Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lights Out 2011: Signs We Lost This Year

They get harder and harder to find each year, these old neon signs of New York.  Their disappearance is what prompted me to undertake this project five years ago.  Here's a look at some we lost in 2011.  (I have included a few that disappeared in the latter months of 2010.)

About 50 of the signs I've photographed for this project have disappeared since September 2006.  More vanished in the same period before I could get to them.  In the coming weeks I hope to add a complete gallery of "los desaparecidos" over at nyneon.org.  I'll mark that occasion with a post here as well.  Meantime, enjoy these photos of this year's casualties.  In most cases, photos are all that's left.
 
Faber's Arcade, 1230 Surf Ave., Coney Island, Brooklyn
Silverescent Neon Sign Co., c. 1948 
Lost courtesy of Thor Equities along with the historic Henderson Music Hall over the winter of 2010-2011. (Neon tubes that outlined the letters vanished years ago.)


Surf Hotel, 1230 Surf Ave., Coney Island, Brooklyn
1997 (Prop for Spike Lee's "He Got Game")
Lost courtesy of Thor Equities along with the historic Henderson Music Hall over the winter of 2010-2011.  Please tell me this found a good home. (Thanks to Amusing the Zillion for origins of this sign.)


696 Gourmet Deli, 696 Third Ave., Manhattan
c. 1965
Hadn't worked in years.  Tubes removed and sheet metal apparently covered over with new sign faces.

Morscher's Pork Store, 5844 Catalpa Ave., Ridgewood, Queens
c. 1950 
Replaced with a new sign (LED?) that more or less imitates the original, but without the panache of its veteran predecessor. 


Jade Mountain Restaurant, 197 Second Ave., Manhattan
1954 (raceway sign); Laster Neon Engineering Co., 1960 (projecting)
The restaurant closed down back in 2006, but the signs hung in there until this past summer, when they finally vanished amid many a hue and cry. 

Tout Va Bien Restaurant, 311 West 51st St., Manhattan
Midtown Neon, c. 1955 
Replaced with a new sign for this old restaurant sometime around Thanksgiving 2011.  The restaurant, fortunately, is alive and well.


McSwiggan's Bar, 393 Second Ave., Manhattan
1956
Taken down for repair or replacement, fate yet to be determined. DOB records indicate this went up along with a long-vanished fascia sign for an establishment known as Mullin & Swain's in 1956. 



Mayfair Chemists, 21 Seventh Ave., Manhattan
c. 1965
Old independent drug store closed some years ago.  Sign finally disappeared with expansion of neighboring Duane Reade this past fall.


Milford Plaza Hotel, 700 Eighth Ave., Manhattan (roof sign)
Artkraft Strauss Sign Corp., 1958
Taken down around October, 2011, amid reports a new sign is in the works.


R.H. Macy Co., 441 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (Seventh Ave. marquee signs)
c. 1932
DOB records suggest a very early installation date for this pair of emerald gems, which disappeared around Thanksgiving 2010.  A new pair neon signs with Macy's current logo appeared in their place.


Rainbow Cafe Restaurant, 3904 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn
c. 1955
Restaurant closed down a few years ago, signs remained until being taken down this past summer.  Reportedly put into storage for possible restoration.

Alex Liquor Store, 1598 St. Nicholas Ave., Manhattan
c. 1960
Felled for an LED replacement sign in November.  Original now in a private collection.


Fedora Restaurant, 239 West Fourth St., Manhattan
c. 1946
Vanished around New Year's 2010-11 to make way for a facsimile amid a somewhat controversial retooling of the restaurant within. 

AND THE ONES TO WATCH IN 2012:

Rocco Restaurant, 181 Thompson St., Manhattan
1934
One of the oldest neon signs in New York, poised to disappear when the restaurant packs up on January 2, 2012, after an 89 year run.


R.H. Macy Co., 441 Seventh Ave., Manhattan (fascia signs at corner of 34th & Seventh)
c. 1948
A pair of reverse channel beauties at Macy's southwesterly corner.  Will these survive Macy's impending renovation?

