Monday, February 10, 2020

Lights Out 2019: Signs We Lost This Year

I'm a little behind the ball in getting out 2019's list of vanished signs. Better late than never, as I like to say. (To which my high school history teacher would answer "better never late.")  Here I must add the usual caveat that this listing isn't strictly limited to signs that disappeared in 2019, but to signs that I noticed had disappeared during the year - In other words, some may have vanished earlier.  With that, let's begin our dirge. 

J&L Liquors, 34th Street, Manhattan 
This age-old midtown liquor emporium lost its fantastic Futura-esque neon lettering to LED-lit knockoffs that more or less approximated their predecessors.  The liquor store survives, but the sign has now been completely replaced with a new backlit panel contraption leaving not the slightest suggestion of anything special ever having come before.

Xcellent DVD, 515 6th Ave., Manhattan 
This outpost of old-world smut survives on 6th Ave just below 14th Street, but it has kissed its neon goodbye in favor of more el-blando LED crap.

Jolson's Liquors, 22-24 31st St., Astoria, Queens
Beaming out from under the elevated, Jolson's extra-likable variant of the classic neon LIQUOR storefront seemed to be here for the long haul, with those jaunty letters rendered in four strokes of flawless red neon.  Sadly Jolson's has yielded this storefront to a new Taco Bell franchise. 

DeRobertis Pasticceria, 176 First Av., Manhattan
DeRobertis packed up a few years ago but left its old sign behind as a reminder of this pasticceria's 110-year tenure here on Manhattan's east side.  Alas, the sign has now followed the business into oblivion.  

Pore House of Bay Ridge, 7901 3rd Av., Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
The bar is still there but this old porcelain enamel and stainless steel beauty has vanished from its perch over Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Boulevard Tavern, 575 Meeker Av., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Williamsburg's Boulevard Tavern vanished back in 2015 and its fantastic, pre-WWII-era sign has now disappeared too.  A plywood placard advertising a new bar hangs in its place. 

Fort Washington Florist, 4257 Broadway, Manhattan
Simple two-stroke neon tracing classic midcentury letterforms marked the Fort Washington Florist as one of the oldest businesses in the neighborhood. Both are gone now. 

Sofia Bros Moving, 4396 Broadway, Washington Heights, Manhattan
Way-on-away-uptown, this splash of redletter neon brightened the unadorned facade of an old brick storage warehouse on the upper reaches of Broadway.  The building and the business both survive, but that old brick facade is unadorned now.  

Sabatino Funeral Home, 321 Avenue U, Gravesend, Brooklyn
Sabatino's is still with us and so is one of its matched pair of signs, which formerly faced both directions down Avenue U in Gravesend, Brooklyn.  One of the twin signs has disappeared to make way for new construction on the lot next door.  Some of the very finest script lettering in town. 

Langdon Florist, 62 Reade St., Manhattan 
After 71 years in business, Tribeca's Langdon Florist packed up and moved out to Staten Island in 2018, taking its neon with it.  The restored sign now hangs inside their new showroom at the corner Victory Blvd and Clove Road.  Langdon's old Manhattan storefront remains empty at last check. 

Coney Island Bialy Bakery, 2359 Coney Island Av., Brooklyn 
After a near death experience back in 2011, New York's oldest bialy shop finally bit the dust for good circa 2016, yielding its storefront to an offbrand cell phone shop.    

Beacon Wine & Spirits, 2120 Broadway, Manhattan 
Beacon Wine & Spirits on the Upper West Side has ditched its finely proportioned neon storefront sign in favor of more plastic-wrapped LED schlock. 

IC Liquors, 2255 First Av., Manhattan
Veteran East Harlem liquor purveyor IC Liquors has moved from its longtime home near the corner of First Ave and East 116th Street, leaving this fabulous old vertical sign orphaned.  Sign still there at last check but the future is not bright for this uptown commercial landmark.  

Stratford Fuel, 1162 East Tremont Av., Bronx
Though I never saw it lit, I loved the idea of a neon sign beaming the simple word FUEL out into the nocturnal East Tremont landscape.  Sad to report, this circa-1952 product of the Grauer Sign Co no longer figures into the daytime streetscape either, having vanished sometime after its last Google Streetview cameo in 2015.   

