Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fake Neon

You may have noticed a disturbing trend rearing its spurious head in various forms of media lately.  I write, of course, of the increasingly rampant proliferation of fake neon that has cropped up in TV and print advertisements and even team logos in the past few months.  I first started to notice the fake neon trend late last year.  Maybe it's one of those things that one notices and then suddenly starts to see everywhere.  


The Children's Store, Union Square East.  TNT's "Good Behavior." (T. Rinaldi) New logo for the Memphis Redbirds.

Fake neon is nothing new.  In researching my book New York Neon, I was surprised to find instances of fake neon signs as early as the 1940s.  In one early instance, sign boxes with plastic faces were designed to mimic the appearance of neon lettering when lit from within.  More recently, LED signs have contorted themselves to look like neon tubes - in some cases all too convincingly. 


Fake Neon, 1944.  (Signs of the Times Magazine, July 1944)

Time Out New York, Bloomingdale's, Hulu's "Shut Eye." (T. Rinaldi)

This latest trend isn’t fooling anyone:  improved printing technology and digital graphics seem to have given birth to a wave of neon-like letterforms used for catchy advertisements that have popped up all over town.  Could it be a spin off of the recent rise in popularity of real neon, which has turned up in just about every retailer on Broadway in SoHo in the last few years?  



Trader Joe's; Bloomingdale's. (T. Rinaldi)
 
Moonlight; Waitress; Riverdale. (T. Rinaldi)

Whatever the reason for it, those of us who admire neon can welcome this latest development as yet another manifestation of neon's undeniable appeal.  Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

NEON WALKING TOURS: 

 Thursday, March 23, 2017
 Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mark your calendars!  Tickets will be available at this link.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS: 
 Via Jeremiah: keep an eye out for vanishing neon all over New York this winter.
 In LA?  Don't miss the Museum of Neon Art's Valentine's Day Neon Cruise.
 Old country neon, at Shorpy.
 An "Insta Worthy Scavenger Hunt of New York's Best Neon Art Signs" at Guest of a Guest.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Lights Out 2016: Signs We Lost This Year

As usual, this's year's handful of neon casualties includes some real favorites - signs that just seemed too good to disappear.  Alas, as far as vintage storefront neon is concerned, nothing is too good to vanish.  If the displacement of Manhattan's old P&G bar weren't enough to prove my point, this year we can look to the Antelis Pharmacy in Brooklyn, or - from the dear-God-how-can-it-be-real department, the impending demise of the Carnegie Deli in Midtown.  Behold, then, the year's losses, to file away with David Bowie, Prince, American Exceptionalism, and the other incredible losses of an incredible year.

A note: also as usual, this year's list includes some signs that may have disappeared prior to 2016, but whose loss I only got wind of this year.  


S.M. Rose Chevrolet, 573 East Fordham Road, Bronx / Installed c. 1959 

Once a bright spot on Fordham Road in the Bronx, the old S.M. Rose Chevy sign has rood off on the bat-wing tailfins of a '59 Impala, into the neon sunset.  The dealership itself disappeared years ago.




Antelis Pharmacy, 1502 Elm Ave., Brooklyn / Probably Silverescent Neon Sign Co., c. 1955 

Antelis drugs moved this year to a smaller storefront down the block, abandoning one of the better surviving neon storefronts in the city.  Along with Maiman's Drugs on Eastern Parkway, which disappeared a few years back, Antelis was the work of veteran signman Charlie Klein and the Silverescent Neon Sign Co. of Brooklyn.  Does anyone have any updates on the fate of the old sign?



Mitchell's Liquors, 200 W86th St., Manhattan / fascia sign installed 1946; vertical 1949

Mitchell's Liquors boasted one of the more memorable historic storefronts on Manhattan's Upper West Side.  The proprietors replaced the signs this year with decent facsimilies.  



S&G Gross Loans, 486 Eighth Ave., Manhattan / Grauer Sign Co., c. 1959 

S&G Gross closed this year after more than 100 years in business.  Its remarkable three-story storefront (profiled in-depth here) has now vanished too, as the whole corner seems poised to be cleared for large scale new development. 