Milford Plaza Hotel, 700 Eighth Ave., Manhattan (vertical signs)
c. 1980 
The signs have been dimmed for the past few months as the hotel undergoes a major renovation. Hotel to rebrand itself simply "The Milford." Maybe they'll just lop off the PLAZA from the signs?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Travler's Bar & Restaurant


You will pardon, I hope, the brevity of my posts this month.  It's the holiday season.  I'm busy, you're busy, so I will keep my remarks to the point.  Not to mention – it’s time to make final edits to the neon book!  I promise a more holiday-themed post next Christmas.

Being pressed for time, I stopped by the McDonald's near Penn Station the other day for some "fast" food.  Not really, but I couldn’t think of a decent segue.  Those familiar with this establishment may have noticed a change here lately: the restaurant reopened last month after a complete gut-renovation.   The work has brought this franchise up to date with the parent company's Apple store-inspired "new look."  "No more clown-red roofs," says USA Today of the nationwide overhaul masterminded by design consultants Lippincott. "If the new look proves to be a hit, it could redefine America's biggest restaurant chain and nudge competitors at all ends of the spectrum to find some way to respond."

McDonald's, old look versus new, at 490 Eighth Ave. (Google Street View, top; T. Rinaldi, below) 

What does this have to do with New York Neon?  Two things. First, it makes the point that neon signs are part of a continuum of commercial design that continues to evolve, embodied by different materials and technologies as time passes.  Second, it gives us an opportunity to admire the signs that held court here when 490 Eighth Avenue belonged to the Travler's Bar and Restaurant.  The signs vanished long before my time, but happily not before being immortalized in a splendid Wurts Bros. photograph preserved at the New York Public Library.  A quick internet search yields nothing on this business.  From the photo, we can tell that Travler's offered cocktails and seafood for voyagers passing in and out of Pennsylvania Station, a block away, and the bygone Greyhound Bus Terminal, then located just around the corner.

The Travler's Bar & Restaurant, December 10, 1946. The signs were installed in 1936 for the previous occupant, the Red Seal Restaurant, and later re-lettered for the Travler's.  DOB records suggest they survived until 1955.  McDonald's opened here by 1980. (NYPL / Wurts Bros.)

I have long noted with a certain pleasure how businesses in this part of town tended to name themselves for their proximity to Penn Station.  As the city declined in the 1960s and 70s and the old Penn Station yielded to that "monumental act of vandalism," these old places, with their names almost invariably articulated in aging neon signs, lent the area a uniquely gritty ambience.  The Penn Bar & Grill, the Railway Bar, the Penn Terminal Hotel, the Pennsylvania Liquor Shop, the Penn-Post Hotel, the possibly-doomed Hotel Pennsylvania . . . the Travler's Bar.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Shop, long gone, at 33rd and 7th, c. 1955. ("The Once & Future Pennsylvania Station")

The one and only Penn-Post Hotel (behind the bus), at 31st and 8th, Sept. 3, 1973.  The site is now a parking lot. (Joe Testagrose / bustalk.info)

They're all gone now, save for the Hotel Pennsylvania, a McKim Mead & White landmark that may or may not be poised for the wrecking ball.  Things to reflect on over a cappuccino and Fruit-n-Yogurt Parfait at 490 Eighth Avenue.

(NYPL)


IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
• Tout Va Bien's classic swing sign has vanished.
• New entries added to the sign inventory at nyneon.org:
   - Willie's Liquors
   - Point Pharmacy
   - DeVito Paints
• And makers identified for three more:
   - Bay Ridge Animal Hospital (Higger)
   - Catania's Shoe Store (Globe)
   - M&L Liquors (Super)






Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ol' Number 98

Greenwich Village has seen a number of great old signs disappear in recent years to make way for facsimiles.  Fedora, the Village Vanguard, the Waverly Restaurant... some of the replacement signs are better than others.  But the lovely old swing sign at Casa Oliveira Liquors, at 98 Seventh Avenue South, seems likely to be with us for some time to come, thanks to a new coat of paint applied over its old sheet metal work.


