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.  


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.


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)


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!


 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.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour / Thursday 9/21/16

Join the hunt for Greenwich Village Neon this Wednesday evening, Sept 21, 2016 - details and ticket info below.  Please join us if you can!

Farley Granger on location at Marie's Crisis and Arthur's Tavern for the 1950 film noir classic "Side Street."  We'll stop here on the tour.  


WHAT:  Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour

WHEN:  Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 7:30pm
WHERE: Greenwich Village NYC / Location TBA
HOW:   Tickets available at Untapped Cities here

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

NY Neon Tour & Other Neon News

Tickets are now available for our next NY Neon Walking Tour!  Please join us on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, for an evening walk around the veritable museum of signs that is Greenwich Village.  (Click here for ticket information.)  We'll meet at 7:30 and spend about two hours soaking up the atmosphere of the city's greatest preserve of midcentury neon storefront signs.  Over the course of the tour we'll stop to delve into the details of where these signs came from - who made them, how they were designed, and how our relationship with them has changed through the years.  Check out this redux of the tour at Hyperallergic and please join us for an evening that could change the way you look at the city streets.  This tour is organized by our friends at Untapped Cities.  

Neon and the bohemian mystique:  Jack Kerouac, Joyce Johnson, Arthur's Tavern and Marie's Crisis, 1957.   We'll stop by the spot where this photo was taken on the tour.  (Jerry Yulsman / Cover Photo for Minor Characters: a Beat Memoir, by Joyce Johnson)


WHAT:  Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour

WHEN:  Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 7:30pm
WHERE: Greenwich Village NYC / Location TBA
HOW:   Tickets available at Untapped Cities here

 A nice write-up on the neon art of Esther Ruiz and Brooklyn's LiteBrite Neon, at wearesweet.
 In the Bronx, another roof sign reincarnation has played out at the site of the former History Channel sign. The new sign (for iHeartRadio) is not neon nor LED, but floodlit vinyl.  More to come.

Where History once was, iHeartRadio rears its head in the Bronx.  (T. Rinaldi)

 From the west coast, enough neon eyecandy to rot your teeth out  via Debra Jane Seltzer.
 In Lower Manhattan, the neon ghost of the A. Blank Office Furniture sign made a brief reappearance over the summer.  
 Ohm, a neon font.
 Christmas in Vegas, via Shorpy.

 OK, this isn't neon, but - I am very excited to announce Hudson Valley Ruins, an exhibit of photographs by myself and my longtime cohort Rob Yasinsacat the New York State Museum in Albany. 

The exhibit features photographs from our book of the same name, depicting ruined and abandoned historic sites in the Hudson River Valley between New York and Albany. Swing by for our opening reception on Saturday, September 24.  The show will be up through December 2017.  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mitchell's Liquors and Other Neon News

The recent disappearance and reappearance of the neon storefront at Mitchell's Liquors up on West 86th Street in Manhattan made a bit of a stir earlier this summer.  Mitchell's had one of New York's most evocative midcentury neon storefronts, a real favorite among photographers of the city's vanishing neon signs.  It appeared in my book New York Neon, and in James and Karla Murray's books Store Front and New York Nights.  Inasmuch as a sign's job is to make a storefront stand out, Mitchell's had some of the most effective signage in New York City.

The neon glory of Mitchell's Liquors on West 86th Street.  (T. Rinaldi)

So the owner's threat to pull the signage down seemed just utterly senseless.  Alas, the signs came down in June, amid a complete renovation of this very old neighborhood business.  Normally, the disappearance of old storefront signage like this means that an old mom-n-pop has also bit the dust, pushed out by the usual rent hike.  Such signs have come to be treasured by their owners like mascots that mark their businesses as true survivors and neighborhood anchors.  But occasionally, a small business owner comes along who just doesn't share the enthusiasm the rest of us have for old neon.  The signs are finicky, expensive to maintain - time to renovate.  

Mitchell's Liquors, June 5, 2016. (T. Rinaldi)

The disappearance of Mitchell's beautiful old neon raised many a hue and cry in the internet chatterbox.  The store's old signs were gorgeous:  a fascia sign (installed 1946) composed of archetypal midcentury letterforms of the kind that inspired type designer Tobias Frere-Jones' now immensely popular font Gotham.   The lettering was wrought in red neon encased in stainless steel channels mounted to a backing of black Carrara Glass, and punctuated by a diacritical dot of ethereal blue neon that seemed able to transfix even the most impassive passerby.  A vertical sign off to one side (installed 1949) offered a bonus of pre-Helvetica lettering rendered in an appealingly-contrasting hue of green neon, similarly framed in stainless steel.  Things of utter beauty in their own right, their charm was amped up into the stratosphere by contrast with the pretty boring signage of just about every other storefront in the neighborhood.  Surely whatever the owner had on deck to replace them would pale by comparison.

