Thursday, April 26, 2018

Neon News & Links

 From the no-news-is-good-news department, a number of recent losses to report (at least recently learned of by me):  

Maryland Furniture, formerly on East Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. (T. Rinaldi)

Peerless Cleaners, 4706 White Plains Road, Bronx. (T. Rinaldi)

Dante's Pastry Shop, 4715 White Plains Road, Bronx. (T. Rinaldi)

 From the erstwhile Shorpy blog, the following: 

     > Two fantastic scenes (1 & 2) of Times Square in 1949.
     > And, lest we be accused of being too New York-centric - two scenes (1 & 2) of neon-clad Atlanta, Georgia, in 1957 (feat. Shriners).

 In the Chelsea Hotel, the veteran El Quijote restaurant has been shuttered by its new owners.  The management has pledged to re-open in four or six or eight months but what will come here remains to be seen. 

 For your neon bookshelf, get a load of "Neon Revolution," a very handsome new book featuring vintage neon of the Eastern Block. This follows-up on author / photographer Ilona Kadwinska's previous volume entitled "Polish Cold War Neon."

Neon Revolution, a new book by Ilona Kadwinska (Neon Muzeum)

• One of Manhattan's better neon storefronts has transitioned: Live Bait, on East 23rd Street is now Flats Fix.  

Live Bait is now Flats Fix. (T. Rinaldi) 

 Renato, Renato, Renato - from the kindred spirit department, a tribute to "Renato," an ancient Greenwich Village restaurant sign, via the Ephemeral New York blog.

Renato's Van Dam Street ghost sign, Greenwich Village, NYC (Epmeheral New York)

 And finally, to end on a bright note - Debra Jane Seltzer takes us on a SoCal signage sojourn

Imperial Apartments, El Centro, CA (Debra Jane Seltzer)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Neon Mascots

Drop into the various shops, restaurants and bars behind New York's old neon storefront signs, and you may notice a curious common thread:  the old signs outside are represented inside, too.  Little versions of them turn up on menus and matchbooks, t-shirts and business cards.  And, almost invariably, they feature front and center on the business's web site.  

Block Drugs T-Shirt. (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

As I came to find in writing the neon book, the signs are not just beloved by casual admirers, patrons or passers-by: many are also celebrated by their owners as treasured mascots.  Some owners have gone to great lengths to keep their signs lit.  When Capital Fishing Tackle re-located to a new storefront on West 36th Street a few years back, they took their sign along with them, giving it a thorough restoration and featuring it on their website at the same time. 

On Manhattan's Upper East Side, the Subway Inn lately did the same.  They don't have a web site, but their sign gets top billing on the bar menu.


Such devotion is not entirely impractical: these signs have undeniable caché in the city today. This was not always the case, however.  For decades, beginning as early as the 1930s, businesses began turning their backs on neon.  Neon signs were expensive, finicky.  The signs cost as much as a new car to install, and they needed regular maintenance to keep up with their flickering tendencies.  By the 1950s, they had become associated with down and out dives, shorthand for urban grit.  

Today, however, those old neon signs that survive are widely admired.  In the New York Neon book, I trace the fascinating story of neon's fall from grace and its incredible climb back to good standing in our collective consciousness.  Today, there are few better manifestations of neon's high esteem than the pride these businesses owners often take in their old signs.  That pride has its basis in more than just sentiment: to have such a sign marks a business as a survivor, one that has probably been around longer than everything else on the block, maybe the whole neighborhood.  Small wonder, then, to find the signs held high, like great urban figureheads. 

True, every so often a business owner yields to the temptation of cheaper LED signs, and an old neon mascot goes dark forever.  But for the most part, the disappearance of an old neon sign in New York means the death of the old business it advertised.  For as long as they last, the signs are not just the pride of their respective business owners, but of their neighborhoods and of the city whose streets they make just a little bit brighter, both literally and figuratively.  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Neon Purgatory

One might argue that we enthusiasts of New York's old neon signs tend to lavish our affections on those that still come aglow at night, advertising old restaurants and other businesses that have been neighborhood anchors for generations.  Less attention is diverted to those old signs that exist in a kind of purgatory - those that haven't lit up in years, either because their owners haven't been able to keep up with their maintenance, or because they've simply outlived whatever business they once advertised. Abandoned and sometimes forgotten, these are the signs that are most likely to disappear.  

Vasikauskas Bar & Grill / 279 Grand St. / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Sometimes, contemplating these old forgotten signs in my idle hours, I imagine ways they might be restored and lit up again.  Then, one day last year, an e-mail came from out of the blue suggesting that at least I wasn't the only one thinking about this.  It seemed that a prominent whiskey brand was looking for ways to partner with business owners to restore their crumbling old neon signs.  Could I suggest some good candidates for restoration in New York?  Could I ever!  