Ol' Number 98, before and after.  (T. Rinaldi)

 
 












The sign appeared here in 1935, just two years after the repeal of prohibition, to mark the spot of a liquor store run by one A. Rossano.  (It never ceases to amaze me how many New York liquor stores can trace their roots to the 21st Amendment.)  The store's porcelain enamel fascia sign came later, probably around 1950, when the business was taken over by a certain Mr. Oliveira.  The shop later changed hands again, but the new owners retained its old name, and, thankfully, its great pair of neon signs, which have been Greenwich Village landmarks for generations. (Check out Project Neon to admire the flashing fascia sign in action.)



















The swing sign's new paint job glossed over the white border around the perimeter, which is too bad.  And of course, we can no longer admire the beautiful weathered patina the sign had with its old coat of paint faded and peeling.

Old sign, new paint. (T. Rinaldi)














But left unpainted, the sign's delicate sheet metal would have gone the way of all flesh, hastening its demise.  And, because the sign has been freshened up using the same materials and methods that went into its original fabrication, we can rest easy knowing it may one day don the handsome patina it had before the paintjob. The painted border detail can always come back the next time around.  So this New Year's, stop into Casa Oliveira and pick up a bottle to ring in ol' number 98's 77th year of service.  

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
• Speaking of facsimile signs in the Village - the Waverly Restaurant is back in business.
• Lost City blog spots one I've never seen: Willie's Liquor in Brooklyn.
 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sign Safari: Cross Bay Boulevard

On a recent Sunday before Thanksgiving I ventured out to a far away place I'd never really been before: Howard Beach.  Since December 2003 this place-name has been familiar to many as the southern terminus of the AirTrain serving JFK International Airport.  My accomplice and I, however, came for the neon.  So while most of our fellow disembarkees wheeled their suitcases off the A train and headed for the tarmac, we turned and headed toward Cross Bay Boulevard.

New Park Pizza, installed c. 1960. (T. Rinaldi) 














Joe Kunkel of Franklin Neon had tipped me off to three old signs here that he thought I'd like to see.  Joe thought right.  The short hike from the A train brought us first to New Park Pizza, at 156-71 Cross Bay Boulevard.  New Park has occupied this corner since 1956.   Its wonderful neon sign, I was excited to discover, is the work of the LaSalle Sign Corp. of Brooklyn, whose surviving works include the Papaya King sign at 86th and 3rd in Manhattan.  "Pizza pie is original," I am told by Justin Langsner, LaSalle's third-generation proprietor, of the big pizza pie with flashing plumes of steam at center.


LaSalle's other surviving works include the Papaya King sign on Manhattan's Upper East Side.  (T. Rinaldi)

New Park has the unfortunate distinction of having been the scene of the tragic hate crime that put Howard Beach on the map back in December 1986 - 25 years ago this month.  (Long story short: a racially-motivated scuffle between patrons resulted in the death of a 23-year-old black man, prompting a period of heightened racial tension throughout the city.)  The incident is recalled in director Spike Lee's 1989 film Do The Right Thing.  The film's dramatic climax takes place in the glow of a fictitious neon sign heralding Sal's Famous Pizza – a subtle reference, perhaps, to the New Park (though the sign in the movie bears a distinct resemblance to that of the V&T Pizzeria by Columbia University in Manhattan).   


Neon sign over Sal's Famous figured prominently in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. (T. Rinaldi)

The bad business of '86 is but a distant memory at the New Park today.  Maybe it was just my state of feverish hunger after a day spent gallivanting amid the ruinous splendor of the nearby Bayside Acacia cemetery, but I found the pizza at New Park to be exceptionally pleasurable. 