Union Square Coffee Shop, 29 Union Sq. West, Manhattan
And finally ... 2019's most noteworthy neon casualty was one of everyone's favorites: the almost-famous Coffee Shop sign on Union Square.  Here since 1960, the sign survived at least three incarnations of the restaurant it advertised, until the place finally went belly-up in the face of another rent hike in 2018.  When news broke that a Chase bank would take over the space, some of us withheld our eye-rolls in hopes that the sign might somehow survive. No such luck:  Chase replaced it with a fake-neon LED sign that as a tribute to its predecessor is truly worse than nothing. You may now proceed with your eye-rolling. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Neon News & Links / June 2019 Edition

The neon highlight of the past few months has to have been this year's second-annual Neon Speaks symposium out in San Francisco at the end of April 2019, hosted by San Francisco Neon.  The three day event featured presentations by neon practitioners, historians and enthusiasts from across the country, as well as walking tours and shop visits. If you missed it, the good news is that the organizers are looking forward to a third annual installation set for April 2020. 

(jericl on Instagram)

• The White Horse Tavern, one of New York's most venerated neon landmarks, has closed and re-opened amidst a controversial ownership change.  

(T. Rinaldi)

• From the RIP department, via the Vanishing NY blog: DeRobertis' Pastry Shoppe's relic sign on First Ave is gone daddy gone.  DeRobertis closed in 2015 after 110 years in business.  The sign hung on a few years longer but has now joined New York's silent neon majority.  

(T. Rinaldi)

• And still more crappy news, also via Vanishing NY: the dead husk of Union Square's old Coffee Shop will become a bank.  What will become of its great sign is still TBD but we can guess.

• Still more crappy news?  You bet!  Jolson's Liquors in Astoria Queens will become a Taco Bell. 

(MCarsten on Instagram)

• The old McHale's Bar sign has resurfaced, appropriately enough, at McHale's Bar in Hell's Kitchen.  The original bar, at 46th and 9th, had been a favorite neon landmark before it closed around 15 years ago.  Part of the old sign turned up at Emmett O'Lunney's on 51st Street.  Another part resurfaced recently on eBay and has now been installed at the McHale's reboot a few blocks from the original. 

(T. Rinaldi)

• Not neon but still cool: vanished flower shop signage has resurfaced in Carroll Gardens, via the Ephemeral NY Blog.  

• From the Graphic Design department: at long last, the Poster House museum is set to open in the former Tekserve space on 23rd Street in Manhattan.

• Sign maven and commercial archeology scholar extraordinaire Debra Jane Seltzer has launched an Instagram feed and it's spectacular.

(roadarch_com on Instagram)

• Also from Debra Jane - rounding out a (very depressing) status-check on some of the many signs she's documented around the country.  

• From the sweet revenge department: a Times Square LED billboard shorted out and burst into flames last month. Heh.

• The NY Times takes a tantalizing dive into the city’s archive of 1980s tax photos.  

(NY Times

• The Ephemeral NY blog salutes Houston Street's doomed Sunshine Theater, whose bold marquee was a landmark of latter-day NY Neon.   

 Your Guide to Downtown: Denise Scott Brown - a new book focusing on the observations and theories of architect Denise Scott Brown, whose seminal “Learning From Las Vegas” changed the way many of us look at neon and the commercial landscape.   

 And still more fake neon anime - check out this lovely neon logo from graphic designer, author and sign connoisseur Louise Fili for restaurant Poulet Sans Tete:

(Louise Fili)

• From Paste Magazine, a fabulous assemblage of neon movie theater marquees from across the lower 48.  

 The Ephemeral NY Blog pays tribute to Tad's Steaks, the under-the-radar relic of Times Square's now-all-but-vanished heyday of neon and grit.  

 From the ItsNiceThat blog: "Marilyn Mugot's photos capture the neon melancholy of China's streets."

• Out in the Pac-NW - if you haven't yet, check out Electric Letterland, "home to Portland Oregon’s neon walking tours, printed neon maps, and neon GIF classes," a project of designer Kate Widdows

 In a follow-up to an earlier story about mysterious anonymous calls to report allegedly non-code-compliant storefront signs around NYC, the Times reports that New York's City Council has stopped issuing violations until the situation gets sorted out. 

 From Las Vegas, the following: "Teacher, students behind push to make neon Nevada’s official element."

 And finally, via Shorpy, three visions of America's neon past: 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Neon News & Links / February 2019 Edition

• Talkin' neon, in SF! I'll be presenting a status check on the state of New York neon for this year's Neon Speaks Festival & Symposium in San Francisco on Saturday, April 27, 2019.  

• "Neon Lights Making a Comeback as Smaller Businesses Desire Unique Signs" - a nice write-up by Scripps Networks reporter Chris Welch on the output of neon shops today.

 Not neon but still fantastically cool: via the Uni-Watch blog, in East Midwood, a great midcentury porcelain enamel storefront was recently unearthed with the removal of newer signage. Alas, if you missed it, you missed it: it was quickly ruined upon seeing the light of day. 


 From the wonderful Ephemeral NY blog, the following: 

    > An homage to the late great Chock-Full-O-Nuts coffee shop chain and its bygone New York storefronts.  

