Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

This Brooklyn corner store has one of the last vintage soda signs

October 24, 2022

They used to be all over New York City on practically every block: simple deli or drugstore signs that featured the name of the store along with iconic emblems for national soda brands.

Officially, they’re called “privilege signs,” because by offering the store the free sign, the brand had the privilege of free advertising. The store benefited as well, since the logos for Coke, Pepsi, or another brand brought in thirsty or hungry customers looking for a product they recognized.

Slowly these privilege signs have disappeared, and today, it’s rare to come across one. Which is why I stopped in my tracks when I spotted this vintage beauty for Millys Mini Market on Berry and South Second Streets in Williamsburg. Sadly, it’s one of the last of a dwindling breed.

Over the years Ephemeral New York has featured some last remaining privilege signs. I can’t guarantee any of them still exist, but if you’re an old-school sign enthusiast, check them out here.

Who carved a horse above the entrance to this East Side brownstone?

October 3, 2022

East 116th Street between Second and Third Avenues has a long history as a bustling shopping strip—first as a crosstown street between the Second and Third Avenue Els in the heart of Harlem’s Little Italy, and since the 1940s and 1950s as a main thoroughfare for predominantly Hispanic East Harlem.

235 East 116th Street

The brownstone-fronted houses on the north side of the street form a handsome, stately row. Built when Italian laborers began moving into an area already colonized by German, Irish, and Jewish residents, you can imagine that these homes were owned by more middle-class folks in what was otherwise a working-class and poor neighborhood.

But on Number 235, which borders a historic church, something curious is carved above the entrance. It’s the image of a horse, in motion with no saddle, framed by a rectangular space set inside an oval.

Underneath the horse are what look like Greek letters. Google tells me this translates into, well, “horse.”

Number 235, in 1929, is to the right of the church; see the oval above the door

I’ve found myself passing by this horse a few times in recent months, and it’s an unusual relic, something I’ve never seen on any other brownstone entrances. Based on the black and white images of the house below, it seems that the horse has been here since at least 1929.

Stables and carriage houses in pre-automobile New York City often had an ornamental horse head or horse image outside the building, but this brownstone—built in 1879—doesn’t appear to have ever been used as a boarding space for horses.

From 1939-1941

Could someone involved in the carriage industry have lived here? Newspaper archives indicate the brownstone was home to Charles Schneider in 1907, profession unknown. In the 1910s and 1920s it was occupied by Salvatore A. Cotillo and his family. Cotillo was a Fordham-educated lawyer who immigrated from Naples as a boy and later became a state senator and then a city judge. Other owners and occupants haven’t been identified.

The horse could be a symbol of sorts, harkening back to ancient Greek or Roman mythology. Or maybe a resident created it on a whim? It’s here to stay, and I’d love to know the origins.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: New York City Department of Records & Information Services]

Spotting a Bowery street sign carved into a Lower East Side building

August 22, 2022

If you often walk through New York City’s older neighborhoods—and you tend to look up at the buildings before you—then you’ve probably seen them: faded, weathered street names carved into the corners of tenements and walkups.

They’re charming finds when you come across them, these now-obsolete address markers. But they also served a function.

In an earlier city that didn’t have official street signage on every corner (especially in narrow, crowded neighborhoods downtown), these carvings let people know exactly where they were. I’ve also heard that because some could be seen from elevated trains, they informed riders of their location as the train lurched up or down to its destination.

Recently I chanced upon a pair of street addresses I’d never seen before. At the corner of Bowery and Madison Street, there they were: two street names on either side of a Flatiron-shaped building, faded from the elements but still visible.

More examples of these street name carvings can be found here as well as here.

The mystery of the shuttered Italian restaurant with a wonderful vintage store sign

August 15, 2022

Cicciaro’s Italian Restaurante (their spelling, not mine) looks like it’s been closed for ages, the steel grates over the small storefront locked shut and layered with graffiti.

I couldn’t find any clues about this literal hole in the wall at 47 Market Street, which still occupies the ground floor of a tenement built in 1886, and is next door to a former boarding stable for horses that operated in the 1890s.