New Park Pizza. (T. Rinaldi)


Sufficiently fortified, we saddled up for the short march over to our next destination, the fabulous Lenny's Clam Bar.  Some readers may remember Lenny's for its charming televised advertisements that graced the late-night airwaves throughout the tri-state area back in the 1980s. Lenny's is easy to find, thanks to a force-multiplying assemblage of neon signs that make its presence known up and down the boulevard. The joint was jumping, valets busy shunting shiny cars in and out of the little parking lot next-door. I suggested a glass of wine at the bar, but my traveling companion complained of a late-onset hangover (5pm).  We decided to come back on a quieter night.
















Full-tilt neon at Lenny's Clam Bar.  (T. Rinaldi)

From there it was on to the other Lenny's of Howard Beach: Lenny's Pizza, at 164-02 Cross Bay.  I had hoped to report on a New Park-versus-Lenny's taste test challenge; sadly, this was not to be, as Lenny's burned down just a few weeks before our visit.  We found the windows boarded, signs dark. Of the signs, there are two: one older, facing the side street, and a more recent number fronting the boulevard.  The newer (and I suspect the older) is (are) the work of Super Neon of Bensonhurst.  The good news is that both signs have survived the fire intact and will hopefully live to glow another night.  Meantime, we concluded our Howard Beach neon safari with some unfinished business on Cross Bay Boulevard.  

Get well soon, Lenny's Pizza!  (T. Rinaldi)

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

• Cambridge Liquors' great vertical sign on 39th and 8th in Manhattan glows anew.
• Casa Oliveira Liquors' 80-year-old swing sign in Greenwich Village is wearing a new coat of paint.
• Mayfair Chemists' relic sign has vanished from Seventh Avenue South.
• Thanks to Project Neon for a great lecture at LandmarkWest! this Monday.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sign Safari: White Plains Road

I recently took advantage of the disconcertingly-balmy weather we've had lately to follow up on a few leads that had been sitting on my desk for a while.  Most of these tips go only to dead ends and heartbreak.  But this time I got lucky – a whole clutch of great old neon I hadn't seen before.  Here's what I found.

Saturday morning, bright and early, I set out for Dante's Pastry Shop, in the Wakefield section of the Bronx.  Helvetica and the NYC Subway author Paul Shaw tipped me off on this gem, on White Plains Road at the end of the 2/5 train.  I wasn't sure what kind of confections Dante might have in store for me, but it sounded pretty promising so I brought my appetite along for the ride.   


Dante's Pastry Shop, 4715 White Plains Road (RIP).  Fascia sign, porcelain enamel with red lettering, probably installed around the mid-1960s.  (T. Rinaldi)

Bad news: Dante's has bit the dust.  I arrived to find workmen carting debris out the front door from the bakery's gutted interior.  But Dante's sign was still up, so in this regard it was mission accomplished, apparently not a moment too soon.  



Dante's in detail.  (T. Rinaldi)

Fortunately I hadn't trusted Dante with my caffeine dependency (some things you just don't fool around with).  Fueled by a big cup of coffee acquired previously, I headed down White Plains Road to see what else I might have missed.  Right across from Dante I found some of the best old neon I've seen in a long time, over the storefront of Peerless Cleaners.  One of the taxi hawkers out front suggested I go in and ask the owner to light it up for me.  This I did, but the friendly proprietress inside told me the sign doesn't work anymore.  The tubes are intact and the lettering is, well, without peer, at least in this neighborhood, so hopefully they'll get the old girl fired up sometime soon.  I promise I'll even bring my dry cleaning up here if they do.


Peerless Cleaners at 4706 White Plains Road.  DOB records indicate an installation date of 1957 for this sign, the work of Union Shop No. 16.  (T. Rinaldi)

White Plains Road has a great bustle to it that makes walking down this street under the el like reading a book you can't put down.  I'd gone more than 20 blocks by the time I came to my next old neon sighting: a great, porcelain enameled fascia sign heralding the premises of Anetta Green Liquor, Inc., in Williamsbridge.  The owner, his curiosity understandably piqued, came out to ask why the hell I was taking so many photos of his storefront.  I explained; we had a friendly chat and he happily turned the lights on for me.


