiving reservoirs.

Dated 1862, this one hiding in plain sight on the grimy corner of Eighth Avenue and 40th Street is thought to be the oldest in the city. It’s might also be the most southerly one, since the Croton manhole cover once on Jersey Street in Noho has disappeared.

But unless it was removed recently (and that’s certainly possible), an almost identical cover, also dated 1862, lies underfoot in East Harlem’s Thomas Jefferson Park, at First Avenue and 112th Streets.

In the middle of the biggest public health crisis of the 21st century, it’s a fitting time to take a moment and celebrate what the Croton Aqueduct did for New York City: it brought clean drinking water to an unsanitary city where fresh water was hard to find.

Before Croton opened, most residents relied on street corner “tea water” pumps, which were often polluted.

A 1929 luxury residence displays 2020’s best sign

April 13, 2020

When the luxury apartment building at 325 East 57th was completed in 1929, I wonder if any of the original tenants ever thought a handmade sign and two American flags would be hanging off the elegant canopy entrance.

But in the era of COVID-19, the people living in this building decided they had something to say. Think of it as the silent version of the nightly 7 p.m. cheer for all the New Yorkers working through the pandemic.

The walled-in settlement house by the East River

April 13, 2020

You can see one side of it from the FDR Drive at 76th Street. High above the roadway overlooking the East River is a Georgian-style red brick building and what must have been an entrance with a faded plaque above it.

Squint and you can make out what it says: East Side House Settlement.

Settlement Houses began popping up in New York City in the 1890s and early 1900s. Born out of the benevolence movement of the Gilded Age, they were built by social reformers who “settled” into a poor or working-class community, launching a home base where the community could go take advantage of classes, recreational activities, and cultural offerings.

Many of New York’s settlement houses were built in Lower Manhattan. The East Side Settlement House (as it was known early on) got its start in 1891, founded by a lawyer, Everett Wheeler, according to the house’s web page.

Perhaps Wheeler saw the need for a settlement house in Yorkville, which was becoming a dense tenement neighborhood for a new wave of German immigrants, along with newcomers from Hungary and today’s Czech Republic.

The first house for the East Side Settlement House was an old clapboard house (below).

The one still standing today opened in 1903, privately funded by wealthy New Yorkers who hoped the facility would become a “contagion of good morals,” according to a New-York Tribune article covering the opening day ceremony. (Below, in 1903)

To spread those good morals, the house had separate “clubrooms” for boys and girls, an assembly room, a cooking skill with gas ranges, two gyms (one for men and one for boys), a billiards room, and various other rooms for events.

It must have been an inspiring place in the first half of the 20th century, with John Jay Park opening next door, along with a public bathhouse and then an outdoor public swimming pool in the 1940s.

But as the century went on, the house’s days were numbered, especially as Yorkville changed and the East Side (FDR) Drive and industry (below, in 1926) obstructed river access. In 1963, the East Side Settlement House relocated to the South Bronx, where it remains today.

“Its genteel Georgian building, perched on a river-lapped greensward, had been battered and bruised by decades of hard use and imprisoned by the East River Drive, later F. D. R. Drive, which gobbled up Exterior Street in the 1940s,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 2012.

The Town School took it over, and in the 1980s a towering apartment building hemmed the former settlement house in, blocking its facade.

“Now part of the old south-facing Georgian facade survives within a Town School hallway, and part of an old factory is visible in the auditorium,” explained Gray. What remains of the facade faces east, between the apartment tower and a new Town School wing to the north.”

But you can still catch a glimpse of part of the settlement house, with 1891 and 1903 carved into the side (above)—a remnant of the city’s progressive movement and a very different Yorkville.

[Third image: East Side House Settlement; fourth image: New-York Tribune; fifth image: NYPL Digital Collection]

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.