But thanks to Ephemeral readers, I now know that this authentic-looking Italian spot and its spot-on 1970s-ish sign is actually a fake—it’s a creation for a TV crime drama film set.

City on Fire should be on Apple TV at some point in the near future. The production crew did a nice job, the old-school sign fooled me!

A Yorkville faded sign with a two-letter old phone exchange

August 5, 2022

The Little Wolf Cabinet Shop is a longtime fixture on the upper reaches of First Avenue at about 82nd Street. The shop also has another space on a nearby side street—and it’s the sign above this space that sparked my interest.

An old New York City phone exchange! The number of these pre-1970s exchanges still visible on signs and in ads is dwindling fast. I’d actually photographed this one for a 2011 ENY post, and the sign is, sadly, much more faded 11 years later.

RE stood for Regent, a Yorkville/Upper East Side exchange. I still haven’t figured out what Regent was though, and why the name was used. Could Regent have been a nearby hotel or theater?

Questions about the city’s old phone exchanges always generate insightful comments. This link will take you to some of the older posts delving into the mysteries of these two-letter exchanges.

The mystery of the mermaid on East 23rd Street

July 28, 2022

At the northeast corner of Third Avenue and 23rd Street—a busy intersection at the border of Kips Bay—stands a squat, two-story building.

With a tan-brick facade and cookie-cutter rectangular shape, the building is empty of ground floor tenants, which not long ago included unglamorous neighborhood shops like a mattress outlet and cell phone store.

The one distinguishing factor of this building is how undistinguished it is in a neighborhood where restored cast-iron commercial spaces share the streets with low-rise walkups, tenements, and modern high-rise residential towers.

But there’s something mysterious above one of the empty store entrances on the 23rd Street side: a circular medallion of a mermaid, or siren, swimming among fish on the waves of the sea. She has a face of contentment, her eyes closed, her long hair free beneath a three-pointed crown.

The medallion is surrounded by brickwork that enhances its beauty. But where did it come from? The building doesn’t appear to date back farther than the late 1950s, while the mermaid seems to be in the artistic style of the late 19th or early 20th century.

It’s possible that the mermaid came from an earlier building either knocked down or renovated into the squat postwar structure. Previous turn-of-the-century businesses at the address—either 301 Third Avenue or 201-205 East 23rd Street—include a bank, the New York College of Dentistry, according to Songlines, the New-York Ophthalmic Hospital, and the office of a D. Peraza, who sold powders and tonics via periodical ads of dubious quality.

The mermaid seems like a much better fit for an entertainment venue—a theater perhaps, or a music hall. But this corner is a little to the east of the city’s Gilded Age/early 1900s theater district and Madison Square Garden. Maybe home to a German singing society? New York’s Little Germany, or Kleindutschland, extended from the East Village into the Gramercy area at the time.

It’s the only ornamentation of any kind on the building, yet it’s easy to miss, and it isn’t the kind of strange loveliness you don’t expect to find on an otherwise utilitarian building.

The mermaid medallion must have a good backstory; at the very least, it’s one of those architectural mysteries that make New York City streets so fascinating.

The Automat is gone—but a faded Automat ad still remains in the Garment District

July 25, 2022

The last Horn & Hardart Automat in New York City, at 200 East 42nd Street, shut down in 1991—its stainless steel vending machines that dispensed everything from hot coffee to meatloaf to pie unceremoniously carted away.

That was 31 years ago. But the ghosts of the 40 to 50 Automats that once fed Gotham still haunt the imaginations of New Yorkers old enough to remember them—as well as those of us who wish we could hop into a time machine and experience these very democratic (and all architecturally different) food establishments.

Automat at 1089 Sixth Avenue, 1939

(Why democratic? Take it from a 1933 rhyme printed in the New York Sun that went like this: said the technocrat/to the plutocrat/to the autocrat/and the Democrat/let’s all go eat at the Automat!)

Macy’s own Automat at 425 Seventh Avenue, 1929

So it’s wonderful to come across a faded ad for a Broadway Automat on the side of a building on West 38th Street, within the borders of the Herald Square shopping district as well as the old Garment District.

