Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Edmund Vincent Gillon's New York

Not long ago, I chanced upon an online gallery featuring a great banquet of exceptionally fine New York street scenes by photographer Edmund Vincent Gillon, Jr, who died in 2008.   The photographs, housed at the Museum of the City of New York, date mostly to the 1970s and 80s.  Judging by their content, Mr. Gillon seems to have been drawn to the grand, the quirky, the ephemeral.  New York in those years must have been a wonderland for him.

From top: Schapiro's Kosher Wines, 143 Rivington St; Ratner's, 138 Delancey; Streit's Matzos, 148 (?) Rivington St. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

Says the Museum of the Gillon gallery:  "His photographs bring to life not only the countless readily apparent changes that have taken place in the city's urban landscape over the past several decades, but also the many subtle changes that transformed neighborhoods such as SoHo, Tribeca, and Dumbo as they transitioned, building by building, from gritty wastelands into the vibrant urban oases they have become."

From top: Loew's Delancey, 140 Delancey St; The Star Cafe, 167 West 23rd Street. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

Old neon signs - already old, even then, forty-odd years ago - often haunt the backdrop of Mr. Gillon's street scenes, as seen in the images excerpted here.  Like so much of what one finds in these photographs, all of the signs in this selection of photos are gone today.  Perusing the online gallery, I find that the photographs pose more questions than they answer.  With interests in the quirky and the ephemeral, where, I wonder, would a young Mr. Gillon point his lense in the city today?  

From top: Variety Theatre, 110 Third Ave.; Automat et al, East 14th Street, north side near Irving Place. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

The MCNY's gallery of photographs by Edmund Vincent Gillon Jr can be viewed online here.


Edmund Gillon Jr's photographs are featured in a number of books published in the heyday of Dover Publications.  Some of these include "Cast-iron Architecture in New York: a Photographic Survey" (1974); "New York Then and Now: 83 Manhattan Sites Photographed in the Past and the Present" (1976); "South Street : a Photographic Guide to New York City's Historic Seaport" (1977); "The Lower East Side : a Guide to its Jewish Past" (1979); "Provincetown Discovered : the Fishing Village Where The Pilgrims First Landed" (1986); "Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York : a Photographic Guide" (1988); and "The Great Sights of New York : A Photographic Guide" (1991).


 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Porteño Neon Fantasmas

Amid the recent flurry of stress-inducing headlines here at home, this seems like as good a time as any for a little retreat down memory lane - more than 10 years and 5,000 miles down memory lane, in fact, south of the border, south of the equator, to Buenos Aires, where I found myself in November 2006.  

Restaurant Confiteria El Cervatillo, Arenales 1900, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Buenos Aires back then was a purgatory of beautiful people living among beautiful relics.  One couldn't tell whether this owed more to economic realities or to an ingrained reluctance to part with relics of the past.  From high-ceilinged coffee shops to the incandescent glow of century-old subway cars then still rolling beneath Avenida Mayo, Buenos Aires felt like a portal into an earlier time.

Hotel Los Tres Reyes, Pte. Luis Saenz Pena 284 CP, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Farmacia San Roque, somewhere around centro Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

This condition extended to the city's neon.  Old signs presented themselves around every corner.  After the trip, I found myself back in New York with a small album of Buenos Aires neon that became one of my favorite souvenirs of Argentina.  As it happened, I had just begun scouting New York's old signs for the project that eventually became the New York Neon book.  Buenos Aires and other towns on the way to Patagonia turned out to be a proving ground for the photographic approach I would take to record old signs back home.  

Zum Edelweiss, Libertad 431, Buenos Aires(T. Rinaldi)

I haven't been back to Argentina since that trip in 2006, leaving me to wonder what's become of these old places.  Like so many of New York's neon landmarks that have vanished in the years since then, these visions of Argentina flicker on in my memory.  

Luna Park, Av. Madero 420, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Dos Heladerias, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Teatro Gran Rex, Av Corrientes 857, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Bar Americano, somewhere near San Telmo, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Guido Palace, Calle Guido 1780, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Farmacia Pasteur, Bahia Blanca. (T. Rinaldi)

Harrod's, Calle Florida, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

"Dali," Comodoro Rivadavia. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Central Cordoba, San Martín 1021, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)  

BsAs Night Neon. (T. Rinaldi)  


 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

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


 When in Mesa, AZ, don't miss "Mesa's Main Street Neon By Night," a guided bus tour led by Marshall Shore the Hip Historian and Vic Linoff of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.  Tour dates at the link.

 Via Jeremiah's Vanishing NY:  the shuttered Carnegie Deli's neon was spotted being carted off to points unknown.

 Neon in the backdrop of these supremely beautiful New York scenes from the 50s and 60s by photographer Saul Leiter, from the Ephemeral NY blog. 

 Lysande Skylt: A celebration of Swedish neon, at the Staadsmuseet Stockholm. (Here's the English translation - lots to peruse here.)

 In Los Angeles, the Museum of Neon Art is now displaying the restored Brown Derby sign.  

 "21 Iconic Upstate NY Places We Miss" - Bygone Upstate neon and other signs. 

 And finally, when in Liverpool, England - "The World's Largest Collection of Neon Signs is Ridiculous And Amazing" - via The Creator's Project.

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.


 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

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

 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.  


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)


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

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

Tickets available here!


 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.