Archive for the ‘Random signage’ Category

An old New York phone exchange on 47th Street

March 8, 2021

Spotted on an unremarkable building on West 47th Street in the Diamond District: an old-school New York City phone exchange, in this case “MU.”

What does it stand for? Murray Hill, of course, the neighborhood where the real estate company that put up this plaque is based.

It’s getting harder to find these two-letter exchanges, which were replaced by numerals in the early 1960s. But they’re out there—especially in the boroughs outside Manhattan.

An ode to construction workers on a 57th Street Art Deco tower

February 8, 2021

There’s a lot to love about the Fuller Building, the Art Deco-Art Nouveau beauty built in 1929 that rises 40 stories over Madison Avenue and 57th Street.

A few favorites: the black granite facade on the lower floors, geometric designs at the top of the tower, and the medallions on the lobby floor showing various buildings constructed by the Fuller Company, an early developer of steel-skeleton skyscrapers. (These included the Flatiron Building, which was called the Fuller Building when it opened in 1902—but “flatiron” stuck because of the shape of the lot it was built on.)

Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of this iconic tower sits above the entrance: two idealized and shirtless construction workers flanking a clock while standing in front of a cityscape of skyscrapers.

The sculptures, by Elie Nadelman, seem to be an ode to the men who literally constructed the Fuller Building and other mighty towers that raised New York’s skyline higher toward the heavens in the early 20th century.

It makes sense. The Fuller Company was a construction company that depended on the strength and skill of men in the building trades. Without these workers and advancements in engineering, Manhattan would have remained a low-rise metropolis topping out at six or so stories.

The former lives of a shabby Midtown brownstone

December 14, 2020

When you think of Madison Avenue in Midtown, brownstones don’t generally come to mind. But in the late 19th century, rows of these iconic chocolate-brown houses for the city’s upper classes lined this new residential district in the East 40s, north of posh Murray Hill.

Not many survive today; this stretch of Madison has long been subsumed by commercial buildings. (Below, in the 1920s). But the modest brownstone at number 423, between 48th and 49th Street, is still hanging on.

Madison Avenue at 48th Street, 1925

Hiding behind scaffolding and wedged between two office towers, this ghost of the Gilded Age certainly has stories to tell.

It’s not clear when it went residential to commercial, but by the 1880s it was home to J.H. Morse’s School for Boys—a hint that the neighborhood was probably still overwhelmingly residential and populated by families.

Frank Bruns’ latest delivery wagon in 1912

What kind of school was J.H, Morse’s? It sounds very similar to the prep schools of today’s New York. Run by a Harvard grad, the school’s main purpose was to “prepare boys thoroughly for the best colleges and scientific schools,” according to a 2014 New Republic article.

423 Madison Avenue in 1940, with the vertical Longchamps sign

In the early 1900s, number 423 was a grocery run by Frank Bruns. This grocer made news as an early adapter of gasoline-powered automobile for deliveries. “In 1905 he placed in service a Peerless car fitted with a delivery body, and from his own statement secured more in the way of advertising value than otherwise, though its service was by no means unsatisfactory,” stated The Horseless Age, published in 1912.

By the 1940s, the brownstone had a new life as a Longchamps, a popular Midcentury restaurant chain with several locations around Manhattan. “Named for the race track in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, the first elegant Longchamps opened in 1919, and by the 1950’s there were 10 in Manhattan, most clustered around midtown,” states the New York Times FYI column in 1998.

What kind of place was Longchamps? The restaurants typically featured Art Deco style, cooked up dishes like oxtail ragout and crabmeat a la Dewey, and was a decent place to get a drink—seen above in a 1933 Daily News photo showing fashionable New Yorkers sharing a table and enjoying cocktails.

The Longchamps at 423 Madison also had an early neon sign, which went vertically down the side of the brownstone and put a crack in the cornice. Long after the chain moved out in the 1960s (Longchamps went bankrupt by the mid-1970s, according to the Times), the sign remained; Lost City has a photo of it from 2007.

Today, the sign is gone, but the cracked cornice remains. Another local restaurant chain occupies the ground floor. The brownstone’s upper floors are apartments—it’s a residence once again.

Scaffolding keeps us from seeing it all. But you can imagine its former glory as a refined Gilded Age single-family home, likely surrounded by similar brownstones. Some of these still exist in Midtown but tend to be obscured by taller buildings, as 423 is.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: New York Times 1888; fourth image: The Horseless Age; fifth and sixth images: New York City Department of Records and Information Services; seventh image: New York Daily News, 1933]

A mystery manhole cover on a Midtown block

November 30, 2020

East 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues has a history. This stable block became the center of the city’s trotting activity in the 1870s. By the turn of the century, it was home to hotels, clubs, and Delmonico’s on the Fifth Avenue end.

So it follows that this distinguished street would have an unusual manhole cover on the sidewalk on the south side—one that was probably quite pretty a century ago, with glass inside the many holes arranged in a six-sided mystery shape.

Gerard Iron Works is the maker, and this is the first time I’ve seen this ironworks company’s name on a manhole cover in the city. The address is 157th Street and Gerard Avenue…which would place this manufacturer in the Bronx.

Gerard Iron Works may not have lasted long on Gerard Avenue. It looks like by 1916, the company had moved to Nassau County, per a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article.

The neon glow is gone from a Murray Hill deli sign

November 16, 2020

After 72 years in Murray Hill, including 63 of them at Second Avenue and 34th Street, the Clover Delicatessen has shut its doors for good.

The Clover Deli, RIP

The shutdown was partly due to of Covid, but also because the third generation family members who ran the deli wanted to move on, according to the New York Post.

No more black and white cookies and rugelach from this old-school deli. But what will become of the gorgeous neon sign, which glowed at this corner since 1957?