Mitchell's, Then-and-Now.  No more blue dot.  (T. Rinaldi)

Then, a twist:  Mitchell's new signage debuted a few weeks later, matched so closely to the original that some casual observers weren't even sure whether these were new signs or just the old ones going back up.  The new signs are indeed new, as is given away by a few clues.  On the fascia sign, the new sign maker did a pretty good job matching the original lettering.  The new letters are a little fatter than the originals (they fill out a slightly larger space with the reconfiguration of the storefront below), but are rendered in a silvery metal (probably aluminum) that makes a good match for the old stainless, and are mounted to some kind of mystery material that does a pretty good job of approximating the old Carrara Glass.  They even replicated the little chrome strip in the glass backing.  The spacing of the neon tubes within the metal flanges gives this away as a fake-old sign (the new tubes are more deeply set within the metal "cans") but we'll give that a pass.


Mitchell's Then-and-Now. (T. Rinaldi)

The vertical sign meanwhile is a fairly dismal and uninspired rehash of its predecessor, the lettering apparently a digitally stretched and skewed Helvetica.  But maybe the biggest letdown for the sign stickler is that diacritical dot, which has utterly inexplicably gone from blue to red.  I mean - the humanity!  In the end, the final outcome here is about 1000% better than what those of us who so loved Mitchell's old signs had feared.  Far better, though, would have been to see the old signs properly restored, like a Buick of similar vintage, as has been done at places like Gringer's down in the East Village, or more recently at the Long Island Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  Instead, an authentic artifact of the streetscape, seasoned by nearly 70 years of New York's sooty soul, has gone to neon's great beyond.


My next Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour has been calendared!

  WHEN:   Weds, September 21, 2016, 7:30PM
  WHERE:  Greenwich Village NYC
  HOW:    Tickets available at UntappedCities here
  WHY:    To bask in the glow of the best preserve of old
          neon left in NYC!

Check out Allison Meier's awesome review of the last tour here.


• No news is good news: S&G Gross's recently abandoned LOANS sign by Penn Station has vanished.

S&G Gross, then-and-now.  (T. Rinaldi)

 And yet more bad news: Campanile Restaurant on East 29th Street in Manhattan has bitten the dust, leaving its sign poised to disappear.

Campanile in better days.  (T. Rinaldi)

• And still more bad news: Antelis Drugs over in Midwood Brooklyn has moved out of their longtime location at Elm Ave and E15th St, leaving their really beautiful old Charles Klein-designed signage to its fate. (Reports on the closing of nearby M&M Drugs appear to be erroneous.)

Antelis then-and-now. (T. Rinaldi; GooglePlus)

• Boston is set to Landmark the famous Citgo Sign.

 Old neon in chronological situ at the Shorpy blog here & here.
 Some vintage NYC signage appreciation at the Ephemeral NY Blog.
 Way out west, sign chronicler Debra Jane Seltzer has been making the rounds.
 And, with sadness, we note the passing of John Margolies in May of this year.  Mr. Margolies began documenting vanishing signs and storefronts back in the 1970s.  His 1981 book "The End of the Road" set the tone for the formal and informal documentation of commercial archeology around the world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Greenwich Village Neon Tour

It's a date!  Please join us on Thursday, September 21, 2016 for an evening walking tour of Greenwich Village Neon.  The tour is organized by the fine folks at Untapped Cities - tickets are available here.
Casa Oliveira Liquors, 98 Seventh Avenue South, one of the stops on our tour.  

For reasons both various and mysterious, Greenwich Village is home to New York's densest concentration of vintage neon storefront signs.  Winding our way through the neighborhood, we will see some of the oldest neon signs in the city, and study their letterforms and design details to see how the look of New York's storefront signs changed dramatically through the years.  Stops will include venerable neighborhood institutions like Monte's Trattoria, open since 1918, and Bigelow Drugs, in business since 1838.  


WHAT:  Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour
WHEN:  Thursday, July 7, 2016, 7:30pm
WHERE: Greenwich Village NYC / Location TBA
HOW:   Tickets available at Untapped Cities here

Hope to see you there!