Anetta Green Liquor Inc., 3775 White Plains Road.  This fascia sign is the work of the Albee Sign Co.  DOB records suggest an installation date of 1941 but I wonder if it may be more recent than that. (T. Rinaldi)

About 15 blocks further south, in what the map tells me is a place called Ollinville, I came to another great LIQUORS sign, this one at Irmon Wines & Liquors on Burke Ave. 


Irmon Wines & Liquors, 718 Burke Ave.  Stainless-on-porcelain; installation date c. 1956, per DOB.  (T. Rinaldi)

One of Irmon's customers, apparently a regular, interrupted his sidewalk lunch (a 1/5-gallon bottle partially concealed within a brown paper bag) to inquire about my interest in the sign.  He agreed that it was without a doubt the oldest and most interesting sign on the block.  Older, even, than that of the nearby Burger Barn Restaurant, right under the el at the corner of White Plains Road and Burke, whose storefront is crowned with a raceway sign of blackletter characters outlined in exposed neon tubes that sadly, like Irmon's, don't appear to have come alight in a good long while. 


Burger Barn Restaurant, in the shadow of the el at 3092 White Plains Road.  Installation date c. 1972, per DOB.  (T. Rinaldi)

Five new finds in one day was pretty good, but I wanted more.  Sunday found me on the hunt in Queens, where another slew of great new finds lay in store.  Alas, these will have to wait for another post.  Meantime, when on White Plains Road be sure to take a moment and scope out some of the best old neon in the Bronx, right there below the el.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You've Got Bail

No one puts the "Thanks" in Thanksgiving quite like a bail bondsman.  I was reminded of this during a three-day stint at the Manhattan Criminal Court for jury duty this week.  In addition to reuniting families all across the land this holiday season, bail bondsmen brighten the side streets around our halls of justice with some great neon window signs.  This is true in the outer boroughs as well as in Manhattan.  Should you need their services, these signs make them easy to find.  Alas, LED signs are gaining ground here, too, so let's enjoy the BAIL BONDS neon while it lasts.  Happy Thanksgiving and stay out of jail, people!
Spartan Bail Bonds at 81 Baxter Street in Manhattan, with the Whiskey Tavern beyond. (T. Rinaldi)
  75 Smith Street, Brooklyn. (T. Rinaldi)
 American Liberty Bail Bonds, Queens Blvd, Queens. (T. Rinaldi)
Little LED handcuffs, at 75 Smith Street, Brooklyn. (T. Rinaldi)

Monday, November 14, 2011

M is for Missing

The big M over the Milford Plaza is gone.  It appears to have come down sometime in the past few weeks.  With the old hotel undergoing a major renovation, I wondered what would become of its nice ensemble of old neon signs, which preside over 8th Avenue just west of Times Square.  In addition to the roof sign, part of which remains, the hotel also has a pair of large vertical signs, one on each side.

The late, great M, recently departed from the roof of the Milford Plaza. (T. Rinaldi)

A little history: as installed, the giant M stood not for "Milford", as one might suppose, but for "Manhattan" – Hotel Manhattan, to be exact.  It first appeared here in 1958, the work of none other than the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corp, which had installed the great Pepsi-Cola spectacular over the Bond Building at Times Square just two years earlier.   


One of the Milford’s two vertical signs, each 8 stories high. (T. Rinaldi)

The Manhattan's big M was the spiritual descendant of an earlier roof sign erected in the same spot when the building first opened as the Hotel Lincoln three decades earlier. Designed by architects Schwartz & Gross and built by Irwin S. Chanin (developer of the great Chanin Building, among many others), the Lincoln opened its doors on February 13, 1928, in commemoration of what would have been Honest Abe's 119th birthday (actually the day before).  Then-Governor Al Smith pressed a button to light the building’s original mast-like roof sign from the state capital in Albany during the opening ceremony.  