The sign in better days, exploding with color

It’s off now, but the Post reports that the owners intend to bequeath it to the new tenant. They’re also considering donating it to a sign museum—good news for fans of New York’s disappearing vintage neon store signs.

[Top Photo: Duane Sherwood]

The election posters and banners all over the city

November 2, 2020

The internet, TV, and social media sites are today’s dumping grounds for campaign ads. But in a pre-digital New York City without mass media, political staffers got their candidate’s name out by taking to the streets.

A billboard in 1950: Dewey won, Corsi lost.

That meant putting up billboards on buildings, stringing banners across streets, and plastering posters on vacant storefronts.

McKinley and Hobart won, but Hobert died in office.

The banners seem to have been particularly common sights at the turn of the last century. This one above, for William McKinley’s 1896 presidential run, spanned Maiden Lane.

Competing campaign posters on Avenue C

On Avenue C between Third and Fourth Streets in 1936, campaign posters for Franklin D. Roosevelt are advertised just doors away from posters making the case for a voting for the Communist Party candidate.

FDR and Lehman, both winners in 1936

Here’s another FDR poster from the 1936 election, with Herbert Lehman running for governor, on the side of a store selling coal and ice.

This banner lays out TR’s campaign promises.

Does anyone remember who Fairbanks was? Charles W. Fairbanks was a senator for Indiana, chosen to run with Teddy Roosevelt in 1904 and promise “sound money and continued national prosperity” to Americans, per this banner on Maiden Lane.

Candidates in 1952, mostly lost to history

These posters, from 1950, covers local politicians. One name I recognize: Louis DeSalvio, an assemblyman for 38 years representing the Lower East Side and one of the namesakes of DeSalvio Playground on Spring and Mulberry Street.

[Top image: MCNY x2010.11.8821; second image: New-York Historical Society; third image: Oldnycphotos.com; fourth image: MCNY 2003.25.51; fifth image: New-York Historical Society; sixth image: MCNY x2010.11.8818]

An old IRT subway sign still in view at City Hall

October 12, 2020

This site has crazy love for vintage signs. But what a treat to come across a faded and worn remnant of the old time New York City subway—like this Lexington Avenue IRT sign, spotted at the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall station after a trip on the 6 train.

The IRT—or Interborough Rapid Transit Company—was the independently owned subway system that launched the first trains in 1904. August Belmont founded the IRT in 1902, though it was soon dubbed the “Interborough Rattled Transit” by riders frustrated by late and overcrowded trains.

Illustration by W.A. Rogers, via Wikipedia

The IRT company disbanded in 1940, and the city bought the line. For decades, New Yorkers would still refer to numbered trains as the IRT, but I doubt you’ll find any straphanger who still uses the old-school name.

A sidewalk relic of the Hotel Carter’s better days

September 21, 2020

The Hotel Carter has been closed for months now—for good or because of a renovation, I’m not sure.

The infamous West 43rd Street hostelry, named the dirtiest hotel in America several times by TripAdvisor and the site of numerous suicides and a few horrific murders during its 90-year history (including this one in 2007), is currently hidden from view by scaffolding.

Sticking out on the sidewalk, however, is a Hotel Carter icon I’d never noticed before: this sidewalk sign—with the Carter name spelled out in script, a signifier that this is a hotel of class and taste.

Of course, the Hotel Carter was neither of these, at least in its later incarnation. Opened in 1930 as the Hotel Dixie (complete with its own basement bus station, see the sign for it at the far right in the photo below), the place was designed for business travelers who needed to be in the Times Square area.

The owners went bankrupt not long after that; the hotel changed hands over the years. The bus depot closed in 1957, unable to compete with the new Port Authority Bus Station around the corner on Eighth Avenue.

Rechristened the Hotel Carter in 1976, the hotel became largely a welfare hotel in the 1980s, though by 1984 it was so dangerous and decrepit, the city stopped sending people there, according to a 1989 Daily News article.

The Carter began attracting travelers again in the 1990s and 2000s, many of whom left illustrious scathing reviews (and photos of their bedbug-bitten skin).

Whatever becomes of the Carter, the wonderful vertical Hotel Carter sign is currently visible through the scaffolding.

Walk by and look up at it…and then down at the logo embedded in the sidewalk. If the Carter has a date with the wrecking ball soon, at least the sidewalk sign might stick around.

[Top image: Wikipedia; fourth image: New York City Department of Records and Information Services]

This Second Avenue sign is a visual time capsule

September 7, 2020

Unfortunately the sign doesn’t date to 1885. But that’s okay.

The gorgeous double-decker Block Drug Stores (is there more than one?) sign, at Second Avenue and Sixth Street, has been hanging for decades on this East Village/Little Ukraine corner—a magnificent visual time capsule from an earlier New York.

New York’s vintage drugstore signs are disappearing on us. I know the first one in this post is gone; the other two I hope still exist.

 

The most beautiful storage facility in New York

August 24, 2020

When it comes to finding a place to store all the things that no longer fit into your apartment, you could find a storage company that offers the least expensive deal.

Or you go by beauty and history and schlep your stuff to Day & Meyer, Murray & Young Corp, a magnificent Gothic (or Art Deco?) fortress on Second Avenue between 61st and 62nd Streets.

Completed in 1928, the 15-story tower offers steel vaults “which travel by truck and are conveyed to racks in our warehouse,” the company website explains, noting that they started in an era when storage was moved via horses and carts.

Store your things here, and you’ll be in good company. According to a 2011 New York Times story, this is the storage space of New York’s social register, the wealthiest families, most prestigious art dealers, and grandest museums.”

I just dig the building, and the old-timey lettering of the company name over the entrance.