The latest discovery of a neon relic unearthed by the removal of newer signage caused a bit of a stir on Manhattan's Upper West Side last week. Plastic signage advertising a defunct bodega came down sometime in June, revealing an especially handsome sign left behind by a long-vanished delicatessen. The old sign's neon tubes are completely gone, but the porcelain enamel sign face remains in place. The sign features intensely likable streamlined letterforms cast in blue porcelain on a white background. In keeping with an ever popular formula among sign painters, the owner's name is rendered in script and the generic copy (DELICATESSEN) in block letters.
The Broadway-ex-Hudes Delicatessen, at Broadway and 103rd Street on the Upper West Side. (T. Rinaldi)
Curiously, the business name at left had been painted over at some point, with a new name applied over the original, making this sign something of a palimpsest within a palimpsest. The paint is mostly gone now, leaving both names essentially unintelligible. A quick check of old telephone directories reveals that the sign must have been installed for B. Hudes and Sons Delicatessen, which operated at this address in the 1930s and 40s. The blog Eating in Translation last week revealed a link between Hudes and the famous Carnegie Deli in midtown, which of course still exists with some great vintage neon of its own. Max Hudes, possibly one of B. Hudes' sons, took over the Carnegie in 1942. "With two partners," reports EIT, "Hudes operated the Carnegie Deli until 1976."
Classic script-versus-block letter juxtaposition, C-shaped E's, "escalator" S's, lower-case-upper-case N's, round-bottomed W. (T. Rinaldi)
By the late 1940s, the yellow pages listed Hudes as the "Broadway Delcatsen Inc" (same phone number). The Broadway Deli eventually folded. Its storefront was merged with the one next door and the lease signed over to the Olympia Superette, which appears in the city's early-1980s tax photo. The space served as a small grocery store until it closed recently.
2703 Broadway before the bodega signs came down. (Google StreetView)
As for the sign itself: Buildings Department records show several filings for illuminated signs here in the late 1930s; one of these likely corresponds to the Hudes sign, making it approximately 75 years old. The neon, now lost, likely would have glowed a bright blue to match the color of the porcelain lettering behind it. A maker's mark emblazoned into the porcelain at bottom center tells us that the sign is the work of the evocatively-named (and long gone) Neonette Display Co. of 881 Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn.
"Neonette." (T. Rinaldi)
Trace remnants of Neonette's "Union Made" decal. (T. Rinaldi)
What comes next remains to be seen. Will this relic be entombed again beneath a layer of newer signage? Rescued for posterity? Or, like so many others, simply scrapped?
• More old neon signs hidden in layers of commercial archeology around town.
• Write-ups on the Hudes sign in the West Side Rag, Eating in Translation, ForgottenNY, and Pix11 News.
SPECIAL THANKS to David Freeland for clueing me into this and Paul Shaw for digging up some background on Neonette.
IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
• Some Leadville, Colorado neon from Shorpy.
• Peripherally related: an exploration of San Francisco's noir landscape, at the NY Times.