 The Lincoln’s original roof sign. (Signs of the Times, May 1932)

The Lincoln's original roof sign scored a brief cameo in the title sequence of the 1933 film adaptation of 42nd Street.  It was engineered by Sol Oberwager, a longtime fixture in the New York sign business who later became one of the city's most active sign-and-awning permit expediters, handling paperwork for a significant percentage of all illuminated signs erected throughout the city from the 1930s through the 1950s (including the Apollo Theater and Hotel New Yorker, among many others).   



The Lincoln’s original roof sign made a cameo in the 1933 film adaptation of 42nd Street.  The “H” at bottom belongs to the Hotel Times Square. (Frame enlargement, 42nd Street)

The original sign made way for the big M in 1958, when the Lincoln re-opened as the Hotel Manhattan.  Though it looked a little dull in recent years, the sign must have been a sight to behold when it debuted, clad in more than a mile of neon tubing that changed color in animated sequence.  A horizontal sign reading HOTEL MANHATTAN stood at its base.  "The Hotel Manhattan . . . has several beautiful signs to mark its spot," reported Signs of the Times magazine: "one on the roof has a 31-foot wide and 12-foot deep 'M' visible for 20 miles, [with] 6,500 feet of neon tubing in colors changing from white and gold to shades of blue." 

The Lincoln became the Manhattan in 1958. 

The roof sign survived the hotel's transformation into the Milford Plaza in 1980 (the new management simply removed the letters MANHATTAN from beneath the big M and left the rest).   At some point, the M was stripped of its neon and lit by floodlights shining up from below.  The old vertical signs on the north and south facades meanwhile were re-lettered to reflect the hotel's new name.  As neon hotel signs in New York grew increasingly scarce, the Milford remained one of the last places in the city where you could book a room with that iconic glow out your window.  

The Milford’s neon signs seen from Sardi’s on 45th Street in 2006.  (T. Rinaldi)

What comes next for the Milford's roof sign remains unclear.  Under new management (Highgate Holdings), the place is undergoing an extensive makeover, with slick new d├ęcor – some of it even incorporating a big capital "M" very much like the one that just came down from up top.  Does this hint at a new big M for the roof?  A restoration to the sign’s 1958 splendor, perhaps?  Or a replica of Sol Oberwager's 1928 original?  Word from the Milford's new management is that a revamped sign of one form or another is on its way, but the design is still in the works.  For now, it's wait and see.

REFERENCES:

• "Smith to Light 8th Av. Sign."  New York Times, February 13, 1928.
• "Along Broadway."  Signs of the Times,  March, 1958.
• Special thanks to Ross Savedge for coming up with this week’s headline.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
• Fedora Dorato, former proprietor of Fedora Restaurant on West 4th Street, has passed away (from Marty via JVNY).
• Rocco Restaurant, at 181 Thompson Street, poised to disappear after 89 years, leaving the future of one of New York’s earliest neon signs (installed 1934) in doubt.
• The lovely vertical sign at Alex Liquor Store in Washington Heights has gone to a private collector.

• Cambridge Liquor's classic vertical sign appears to be getting a facelift, tubes removed and sheet metal painted black.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Neon At One-Hundred

This Wednesday, November 9, 2011, will mark exactly one hundred years since Georges Claude filed his "System of Illuminating by Luminescent Tubes" at the U.S. Patent Office.  This event arguably marked the birth of neon illumination in the United States (Claude filed the same patent in his native France in November 1910).  "Arguable" is the operative word here:  despite their immense impact on the built landscape, the origins of neon signs are murky at best. 

Georges Claude's claim as the originator of neon signs in the United States rested on Patent No. 1,125,476, filed November 9, 1911. (freepatentsonline.com; click here to see the whole patent)
 
The U.S. Patent Office had multiple reservations about Claude's application, and did not issue his patent until January 19, 1915, more than three years later.  By his own account, Claude did not exhibit his neon lights in the U.S. until 1913.  Claude's signs appeared in Paris before World War I, but his first American sale did not come until 1923.  His U.S. patents were besieged by law suits all through the 1920s: various inventors claimed to have created neon signs in the U.S. as early as 1909, and Claude's system was predicated on developments by the American inventor D. McFarlan Moore.