Chelsea Wine Cellar, 200 W21st St., Manhattan / c. 1963 

This sign was a standout on Seventh Ave in Chelsea for years.  It made way for an LED replacement this year.



Allen Cleaners, 387 Bedford Park Blvd., Bronx / c. 1957

Stationed just outside the main gate of the New York Botanical Garden, Allen seems to have closed up shop sometime within the past few years. 





Lyric Diner, 283 Third Ave., Manhattan 

Not an old sign, but the Lyric's exposed tube neon signs brightened the corner of 22nd and Third in Manhattan in classic style.  The restaurant's disappearance this year falls in with a trend of similar diner vanishings all over town. (Footnote: a new diner has taken its place.)




Louis Zuflacht "Smart Clothes" ~ 154 Stanton Street, Manhattan / installed 1942

Zuflacht's "Smart Clothes" on the Lower East Side closed years ago, but its signs lingered on, favorites relic in a neighborhood that has seen intense gentrification in the past decade.  The old channel letters may be entombed behind newer, unremarkable signage that appeared here in the past year or so. 




Colgate Clock, Jersey City Waterfront / 1906, rebuilt 1924, 1954

Jersey City's storied Colgate Clock has been LED-ed.  Originally lit with incandescent bulbs, the sign has undergone several reconstructions (it was converted from incandescent to neon at one point), but this latest one (apparently undertaken in 2013) seems to have really sapped it of historic character (scroll down at this link).




Carnegie Deli, 854 Seventh Ave., Manhattan / Globe Neon Sign Co., installed c. 1960

I will hold back from editorializing on the needless demise of the Carnegie Deli, which will close at the end of 2016 after 79 years in business, and simply offer this simple death notice and plea for someone to at least save its fantastic sign, about which more here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Long Live Loft's

A bright spot when we can really use one:  word downtown is that Two Boots Pizza has decided to save the old Loft's Candy sign on Nassau Street.  The Loft's sign was unearthed earlier this year with the removal of newer signage at the pizza chain's soon-to-open downtown location.  In an almost too-good-to-hope-for scenario, the sign will be restored and re-lit in situ.  The specialists from Let There Be Neon have already salvaged the sign's glass tubes for restoration at their shop in TriBeCa.  

Let the work begin:  Loft's Candy restoration in progress (Let There Be Neon on Instagram)

LTBN's Jeff Friedman tells us that the tubes will be refreshed (the existing tubes will be re-pumped with gas and fitted with new electrodes), the metal channel letters cleaned, and new transformers installed for a re-lighting to take place sometime in the coming months.  Let There Be Neon has previously restored a number of notable favorites among New York's old neon storefront signs, including the Long Island Restaurant in Brooklyn, the Beatrice Inn in Greenwich Village, as well as Gringer's Appliances and Russ & Daughters in the East Village.  

For more on the Loft's sign, see previous posts 1 2 & 3 at this blog.  Stay tuned for more details on the grand re-lighting as they become available.  

NOVEMBER NEON TOUR THIS WEDNESDAY:

Untapped Cities will sponsor one more Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour this fall:

 Wednesday, November 16, 2016 (7:30 PM)

Tickets available here - please join us if you can!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Signs Inside

In my book New York Neon, I point to the use of old neon signs as objects of decor as one of the most vivid illustrations of the complex and contradictory nature of our relationship with neon through the years. Neon signs have been dismissed as tatty clutter on the one hand, and welcomed into restaurant dining rooms on the other.  True, this could be just a question of there being a time and a place for everything.   But the fact remains that while some have sought to have neon signs banned outright, others have gone to great lengths to ensure their preservation.  


Holland Bar / 532 9th Av., Manhattan.   Buildings Department records indicate a 1949 installation date for this sign at its original location on West 42nd Street.  The sign bears the mark of the Higger Electric Sign Co.  (T. Rinaldi)

My favorite place to reflect upon this irony is on a wobbly barstool at the Holland Bar, on Ninth Avenue just below the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  When circumstances forced the bar to relocate from its original home in the former Holland Hotel on 42nd Street years ago, its owners took their sign along with them.  Too large to hang over the bar's new storefront, they found room for it inside.  An urn nested between the letters O and L holds the ashes of Charlie O'Connor, a longtime regular.  


