Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Neon News & Links / June 2019 Edition

The neon highlight of the past few months has to have been this year's second-annual Neon Speaks symposium out in San Francisco at the end of April 2019, hosted by San Francisco Neon.  The three day event featured presentations by neon practitioners, historians and enthusiasts from across the country, as well as walking tours and shop visits. If you missed it, the good news is that the organizers are looking forward to a third annual installation set for April 2020. 

(jericl on Instagram)

• The White Horse Tavern, one of New York's most venerated neon landmarks, has closed and re-opened amidst a controversial ownership change.  

(T. Rinaldi)

• From the RIP department, via the Vanishing NY blog: DeRobertis' Pastry Shoppe's relic sign on First Ave is gone daddy gone.  DeRobertis closed in 2015 after 110 years in business.  The sign hung on a few years longer but has now joined New York's silent neon majority.  

(T. Rinaldi)

• And still more crappy news, also via Vanishing NY: the dead husk of Union Square's old Coffee Shop will become a bank.  What will become of its great sign is still TBD but we can guess.

• Still more crappy news?  You bet!  Jolson's Liquors in Astoria Queens will become a Taco Bell. 

(MCarsten on Instagram)

• The old McHale's Bar sign has resurfaced, appropriately enough, at McHale's Bar in Hell's Kitchen.  The original bar, at 46th and 9th, had been a favorite neon landmark before it closed around 15 years ago.  Part of the old sign turned up at Emmett O'Lunney's on 51st Street.  Another part resurfaced recently on eBay and has now been installed at the McHale's reboot a few blocks from the original. 

(T. Rinaldi)

• Not neon but still cool: vanished flower shop signage has resurfaced in Carroll Gardens, via the Ephemeral NY Blog.  

• From the Graphic Design department: at long last, the Poster House museum is set to open in the former Tekserve space on 23rd Street in Manhattan.

• Sign maven and commercial archeology scholar extraordinaire Debra Jane Seltzer has launched an Instagram feed and it's spectacular.

(roadarch_com on Instagram)

• Also from Debra Jane - rounding out a (very depressing) status-check on some of the many signs she's documented around the country.  

• From the sweet revenge department: a Times Square LED billboard shorted out and burst into flames last month. Heh.

• The NY Times takes a tantalizing dive into the city’s archive of 1980s tax photos.  

(NY Times

• The Ephemeral NY blog salutes Houston Street's doomed Sunshine Theater, whose bold marquee was a landmark of latter-day NY Neon.   

 Your Guide to Downtown: Denise Scott Brown - a new book focusing on the observations and theories of architect Denise Scott Brown, whose seminal “Learning From Las Vegas” changed the way many of us look at neon and the commercial landscape.   

 And still more fake neon anime - check out this lovely neon logo from graphic designer, author and sign connoisseur Louise Fili for restaurant Poulet Sans Tete:

(Louise Fili)

• From Paste Magazine, a fabulous assemblage of neon movie theater marquees from across the lower 48.  

 The Ephemeral NY Blog pays tribute to Tad's Steaks, the under-the-radar relic of Times Square's now-all-but-vanished heyday of neon and grit.  

 From the ItsNiceThat blog: "Marilyn Mugot's photos capture the neon melancholy of China's streets."

• Out in the Pac-NW - if you haven't yet, check out Electric Letterland, "home to Portland Oregon’s neon walking tours, printed neon maps, and neon GIF classes," a project of designer Kate Widdows

 In a follow-up to an earlier story about mysterious anonymous calls to report allegedly non-code-compliant storefront signs around NYC, the Times reports that New York's City Council has stopped issuing violations until the situation gets sorted out. 

 From Las Vegas, the following: "Teacher, students behind push to make neon Nevada’s official element."

 And finally, via Shorpy, three visions of America's neon past: 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Neon News & Links / February 2019 Edition

• Talkin' neon, in SF! I'll be presenting a status check on the state of New York neon for this year's Neon Speaks Festival & Symposium in San Francisco on Saturday, April 27, 2019.  

• "Neon Lights Making a Comeback as Smaller Businesses Desire Unique Signs" - a nice write-up by Scripps Networks reporter Chris Welch on the output of neon shops today.