"Outshines the Sunshine." (From Claude Neon advertisements in New York Times, 1927-28)

But this is hardly the occasion to dwell on doubts over Claude's status as the "inventor" of neon signs, or other silly details, like his collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War, and subsequent imprisonment (we'll get into that another day).  On this anniversary, I thought it would be nice to tally up some of Claude's signs that still survive in New York, or that survived until recently.  

In a 1927 advertisement, Claude Neon Lights of New York claimed to have produced 611 of 750 neon installations that then existed in New York.  Claude fabricated some signs at its own plant, which was located in Long Island City, and some in collaboration with other sign shops that operated as Claude-licensed affiliates; non-licensed shops were invariably sued by Claude.   The most prominent Claude licensee in New York was Strauss & Co., predecessor of the famous Artkraft Strauss Sign Corp.  A number of early neon signs by Strauss / Artkraft Strauss survive and can be partly attributed to Claude.  Strauss had a contract to do signs for all Loew's movie theaters in the New York area, and a few Loew's signs from this period survive in the city.  Only one of these – the sign at the Loew's Paradise Theatre in the Bronx, possibly New York’s oldest neon sign – remains functional.

Fascia sign of the Loew's Paradise Theatre in the Bronx, likely the work of Claude Neon / Strauss & Co. Installed in 1929, this is possibly the oldest surviving neon sign in New York today.  (T.Rinaldi)
 
Until relatively recently, one Claude sign (at least I think it was made by Claude) hung over a former Longchamp's restaurant on Madison Avenue and 49th Street.  I couldn't quite make out the lettering on the tiny plaque at the bottom of the sign, but it looked like it said "Claude Neon", and this helpful tidbit from the internet seems to back that up.  The sign disappeared in 2006, taking its little manufacturer's tag with it.

This great relic sign vanished in 2006. (T.Rinaldi)

At least two other Claude signs remain in New York: the long-dark roof sign over Tudor City on East 42nd Street, which Claude erected in 1939 (more on this in another post), and the great neon clock at the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower in Brooklyn, installed in 1929.  In Claude Neon's house organ, the Claude Neon News, the company described this latter installation as "the largest four-faced illuminated clock in the world," with hour- and minute-hands 12- and 17-feet long, respectively, and a total diameter of 27 feet.  The Loew's Paradise not withstanding, this is probably the last functioning Claude display in the five boroughs today (when it functions, that is).  

Two surviving works by Claude Neon Lights of New York: the long dark roof sign over Tudor City on East 42nd Street (top) and the great four-faced clock of the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower in Brooklyn. (T.Rinaldi)

If Claude may not have truly invented the neon sign, he unquestionably deserves credit for making neon illumination a commercially viable industry, one that made an indelible mark on the built landscape of the 20th century.  Yet his dominance of the neon business was short-lived: in the 1930s, Claude's critical patent expired.  In New York, smaller sign shops soon wrested the lion's share of the neon trade from Claude. One such shop, the Serota Sign Corp., purchased Claude's New York operation in the midst of the Second World War.  Claude himself died in 1960, aged 89, his record as an inventor still overshadowed by his collaboration with the Nazis during the War.  But traces of his work survive.  In addition to the signs pictured here, there are a handful of old Claude Neon franchises around the world that actually still retain the Claude name in 2011.  And Claude Neon's parent company, the French industrial gas supplier Air Liquide, is still alive and well, Fortune 500-listed nearly 110 years after Georges Claude co-founded it in 1902.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

• Word (by way of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York) on salvation for the Coney Island Bialy Bakery, and for its great neon sign, made by the Salzman Sign Co. c. 1959. 

REFERENCES:

• "Claude Neon Lights, Inc" (Advertisement). New York Times, Oct. 18, 1927.
The Claude Neon News, Aug. 1929., p. 2.
• "Fluorescent Coloring." Signs of the Times, June 1939.
• Morris, Mel. The Neon Patent Situation. Houston: Mel Morris Neon Laboratories, 1930.