Emmett O'Lunney's (Sign formerly belonging to McHale's Bar at Eighth Ave and W46th Street) / 210 W50th St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

All over New York, old signs have been brought indoors to brighten bars, stores, lobbies and other spaces.  While this is a happy byproduct of our appreciation for these old signs, the downside is that it takes the signs away from their proper context - the city streets whose character they helped define for most of the 20th century.  And of course, they are liable to disappear without warning when a space changes hands.  A number of the signs pictured in this roundup have vanished since these photos were taken.  But where they can be found, these signs inside are like a scattered, un-curated museum of New York neon, perhaps the best demonstration of neon's infectious appeal.  


Emmett O'Lunney's / 210 W50th St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


HousingWorks Books / 126 Crosby St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Farrell's Bar / 215 Prospect Park W., Brooklyn (T. Rinaldi)


Mr. Wright Fine Wines & Spirits / 1593 3rd Ave., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Times Square Museum (Closed) / 1560 Broadway (Times Sq.), Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Crunch Gym (ex-David Barton Gym, ex-McBurney YMCA) / 215 W23rd St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


The 13th Step / 139 2nd Av., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Museum of the Moving Image / 36-01 35th Ave, Astoria, Queens (T. Rinaldi) 


Duke's (Closed) / 99 E 19th St, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


IFC Theater Cafe (Closed) / 323 Ave. of the Americas, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Kew Gardens Cinema (ex-Austin Theatre) / 81-05 Lefferts Blvd., Jamaica (T. Rinaldi)


Steven Sondheim Theatre (ex-Henry Miller's Theatre) / 214 W43rd St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Cafe Pedlar (Sign formerly at the Delightful Coffee Shop at 116th and First in Manhattan) / 210 Court Street, Brooklyn (T. Rinaldi)


Bone Lick BBQ (Closed) / 75 Greenwich Ave, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Streetbird (sign formerly belonged to the M&G Soul Food Diner on 125th Street) / 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

MORE NEON WALKING TOURS CALENDARED

Untapped Cities will sponsor one more Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour this fall:

 Wednesday, November 16, 2016 (7:30 PM)

Tickets available here!

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

 It's actually happening:  Jeremiah pays a farewell visit to the Carnegie Deli.
 Also via Jeremiah's Vanishing New York: lots of neon in the backdrop of the Gay Gotham exhibit up at the Museum of the City of New York. 
 Via Brooklyn Magazine: "Noble Signs is Making New York Glow Again."
 Way out west, Debra Jane has been busy making glorious galleries of old neon and other related eyecandy.
 From the Upstate New York Neon department: a great neon restoration at the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Little More Loft's

In writing two weeks ago on the discovery of a long-entombed Loft's Candy storefront down on Nassau Street, I described the sign as using the chain's "midcentury logotype."  By sheer coincidence, while thumbing through a musty backissue of Interiors magazine up at Avery Library the other day, I stumbled upon the origin of said logotype, which belonged to a comprehensive rebranding that encompassed everything from the company's packaging to its delivery trucks to - yes - its storefronts.
  
(Interiors Magazine, November 1945)

The Loft's logo unearthed on Nassau Street can be credited to a now largely forgotten industrial designer called Charles C.S. Dean.  Dean is obscure today, but pulled quite a bit of weight in his day.  Interiors featured his work for Loft's in its November 1945 issue under the headline "Old Candy Chain Modernizes."  Started in lower Manhattan back in 1860, Loft's was going full tilt after WWII, with stores at 175 locations. 

Loft's storefront at an unspecified address on 42nd Street in New York.  (Interiors Magazine, November 1945)

Dean's new design for the company's standard storefronts called for facades of "Rembrandt blue Carrara glass" divided by horizontal strips of stainless steel.  The slanty crosspiece of the logo's stylized letter "F" evoked candy stripes.  The storefront design evolved somewhat by the time of the Loft's facade at 88 Nassau, but the basic pattern remains easily recognizable there today.  

