Thursday, July 12, 2012

Da-Nite Neon Signs

One of the more nagging frustrations of researching the neon book was how little information I managed to find on Da-Nite (pronounced "day-night") Neon Signs.  Despite being one of New York's most prominent illuminated sign shops for more than fifty years, I have thus far come up with almost nothing on this company.  A similarly-named Da-Nite Sign Co. has operated in Columbus, Ohio since 1954, but a nice young woman who answered the phone there assured me that the two firms are of no relation.

"Sign Architects since 1915," "Manufacturers of Brilliant Neon as Used at the World's Fair," and "The Finest Neon Showroom in New York."   Da-Nite display advertisements from the Manhattan Classified Telephone Directory, from top - 1935, 1950 and 1960. (NYPL, N-YHS)

Based on Da-Nite Neon's classified advertisements in the Manhattan yellow pages, one gathers that the company operated from 1915 to the mid-1970s.  Neon signs themselves didn't show up in New York until the 1920s, leaving one to wonder what the firm might have called itself in its earlier years.  After 1965 it seems to have changed its name to "Day & Nite Neon Signs". Its distinctive advertisements began to appear in the phone book by the early 1930s, and remained there complete with the company's very deco-style lettering for the next forty years. 

Da-Nite's mark at 79th Street Wine and Spirits. (T. Rinaldi)

At least two Da-Nite signs can still be found in Manhattan, both on the west side.  If these examples are any indication, the firm's body of work must have been very impressive indeed.  79th Street Wine and Spirits, at 230 West 79th Street, retains simple but handsome vertical and fascia signs once typical of midcentury liquor stores throughout the city.  Only the vertical sign bears Da-Nite's marking, but the two signs are very well matched, suggesting the same provenance for both.  

79th Street Wine & Spirits.  I especially enjoy the "Q" in "LIQUOR" on the fascia sign. (T. Rinaldi)

Records at the Building Department fail to indicate an installation date, but their style implies something from the Truman administration. The ensemble is complemented by the older blinking sign of the Dublin House bar across the street, making the corner of 79th and Broadway one of the most memorable in the city – at least for the neon aficionado. 

79th Street Wine & Spirits.  (T. Rinaldi)

A still more pleasing bit of Da-Nite's handiwork can be found on Eighth Avenue and 44th Street, at Smith's Bar and Restaurant.

Smith's Bar and Restaurant, 701 Eighth Avenue. (T. Rinaldi)

This especially appealing set of signs served as the backdrop for my recent interview on WNBC's "The Debrief with David Ushery."  The signs were installed in 1954.  22 years later they enjoyed a brief cameo in the closing credits of Martin Scorsese's 1976 film "Taxi Driver."

Smith's Bar looks much the same today (above) as it did more than 30 years ago in "Taxi Driver."  (NBC Universal; "Taxi Driver")

The Smith's Bar signs are painted black now, but until recently their sheet metal remained in its original unpainted glory, though the aluminum (?) sign faces had begun to look a little worse for wear.  Vacant electrode housings within the letters BAR indicate that these once enjoyed an additional set of tubes.


Smith's Bar, before (above) and after (below) the paint job. (T. Rinaldi)

For the past year or so, the lettering BAR and RESTAURANT has flashed on-and-off in alternating sequence.  Probably not many passersby wonder, as I do, whether the sign flashed originally or if this new blinking act simply recalls a flashier era in New York neon.  This is a secret Da-Nite seems to have taken to the grave.

Schematic sketches of the Smith's Bar signs accompanied their original permit application at the Department of Buildings in 1954. (New York City Department of Buildings)

Da-Nite Neon at

• At the Lost City blog, parsing out the history of the Hotel Roger Smith (one of NYC's last hotels neon).

• By way of John Anderson at Mega Volt Neon, an almost hypnotic Parisian apocathary sign.

1 comment: