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.

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