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.  

THE DETAILS:

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)

THE DETAILS:

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

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
 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.

UNRELATED:
 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.


NEON WALKING TOUR:

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.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS: 


• 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.  

THE DETAILS:

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!




Thursday, June 30, 2016

Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour

Please join me on Thursday, July 7, 2016 for an evening walking tour of Greenwich Village Neon.  The tour is organized by Untapped Cities - tickets are available here.
  


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.  

THE DETAILS:

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

Put on your neon shoes and come take a walk!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Billymark's White Rose

In the ever more rarified world of West Chelsea, Billymark's, at 29th and 10th, stands out as a refreshing oasis of genuine grime.  Any time I pass by this corner, I feel myself tense up with a certain anxiety:  so endangered are such places in New York today that Billymark's survival seems tenuous at best. 

 
Billymark's West, 232 Ninth Ave., Manhattan.  (T. Rinaldi)

For those who haven't had the pleasure, Billymark's West (its full name - good luck finding Billymark's East) is the New York dive bar from central casting.  From its armageddon-proof terrazzo to its graffiti-sprawled bathroom with no toilet seat, there's nary a hint of affectation in its diveyness.  
  
Yes, Billymark's seems to have all the trappings - with one great big exception:  no neon.  Along with a certain sense of disbelief that the place is still here at all, I note this lack of neon incredulously whenever I venture out this way.  The building itself, a humble one-story taxpayer with slightly art deco flourishes in its brickwork, cries out for some stylized contraption of midcentury letterforms wrought in stainless steel and neon, something a-la the Parkside Lounge down on Houston Street, or the now long-departed Penn Bar and Grill, formerly just a few blocks away.  

One day not long ago, stuck at a red light outside Billymark's whilst on a noontime errand, I decided I'd finally get to the bottom of this by turning back the clock and seeing what this place looked like around 1980.  Such limited time travel is possible thanks to the Municipal Archives, which has made the city's 1980s tax photos available online.  The scans are fuzzy, but clear enough to reveal a pair of gorgeous neon raceway signs, their copy rendered in a classic neon script.  


332 Ninth Ave c. 1980.  (Municipal Archives of NYC)

And - bonus discovery - the photo shows that before there was Billymark's, this corner belonged to one of the White Rose bars, a now-vanished varietal of New York neighborhood wateringhole along the lines of the Blarney Stones (now also nearly vanished - one of them recently shuttered just up the block from Billymark's).  White Rose bars turn up in the backdrop of old New York street scenes by photographers such as Andreas Feininger, Charles Cushman, W. Eugene Smith, and others.


White Rose, Whitehall and Front Streets, c. 1960. (Charles Cushman)

My fleamarket copy of the 1954 Manhattan yellow pages lists about ten White Rose bar-restaurants that year.  They're all gone now, but at Billymark's one can still listen the faint flicker echoing off the terrazzo - for now.  Gather ye white neon rosebuds.


White Rose, Yellow Pages. (1954 Manhattan Yellow Pages / T. Rinaldi)


IN OTHER NEON NEWS: 

 More New York Neon walking tours are coming this summer: stay tuned for dates. 
 Join typography historian Paul Shaw for a lettering tour of downtown Newark on June 19, 2016.
 Check out my interview with Robert Stark at the Stark Truth podcast.
 Insanely old pawn shop S&G Gross has left its home of approximately 100 years on 8th Avenue near Penn Station, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reported earlier this year.  NYNeon ran this study of Gross' classic neon-clad storefront back in 2013. 

S&G Gross, 8th Avenue and W34th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

 Garment District neon, at Ephemeral New York.
 Some delightful DC neon via Shorpy. 
 And finally we give you Kentile, inked.

(ryanroi on Instagram.)