(Ephemeral New York)

    > An appreciation of surviving vintage drugstore neon in Brooklyn and Manhattan  

(Ephemeral New York)

 The inimitable Debra Jane Seltzer has been status-checking the historic signs and roadside architecture she's photographed across the country, and the state of our old signs is not good.  As she puts it, "what shall we conclude from all this devastation?"  Here are direct links to a few of a dozen or so entries she's posted in this series over the past month or so.

    > Updates on theatres, car dealers and "ship buildings"  

    > Gas Station Updates  
    > Signs  
    > More signs   
    > And still more signs.  

(Debra Jane Seltzer)

• Meanwhile, from the SHORPY blog, a look at some old signs across the USA - before they were old:

    > Fayetteville, 1941 
    > US 1 in Jessup, Maryland
    > Swing Street, Manhattan, 1948
    > Human Freaks, 1941 
    > Chicago, 1941
    > Brattleboro, VT, 1941
    > Childersburg, Alabama, 1941

(William Gottlieb, Library of Congress / Shorpy)

 Some new-New York neon: Russ & Daughters, erstwhile institution of Manhattan's Lower East Side, has opened up a branch at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

(Grub Street)

 And finally, some sad news from Jersey: Elmwood Park's sprawling, historic Marcal Paper plant burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in January, taking with it hundreds of jobs, an important complex of historic industrial buildings, and the greatest commercial neon installations in the entire state.   

(Carla Niutta /

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Neon News & Links / January 2019 Edition

(Tudor City Confidential)

• Via the Tudor City Confidential blog, everything you ever wanted to know about Tudor City's giant ghost sign over East 42nd Street. 


• Talkin' neon on TV!  In this short piece with NY1's Michael Scotto featuring sign shop Let There Be Neon.  

(Laumeier Scuplture Park)

• In St. Louis, an exhibit of preserved neon signs will light up Laumeier Scuplture Park - hurry, it's only up through January 13, 2019.  More here.    

(Steve Fitch via AtlasObscura)

• At AtlasObscura, a photographic tribute to neon motel signs by Steve Fitch, and an interview with the photographer.  

• From the Ephemeral NY blog, a remembrance of Manhattan's Lascoff Pharmacy, an Upper East Side institution for more than a century until it closed a few years ago.   

(Daniel Weeks via the West Side Rag)

• In case you missed it (as I did), a wayback machine story from 2011: photographer Daniel Weeks' 1982 survey of Upper West Side storefronts (via the WestSideRag). 

(Rob Yasinsac)

• Upstate in Albany, it's lights-out for one of New York State's greatest storefront signs as Lombardo's Italian Restaurant, a south-side landmark for more than 100 years, closed at the end of 2018.  

• From Curbed: "There may be no designer who’s left so deep an imprint on downtown Austin as the antiques dealer turned neon restorer turned neon artist Evan Voyles."   

(Hiroko Masuike / NY Times)

• Around the five boroughs, a mystery snitch has been anonymously ratting-out code-violating signs - some of them decades old - prompting a hellfire of steep fines for mom-and-pops all over town, many of whom have forfeited their old storefront signs in the process.   

(It's Nice That)

• "Jane Dickson in Times Square" - a new book featuring the work of artist Jane Dickson, whose photographs and paintings capture Times Square's glory days of grit perhaps more vividly than anything else you can fit on a coffee table.   

(NY Post)

• On the subject of Times Square neon, restaurateur Shelly Fireman’s revived Bond 45 offers a tangible tribute to one of New York’s best neon storefronts.  

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• McHale’s hide and seek: a chunk of a much-lamented neon storefront sign surfaced briefly on eBay, only to vanish again into the ether. 

• Via AtlasObscura, a panorama of marquee neon nationwide.  

• Check out these wild neon-like gifs from Japanese graphic designer Okuyama Taiki.  

(Ephemeral NY)

• At the Ephemeral NY blog, an homage to Brooklyn’s Ghostmobile neon

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• Hold onto your horn rims:  at long last, the NYC Municipal Archives has posted the city's 1940s tax photos online, unleashing a veritable street view of the city as it looked at what was probably its neon heyday. 

• If you missed it, you missed it - last year's "Signs of Life" photo exhibit at the Perfect Exposure Gallery in Alhambra, CA. 

(Russell Lee / Library of Congress, via Shorpy)

• Some Shorpy Specials: 

     > New Bedford Noir, 1940  

     > Cascade neon, 1941   

     > Arizona neon, 1940  

     > Twin Falls neon, 1941  

     > Texas hotel neon, 1939 

     > Big (Neon) City, 1941 


• Highline neon:  if you haven't yet, check out “Agora,” an outdoor exhbition of neon and other illuminated installations on the High Line through March.  More here at the New Yorker.