 Not neon but still fantastically cool: via the Uni-Watch blog, in East Midwood, a great midcentury porcelain enamel storefront was recently unearthed with the removal of newer signage. Alas, if you missed it, you missed it: it was quickly ruined upon seeing the light of day. 


 From the wonderful Ephemeral NY blog, the following: 

    > An homage to the late great Chock-Full-O-Nuts coffee shop chain and its bygone New York storefronts.  

(Ephemeral New York)

    > An appreciation of surviving vintage drugstore neon in Brooklyn and Manhattan  

(Ephemeral New York)

 The inimitable Debra Jane Seltzer has been status-checking the historic signs and roadside architecture she's photographed across the country, and the state of our old signs is not good.  As she puts it, "what shall we conclude from all this devastation?"  Here are direct links to a few of a dozen or so entries she's posted in this series over the past month or so.

    > Updates on theatres, car dealers and "ship buildings"  

    > Gas Station Updates  
    > Signs  
    > More signs   
    > And still more signs.  

(Debra Jane Seltzer)

• Meanwhile, from the SHORPY blog, a look at some old signs across the USA - before they were old:

    > Fayetteville, 1941 
    > US 1 in Jessup, Maryland
    > Swing Street, Manhattan, 1948
    > Human Freaks, 1941 
    > Chicago, 1941
    > Brattleboro, VT, 1941
    > Childersburg, Alabama, 1941

(William Gottlieb, Library of Congress / Shorpy)

 Some new-New York neon: Russ & Daughters, erstwhile institution of Manhattan's Lower East Side, has opened up a branch at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

(Grub Street)

 And finally, some sad news from Jersey: Elmwood Park's sprawling, historic Marcal Paper plant burned to the ground in a spectacular fire in January, taking with it hundreds of jobs, an important complex of historic industrial buildings, and the greatest commercial neon installations in the entire state.   

(Carla Niutta / NorthJersey.com)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Neon News & Links / January 2019 Edition

(Tudor City Confidential)

• Via the Tudor City Confidential blog, everything you ever wanted to know about Tudor City's giant ghost sign over East 42nd Street. 


• Talkin' neon on TV!  In this short piece with NY1's Michael Scotto featuring sign shop Let There Be Neon.  

(Laumeier Scuplture Park)

• In St. Louis, an exhibit of preserved neon signs will light up Laumeier Scuplture Park - hurry, it's only up through January 13, 2019.  More here.    

(Steve Fitch via AtlasObscura)

• At AtlasObscura, a photographic tribute to neon motel signs by Steve Fitch, and an interview with the photographer.  

• From the Ephemeral NY blog, a remembrance of Manhattan's Lascoff Pharmacy, an Upper East Side institution for more than a century until it closed a few years ago.   

(Daniel Weeks via the West Side Rag)

• In case you missed it (as I did), a wayback machine story from 2011: photographer Daniel Weeks' 1982 survey of Upper West Side storefronts (via the WestSideRag). 

(Rob Yasinsac)

• Upstate in Albany, it's lights-out for one of New York State's greatest storefront signs as Lombardo's Italian Restaurant, a south-side landmark for more than 100 years, closed at the end of 2018.  

• From Curbed: "There may be no designer who’s left so deep an imprint on downtown Austin as the antiques dealer turned neon restorer turned neon artist Evan Voyles."   

(Hiroko Masuike / NY Times)

• Around the five boroughs, a mystery snitch has been anonymously ratting-out code-violating signs - some of them decades old - prompting a hellfire of steep fines for mom-and-pops all over town, many of whom have forfeited their old storefront signs in the process.   

(It's Nice That)

• "Jane Dickson in Times Square" - a new book featuring the work of artist Jane Dickson, whose photographs and paintings capture Times Square's glory days of grit perhaps more vividly than anything else you can fit on a coffee table.   

(NY Post)

• On the subject of Times Square neon, restaurateur Shelly Fireman’s revived Bond 45 offers a tangible tribute to one of New York’s best neon storefronts.  