This second image of the faded ad (above) comes from Frank Mastropolo, the author of Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York’s Past, which hits Amazon and bookstores today. Mastropolo got access to the roof of the building next door for this amazing shot, which fills in the blanks as to where this Automat was located.

The Automat at 401 Fifth Avenue, 1950s

The ad is in surprisingly good shape, considering it’s been exposed to the elements for four or five decades, at least. Let’s hope it sticks around!

[Second, third, and fifth images: NYPL Digital Collections; fourth image: Frank Mastropolo, Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York’s Past]

What makes Central Park’s “whisper bench” so unusual and enchanting

June 10, 2022

Some parts of Central Park encourage loud noise—the ballfields, the playgrounds, and the areas under Bethesda Terrace and certain bridges, where buskers play to enthusiastic crowds.

Other sections call for quiet and softness, and park visitors know to lower their voices. That’s where the whisper bench, inside the lush and lovely Shakespeare Garden, comes in.

Officially known as the Charles B. Stover bench, this smooth granite half-circle earned its nickname “because a whisper spoken into one end of the bench can be heard on the other side,” explains the Central Park Conservatory.

The 20-foot bench that curls inward at the ends is unlike any of the 10,000 mostly wood benches spread out across Central Park. It’s also one of the park’s most enchanting places to sit, surrounded by four shady acres of flowers, herbs, and trees mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

The Shakespeare Garden was a favorite of Charles Stover, who served as city parks commissioner in the 1910s. Stover was a longtime advocate for New York’s parks and playgrounds, according to the Conservatory.

The bench bearing his name was dedicated in 1936, two decades after the Garden was established. Since then, it’s been popular with curious park-goers who test out the acoustics, as well as those seeking peace and contemplation. It’s also a romantic setting, so expect couples to stop and sit close.

There’s another place in Manhattan also famous for whispers: the “whispering gallery” of Grand Central Terminal. It’s on the lower level of the station. Supposedly if you stand against the wall and whisper, your words can be heard across the space thanks to the vaulted ceilings.

This Art Deco skyscraper on 57th Street rightfully celebrates itself

May 9, 2022

The Fuller Building, on Madison Avenue and 57th Street, has racked up some impressive accomplishments.

Topping out at 40 floors, this 1929 masterpiece was one of New York’ first “mixed use” buildings, with the lower floors boasting high ceilings and a distinct design to attract galleries to 57th Street’s active Jazz Age art scene, according to The City Review.

Art is outside the building as well. Above the entrance is a sculpture of workmen framed around a clock and a relief of the cityscape. Construction themes are reflected on the elevators, and the upper floors feature geometric patterns on the facade.

With so much to boast about, why shouldn’t the Fuller Building have large mosaic medallions of itself embossed in the lobby?

Sure “AD 1929” sounds like the owners expect the tower to be in a museum someday. But this icon has every reason to honor itself and decorate the lobby floor with love letters to its own greatness.

[Second image: structurae.net]

Just how old is the lovely stained glass ceiling at Veniero’s pasticceria?

May 2, 2022

There’s a lot to love about Veniero’s, the cafe and bakery on East 11th Street since 1894. First and foremost are the pastries, but also the tin ceiling, the old-school glass bakery counters, and the wonderful pink and green neon sign on the facade.

But what I noticed for the first time during a recent visit for gelato was the spectacular stained glass panels spanning the length of the ceiling, with their unusual red, gold, and green floral motifs.

I knew they must have been in the cafe for decades, and I wanted to know just how long and where they came from. On one hand, a 1990 New York Times article about bakeries in Manhattan has it that the stained glass was only installed in 1984.

“The only change over the years [at Veniero’s] has been the addition six years ago of an adjoining warm enclave, with a ceiling of stained-glass panels and the original pressed tin,” the article stated.

However, Veniero’s own website suggests the stained glass dates to the 1930s. During the Depression, owner Michael Veniero left the day-to-day management of the store to his cousin Frank.

“Under Frank’s leadership and eventually ownership, Veniero’s evolved into what it is today,” the site says. Frank “filled his new kitchen with Italian bakers and decorated his new cafe with imported Neapolitan glass that still gracefully adorns our ceiling today.”