Spruce Florist / 222 8th Avenue / Chelsea, Manhattan

As it happened, I already had a shortlist of such signs.  That surprise e-mail prompted me update the list and punch it up with photos.  (Sadly, if not surprisingly, the updating revealed that a bunch of the signs on my list had already disappeared.) Unfortunately, that heaven-sent restoration plan has died on the vine.  So I present this gallery of New York's neon purgatory as an open invitation back to the drawing board.  Other cities have found ways to preserve and re-light some of their neon ghost signs as unique objects of cultural heritage that make appealing nocturnal landmarks.  Perhaps a bright future lays in store for some of these, too.

Home of Cheers Liquors / 261 W18th St / Chelsea, Manhattan

Marie's Crisis & Arthur's Tavern / 57-59 Grove St. / Greenwich Village, Manhattan 

United Palace Theatre / 4140 Broadway / Washington Heights, Manhattan 

Louis Zuflacht / 154 Stanton St. / Lower East Side, Manhattan

Chelsea Liquor Store / 114 9th Ave. / Chelsea, Manhattan

Suffolk Arms Bar / 269 East Houston St. / East Village / Lower East Side, Manhattan 

Liquor Store / 140 Havemeyer St / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Adamo Chapel / 405 Humboldt Street / Williamsburg, Brooklyn 

Loft's Candies / 88 Nassau Street / Manhattan

Broadway Liquors / 3139 Broadway / Harlem, Manhattan

North Village Liquors / 254 W14th St. / Chelsea / Greenwich Village, Manhattan

French Garment Cleaners Co / 85 Lafayette Ave / Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Katz's Drugs / 76 Graham Avenue / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Miller's Drugs / 173 Broad St / Stapleton, Staten Island

Post Road Theatre / 3429 Boston Road / Eastchester, The Bronx

DeVito Paints / 371 Graham Ave / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ox Line Paints (OTB Bar) / 141 Broadway / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Wu Han Restaurant / 1533 Pitkin Ave. / East New York, Brooklyn

Rubinestein & Klein / 6001 14th Ave / Borough Park, Brooklyn

Joe’s Tavern / 258 10th Ave / West Chelsea, Manhattan

Bangert’s Florist / 86-06 117th Street / Richmond Hill, Queens  

Lenox Liquors / 100 W124th St / West Harlem, Manhattan

Point Pharmacy / Hunts Point & Garrison Ave / Hunts Point, The Bronx

Fuller’s Drugs / 2688 3rd Ave. / Mott Haven, The Bronx

Q Tavern / 761 Nostrand Ave / Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Gun Post Lanes / 1215 E Gun Hill Road / Williamsbridge, Bronx

Delicatessen / 40 8th Ave., Greenwich Village, Manhattan

St Paul’s Church / 256 W145th Street, Hamilton Heights, Manhattan

Pier 40 / Greenwich Village, Manhattan 

Magic Touch Restaurant / 69 3rd Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Smolenski Funeral Home / 1044 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Kingston Lounge / 120 Kingston Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn 

Catania’s Shoe Shop / 3015 Westchester Ave., Pelham, Bronx

Garry Jewelers / 474 5th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn

House of Wine & Liquor / 250 East 34th Street, Manhattan

Caffe Roma /  176 Mulberry Street, Little Italy, Manhattan


 Check out San Francisco NEON SPEAKS! A weekend celebration of neon by the bay, coming April 20-22, 2018.  

 From the Shorpy photo blog:

    > Picadilly Circus, London's answer to Times Square, in 1961
    > An extravaganza of period signage (including one little neon goblin) in small town Texas.

 In LA, an arousing exhibit of preserved signs at the Museum of Neon Art in LA.  See also blogger Debra Jane Seltzer's review of the show here.  

 In Anchorage, Alaska, "The fate of the iconic neon palm tree sign that once stood in front of the derelict Paradise Inn on Spenard Road will now be decided by a federal judge."

 Reporting belatedly from Manhattan's Lower East side, the latterday neon landmark Schiller's restaurant has bowed out.

 In Rockland County, NY, someone has tried and failed to sell the wreckage of the Rockland Drive-In Theatre signage for a whopping $19k.  

 And finally, from the extremely depressing news department, confirmed reports came late last week that the El Quijote restaurant on West 23rd Street, in Manhattan's shuttered Chelsea Hotel, will close at the end of March 2018 after an 88 year run.