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• McHale’s hide and seek: a chunk of a much-lamented neon storefront sign surfaced briefly on eBay, only to vanish again into the ether. 

• Via AtlasObscura, a panorama of marquee neon nationwide.  

• Check out these wild neon-like gifs from Japanese graphic designer Okuyama Taiki.  

(Ephemeral NY)

• At the Ephemeral NY blog, an homage to Brooklyn’s Ghostmobile neon

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• Hold onto your horn rims:  at long last, the NYC Municipal Archives has posted the city's 1940s tax photos online, unleashing a veritable street view of the city as it looked at what was probably its neon heyday. 

• If you missed it, you missed it - last year's "Signs of Life" photo exhibit at the Perfect Exposure Gallery in Alhambra, CA. 

(Russell Lee / Library of Congress, via Shorpy)

• Some Shorpy Specials: 

     > New Bedford Noir, 1940  

     > Cascade neon, 1941   

     > Arizona neon, 1940  

     > Twin Falls neon, 1941  

     > Texas hotel neon, 1939 

     > Big (Neon) City, 1941 


• Highline neon:  if you haven't yet, check out “Agora,” an outdoor exhbition of neon and other illuminated installations on the High Line through March.  More here at the New Yorker. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Lights Out 2018: Signs We Lost This Year

As with previous years, this year's list covers signs that disappeared within the past year and a bit prior.  The list is a little longer than usual this year - that owes to some past-due auditing of my list.  Christmas is over.  There's a lot to look at here so let's cut the crap and get to it: 

NYPD Times Square Kiosk, Midtown Manhattan / Installed c. 1982
Times Square's old NYPD kiosk was one of the very last vestiges of the old, pre-LED-signboard Times Square, so it's a real bummer to learn that the little building was totally replaced this year (and its neon all LEDed).  (Note: The Yahoo! sign in the background disappeared a while ago.)  More via the BoweryBoogie blog.

The "Network" Sign, 756 9th Avenue, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
This sign was always a bit of a mystery, "modern" (1980s?) sign faces having been mounted over its original lettering.  The old sign faces had begun to peek out from below, prompting some of us sign enthusiasts to eagerly anticipate the day when they might emerge to reveal what this sign had been about.  Sorry to report that the whole thing is gone now.  A little internet digging suggests that the sign may have belonged to Grossman's Furniture.  See also this homage from a few years back at the ScoutingNY blog. 

North Village Wine & Liquor, 254 W14th Street, Manhattan / Installed c. 1950
This old favorite finally disappeared in 2018 as the whole southeasterly corner of 14th and 8th has now been cleared for redevelopment. 

Berkley Clothes, 568 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn (Photo via Forgotten-NY)
A great neon ghost that had presided over the corner of 5th Ave and 15th Street in South Slope, Brooklyn.  I went out to shoot it this autumn only to find that I came too late. 

Gramercy Cafe, 184 Third Ave., Manhattan (Photo via James and Karla Murray)
Gramercy Cafe's great little script-vs-block sign is another one that got away from me.  The old diner bit the dust a few years ago.  A new occupant gave the sign a rotten little LED make-over not long after. 

Armando's Restaurant & Bar, 143 Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights
Armando's gave us all a scare when it temporarily closed a few years back.  It came back, but this year it closed for good, taking its fabulous old sign (in fact, a fabulously replicated old sign) with it.  More here by way of Patch.  

Raccuglia Funeral Home, 323 Court Street, Brooklyn 
It seems no one held a funeral for this now-vanished funerary neon, long a neighborhood fixture in Carroll Gardens.  A 2009 tribute here at the Lost City blog.  

John Smolenski Funeral Home, 1044 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Time's up for John Smolenski:  more vanished Brooklyn funeral home neon, this time in Greenpoint.   

J. Josephs Sons Appliances, 1056 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn 
J. Josephs occupied a panorama of veteran storefronts on the same block as the similarly-vanished Smolenski Funeral Home.  The signs, storefronts and the buildings that housed them have all been erased to make way for a new 7-story apartment building.  

