Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

The lost Gimbels sign in a Midtown train station

June 30, 2016

Gimbelscloseup2016It’s not easy to see against the grimy tile wall.

Yet as you exit the PATH station beneath 33rd Street, you can just make out the letters G, L, and S.

It’s one of the last reminders of the Gimbels store, which for 76 years occupied its Herald Square spot on Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street.

Gimbels, of course, was a retail giant during the city’s 20th century department store era.

Gimbels1920mcny

A little more downmarket than Macy’s across the street, the two behemoths had a fabled rivalry for decades until Gimbels gave up the ghost in 1986.

A major selling point for Gimbels were the underground passageways that took 34th Street subway and PATH riders right to the store’s entrances.

Gimbelssign2016

Gimbels is long gone, but the building, extensively revamped, is still there—it’s now the Manhattan Mall with a JC Penney as its flagship store.

Gimbels1905-1914mcnyA few other remnants of Gimbels continue to haunt Midtown. A faded Gimbels ad on a building on West 31st Street should still be there.

And though it has no Gimbels signage, this enchanting copper skybridge linking an upper floor of the Gimbels store to an annex over 32nd Street is a lovely site.

Hat tip to the eagle-eyed History Author Show!

[Images: MCNY]

Vintage signs from a rough around the edges city

May 30, 2016

Some of these 1970s and 1980s–era signs are losing the battle with the elements, like this hand-painted original for Utica Avenue Electronics (VCRs!) in Crown Heights.

Signsuticaaveelectronics

Others advertise small businesses in a contemporary city that can be cruel to struggling mom and pop shops.

Perhaps that’s why Continental Shoe Repairs on Broadway and Barclay Street is no longer open.

Signscontinentalshoerepairs

The sign for Ashland Pharmacy, in Fort Greene, notes that they accept the union plan.

Which union plan? In an older New York, when health insurance wasn’t quite so complicated, the distinction may not have mattered.

Signsashlandpharmacy

City Water Meter Repair Co., Inc. is the only water meter repair shop I’ve ever seen.

Based on the condition of the sign (N.Y. City!), it looks like they’ve been around since the East Village’s heyday as a slumlord neighborhood.

Signscitywatermeterrepaircoinc

You have to love Fort Grene’s Luv-n-Oven Pizza: the rhyming name, the old-school white, green, and red sign, the fact that gyros and hamburgers are on the menu.

Signsluvnovenpizza

A classic greasy New York corner pizza place that is making me hungry just looking at it.

Escaping the day in the Bleecker Street Cinema

May 26, 2016

These days at 144 Bleecker Street, you’ll find a Duane Reade. But quite a different world existed there between 1960 and 1990.

Bleeckerstreetcinema

For 30 years, the two 1832 row houses at this address housed what used to be called a revival theater or art house theater—a place to catch offbeat, experimental, and foreign films before these categories were lumped together as independent cinema.

There was no surround sound or seats with cup holders. Yet the marquee in this 1960s photo looking toward LaGuardia Place hints at the treasures that awaited viewers who ducked inside to escape a dreary New York day.

[Photo: Robert Otter]

An old Brooklyn phone exchange comes into view

May 16, 2016

Hidden behind the shrubs in front of a residence on West 12th Street is this small weathered sign for a fence company—complete with an original vintage phone exchange!

Cloverdalesign2

Bucolic-sounding Cloverdale covered the Flatlands area of Brooklyn beginning in 1928. Like New York’s other two-letter neighborhood exchanges, it was officially replaced by seven digits in the 1960s.

JRMoyersonsadJ. R. Moyer Sons doesn’t appear to be in business on Utica Avenue in Flatlands anymore. The last Google-able trace of the company dates to the 1970s. I wonder how long the fence sign has been hanging there.

More hiding-in-plain sight vintage phone exchanges can still be found all over New York . . . if you look very carefully.

New York’s last remaining soda fountain signs

May 2, 2016

Soda sales are down—and so are the number of soft drink–branded signs fronting the diners and newsstands on New York’s streets.

Labonbonniere

I don’t think anyone is officially keeping track of how many privilege signs—as these signs are technically called—disappear every year from the city’s dwindling number of independent diners, luncheonettes, and newsstands.

Though their numbers weren’t great 10 years ago, more signs are biting the dust (like two out of the three photographed in this post from 2008).

Eddiessweetshop

Luckily two stalwarts seem to be safe: the signs atop the West Village’s delightfully named greasy spoon diner La Bonbonniere and Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a 107-year-old ice cream parlor in Forest Hills.

Let’s hope the rest of the remaining signs scattered around the five boroughs hang on.