 
Loft's ghost sign on Nassau St.  (T. Rinaldi)

Of Mr. Dean, from Modernism101.com we learn the following: "Charles C. S. Dean emigrated to the US in 1925. ... In Chicago he worked for Kuppenheimers, designing packaging and other materials. He relocated to New York and studied at the Art Student's League and the American and National Academies of Design. After a year studying in Europe he returned to New York and worked for Newell-Emmett advertising and spent evenings studying at NYU and the Beaux Arts School of Design. He designed trademarks, brochures, packaging and booklets."
 

(Interiors Magazine, November 1945)
 
Dean appears to have left no design patents for us to gauge his body of work by, but his logo for Loft's can still be found in the annals the US Patent and Tradmarks Office, where it was filed in April 1946 - and, for now, it can still be admired down on Nassau Street.  Whether it will stay around for us to keep admiring it is up to Two Boots Pizza, who will open in the space in the coming months.  


NEON WALKING TOUR THIS WEEK

What better way to fortify yourself for Wednesday night's Presidential Debate than by marinating in the bohemian neon glow of Greenwich Village?  The tour will start at 7:30 and wrap up about an hour later so that those of us with the strength for another debate can get to our respective viewing locations.  

Tickets are available here - hope you can make it!  Next tour will be on Wednesday, November 16.  Tickets for that tour are avilable at the same link.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Loft's Lost And Found

Two Boots Pizza, a NYC-based chain, will open a new location where one of New York's most remarkable neon storefronts was recently unearthed on Nassau Street.  


Loft's reliquary neon recently unearthed at 88 Nassau Street. (T. Rinaldi)

Since reporting on the old Loft's sign last week, a modest proposal has come to mind.  Dear Two Boots: don't take it down, don't cover it up...  re-light it!  Crazy?  Not really, and here are some reasons why:

1) The old Loft's sign covers a large part of the tiny building's facade.  Cleaning and preserving the existing Loft's sign could substantially offset costs for demolition and installing a whole new facade.  


A Loft's relic sign preserved on Church Street in New Haven, CT.  (Greg on Flickr)

2) Two Boots wouldn't be the first to re-use a historic sign in this way.  Numerous other examples come to mind:  from the the J Crew Men's Shop in TriBeCa to another Loft's sign on Church Street in New Haven, to the Odeon (also in Tribeca), whose salvaged cafeteria storefront neon dates all the way back to 1933. 


Old neon saved for posterity at the J. Crew Men's Shop in TriBeCa and The Odeon, 145 West Broadway, Manhattan.  (T. Rinaldi)

3) Inasmuch as a sign's job is to attract attention, absolutely nothing does the job better than an old neon storefront.  Where they survive, these signs are not just the brightest things in sight: they are iconic local landmarks that become known far beyond their immediate surroundings.  In recent years they have become Instagram magnets (the Loft's sign on Nassau Street scored almost 800 likes on one account since its unveiling).  


Likes for Loft's. (sign_of_the_time on Insta)

So come on, Two Boots, save the sign!  You'd be doing a good turn for the cultural fabric of the city, preserving an irreplaceable icon of New York's 20th century streetscapes, potentially saving yourself some cash, and coming out of it with a showstopper of a storefront that will become an instant neighborhood landmark, camera-ready for books, magazines and social media.  And I'll promise to line up for a slice and blog your praises from the neon mountaintop.

MORE NEON WALKING TOURS CALENDARED

Untapped Cities will sponsor two more Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tours this fall:

 October 19, 2016 (7:30 PM)
 
 November 16, 2016 (7:30 PM)

Tickets available here - hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Loft's on Nassau

Surveying New York's old signs for the neon book, I identified somewhere around 400 pre-1970-ish neon storefront signs scattered throughout the five boroughs - a paltry number, considering how many there once were.  In fact there are probably many more, hiding under newer signs or awnings all over town.  Among these, my absolute favorite has been one belonging to a long-defunct Loft's Candies franchise that lay hidden under a vinyl awning for Lilly's Boutique, a ladies' discount dress shop down on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan.  