205 East 38th Street (The Quaker House Garage?), Manhattan (LEDed) 
Manhattan parking garages were long a bastion of midcentury neon, but this is a typology careening toward extinction.  This one (and the three below) went the way of the Studebaker in the last few years, either replaced by LED signs or plowed-under along with the garages they advertised for new more lucrative real estate ventures. 

825 Second Ave (facing East 45th Street), Manhattan (LEDed)

330 West 38th Street, Manhattan (redeveloped)

509 West 34th Street, Manhattan (demolished) 

IDCNYC International Design Center (ex-Sunshine Biscuits), Long Island City, Queens
This massive Long Island City roof sign was the spiritual descendant of the enormous Sunshine Biscuits sign of the early 20th century, and the Executone Intercom sign of midcentury decades (more on these here).  Reusing the massive metal framework of the older electronic billboards, the IDC sign appeared here in the 1980s (it was, in fact, flood-lit, not neon), its lettering the handiwork of graphic designer Massimo Vignelli (of NYC Subway signage fame).  Signs and framework all disappeared in the last few years as part of a concomitant wham-bam-thankyou-ma'am recladding that has trashed the classic terra cotta facades of this great old industrial building. 

Dante Pastry Shop, 4715 White Plains Rd, and Peerless Dry Cleaners, 4706 White Plains Rd, Bronx
Two classic storefronts that faced eachother across White Plains Road in the Wakefield section of the Bronx. Both have now bit the dust.  

Maryland Furniture, 911 East Tremont Avenue, Bronx
Another Bronx classic now gone.

Schiller's Liquor Bar, 131 Rivington Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Not an old sign, but a classic of recent years:  Schiller's closed in 2017 and its signs are now gone.  Their lovely script lettering was the work of Nancy Howell Calligraphy

B.B. King's, 237 West 42nd Street, Times Square, Manhattan
Another recent classic that proved too good to make it through 2018.

Seward Park Liquors, 393 Grand Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan 
Seward Park Liquors vanished last year from their longtime home on Grand Street. It has since reopened around the corner, with an LED approximation of its now-vanished neon predecessor.   


The Coffee Shop, 29 Union Square West, Manhattan
A longtime landmark of Union Square, pushed out by a rent hike late in 2018.  The signs have been here since about 1960.  They survived several incarnations of this now-shuttered eatery, but may not be here much longer as the spot is rumored to be earmarked for a bank. 

Desco Vacuum Cleaners, 131 West 14th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan
In February 2018, the Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog gave us the really sucky news that 14th Street's Desco Vacuum Cleaners had shuttered. Its lovely old vertical neon sign is still hanging in there but probably not for long.  

El Quijote, 226 West 23rd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan
In March, the El Quijote (in business since 1957) succumbed to ass-the backwards ownership-shuffle / gut-renovation that has had the Chelsea Hotel and most of its storefronts shuttered since 2011.  The restaurant's new owners announced that it would re-open later in 2018 but that of course never happened and the fate of the establishment and its sign remain in doubt at pencils-down.  

Loft Candies, 88 Nassau Street, Lower Manhattan / Installed c. 1960
The sad saga of this fantastic sign got quite a bit of attention at this blog in 2017, when it looked like a fabulously improbable resurrection was about to play out here.  Alas, it has thus far proved too good to be true, and what will happen with this great historic storefront remains to be seen.

Horn & Hardart Retail Shop, Dekalb Av. at Bond St., Brooklyn / Installed circa-pre-1960
Like Loft's of Nassau Street, this great ghost sign was revealed with the removal of newer signage that had kept it hidden for years.  Unlike the Loft's sign, this one was never slated for any kind of revival as the whole block is scheduled for demo to make way for another massive new building in downtown Brooklyn. 

Show World Center, 669 Eighth Ave., Midtown Manhattan
In May, we learned (also via Jeremiah) that the Show World Center, smutty stalwart of old Times Square, had finally peeped its last.  The sign remains, likely not for long, a ghost of bygone grit.  

Pearl Diner, 212 Pearl St, Lower Manhattan
Finally, in one last little turd of toilet-worthy news, we learn that the Pearl (Street) Diner - Lower Manhattan's little train that could since 1958 - has a date with the bulldozer in 2019, its site to be cleared for a new 21-story hotel.