[Second photo: Google]

Beautiful ruins of a Brooklyn ketchup factory

April 25, 2016

It’s a haunting relic of New York’s manufacturing glory days, and it sits less than half a block past the corner of Franklin Avenue and Bergen Street in Crown Heights.

Heinzfactory

The H.J. Heinz Company moved into this handsome red brick plant around 1920.

HeinzfactorynyplThey purchased it from the Nassau Brewing Company, which had a long beer-making run under various names in a complex of buildings beginning in the 1860s until 1914.

This 1941 photo from the New York Public Library offers a glimpse of the factory, looking from Franklin Avenue, on the far left.

“57 Varieties” and “Food Products” can still be read on the facade, a reminder that the laborers in this building produced a lot more than ketchup.

I’m not sure when Monti Moving and Storage came in to the picture, but they decamped in 2001, leaving their own fading imprint behind.

Today, the factory appears to be occupied by different kinds of makers: furniture designers, artists, and other light manufacturing and design groups, according to a 2007 New York Times article.

Heinzfactorycropped

And cheese makers too, who use the deep underground vaults leftover from the building’s brewery days as cheese caves, reports a fascinating article in Edible Brooklyn.

Mystery ship anchors on a Greene Street building

April 18, 2016

GreenstreetbuildingDeep in NYU territory in Greenwich Village, amid century-old lofts and postwar apartments, sits a handsome brick building at 262 Greene Street.

A closer look reveals something curious: small ship anchor emblems decorate the facade, each with the letters S/SH flanking them.

These are the giveaways hinting at 262 Greene Street’s seafaring past.

The building was once an administrative office for Sailors’ Snug Harbor, an institution founded in 1801 by a sea captain named Robert Richard Randall.

Randall, who became a wealthy landowner, wanted to use his fortune to create a retirement community for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out seamen.”

Greenestreetcloseup“At the time of his death, Randall’s estate, located north and east of modern-day Washington Square, was rural,” states nycgovparks.org.

“By the time a protracted challenge to his will was settled, the land around the estate had changed dramatically, the city being developed around the area.”

“Opting instead to maximize profits on the Manhattan property, Snug Harbor’s trustees relocated the proposed site to Staten Island, buying property around the harbor in 1831.”

The Greene Street building is no longer occupied by Sailors’ Snug Harbor employees; it’s unclear if the institution still owns the property.

Greenestreet2

In any case, ship anchors are a rare sight so far uptown and inland. These serve as hiding-in-plain-sight reminders that the city earned its riches off the backs of the sailors who came in and out of New York Harbor.

The story behind three faded ads in Manhattan

April 11, 2016

If you look up enough while walking through the city, you see a fair number of these weathered ads, partly erased by rain and grime.

Fadedadeast20scloseup

Deciphering what they say isn’t always easy. Take this ad at 23 East 20th Street. “Furs” is still legible, but the name of the company is tricky.

It looks like M. Handin & Grapkin—which is close, as sure enough a company with the name Drapkin appears to have gone into the furrier business as early as 1909.

The wonderful faded sign site 14to42.net says that M. Handin and Drapkin were located in this building around 1909, and the faded ad could be more than a century old.

Fadedadeast12thst

This building on East 12th Street and University Place is a faded sign spotter’s dream. “Student Clothes” up top is easy enough to read.

Walter Grutchfield’s photo is better than mine, and his caption explains that the company occupied this building from 1924 to 1929.

Fadedadwest84thstreet

To get this view of this faded ad at 324 West 84th Street, you have to stand inside the 15th floor apartment of the building next door.

The address is barely legible—and though 324 is an apartment house today, as early as 1918 it was the Hotel Ramsby.

The left side of the ad must have listed room rates, forever lost to the ages.

The prewar mailing address on a Village window

March 28, 2016

ZipcodestorefrontThe eclectic antiques and furniture store at 80 East 11th Street in Greenwich Village is so discreet, it has no store sign above the entrance.

What the store does have, though, is its mailing address painted in the lower right corner of the store window—with the old school–style one-digit postal code rather than the five-numeral ZIP code we use today.

Zipcodestorecloseup

Seen all the time on old letters and ads, these postal codes, pioneered in the 1940s as a way to speed mail delivery, are a rarity in the contemporary city.

They were replaced by the five-digit zip codes in the 1960s. Clearly some businesses in contemporary New York prefer their mailing address the old-fashioned way.

A Midtown bar’s neon sign lights up New York

February 22, 2016

I only stuck around for a few minutes, so I can’t vouch for what the vibe of O’Reilly’s Pub, on West 31st Street in Midtown, is really like.

Oreillyspubsign

But there’s just something that warms the bones when you catch a glimpse of the soft glow of a bar sign like this one on a cold February evening.

If only the “restaurant” part underneath lit up as well!


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