 
Loft's undercover.  (T. Rinaldi)

The Loft sign came to light again in recent weeks, unveiled with the closure of Lilly's cut-rate dress emporium at 88 Nassau.  The sign is a marvel, featuring prime specimens of pre-Helvetica block and script letterforms outlined in metal channel letters mounted to an old vitrolite storefront facade.  No record of an installation date appears to be on file at the Buildings Department, but the sign has the look of something that likely appeared here circa 1960.  "Will the future excavation of an ancient Starbucks be as elegant?" wondered Jeremiah Moss last week. 

Loft's "desnuda".  (T. Rinaldi) 

Loft's exhumed neon is noteworthy on several counts.  In the early 1920s, another Loft's outlet installed the earliest storefront neon in New York City for which any photographic documentation has yet surfaced.  As I wrote in the neon book, in those early years, neon signs were the domain of big corporations - besides Loft's, early neon signs in New York were installed by auto manufacturers like Willys-Overland, and chain shoe stores like John Ward.  It was only later that neon storefront signs became associated with independent businesses - from neighborhood corner stores to seedy old hotels - ultimately lending a bohemian mystique to neon as a medium.

Could this be New York's first neon storefront sign?  Signs of the Times Magazine ran this photograph under the headline "Luminous Gas Lights New Electric Sign" in October 1924.  (Signs of the Times Magazine, October 1924)

The Loft's sign on Nassau Street features the company's midcentury logotype.  Graphically, it is somewhat unusual in that the business name is rendered in block letters (behold that fabulous slashy F), while the generic CANDIES is spelled out in a jaunty script.  Typically, sign makers took the opposite tack, using script for the business name and block letters for generic copy.  An almost identical sign could once be seen on Times Square, where Loft's had a location in the old Bond Building. 

Loft's Times Square, c. 1965. (American Classic Images)


By the mid-1960s, Loft's abandoned exposed-tube neon for typical plexiglas signs lit by off-the-shelf fluorescent tube lamps, as in this (since removed) example at Danas Flower Shop at 118-01 Queens Blvd in Forest Hills. (T. Rinaldi) 

Back around 1960, a sign of this type probably cost about as much as a new Chevy Corvair.  In other words, a significant investment, even for a chain business.  Alas, this particular Loft's appears to have lasted not more than 20 years (88 Nassau is not among the 38 Loft locations listed in my copy of the 1954 Manhattan Yellow Pages, and the store was gone by the time the city's tax photographer showed up here around 1980).  Yet its survival is testimony to an era whose aesthetic is now almost entirely vanished from the city streets.  If New York were an open air museum of old neon signs, its holdings would be spread frightfully thin; Loft's on Nassau would be one of the most significant pieces in the collection.  


Loft's on Nassau.  (T. Rinaldi)

Let's hope the new tenant (rumored to be a new TwoBoots Pizza joint) will keep it in place under whatever new signage comes here, perhaps to one day resurface for the amusement of future passersby on Nassau Street.

Loft's on Nassau.  (T. Rinaldi)

MORE NEON WALKING TOURS CALENDARED

Untapped Cities will sponsor two more Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tours this fall:

 October 19, 2016 (7:30 PM)
 November 16, 2016 (7:30 PM)

Tickets are available here.  Hope to see you there!


IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

 Awful news that NYC is about to lose one of its most legendary, neon-clad institutions:  The Carnegie Deli will shutter in December.
 On October 15-16, Open House NY will offer a chance to check out Lite Brite Neon in Gowanus, Brooklyn - a must-see for any neon enthusiast.
 Thursday Night Neon - glassbending classes at Urban Glass.
 I have no hair, and somehow I still managed to have a bad hair day chatting on the old History Channel sign for Bronx News 12.
 Let us pause for a moment to admire an institution still with us: the Lexington Candy Shop on the Upper East Side, hommaged at Untapped Cities and ProjectNeon.
 In Sacramento, they're doing what we should be doing here in NYC - an exhibit featuring historic Sacramento neon opened on October 1, 2016.
 Not neon, but a wildly cool incandescent sign by way of the Shorpy blog.
 Jeremiah remembers the late lovely Cheyenne Diner on 9th Avenue in Manhattan.