Harold's for Prescriptions, 2272 McDonald Ave., Brooklyn. (T. Rinaldi)As is often the case, there is a story behind the neon here, one that the sign does not speak to. "He was the first Jewish merchant in a solidly blue collar Italian part of Brooklyn," Ms. Radin recalls of her father: "Apparently it was not easy at first."
"My dad, Harold Friedman, was born September 9, 1929 and grew up on the edge of Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn. His parents owned Chiffon Bakery, a kosher bakery on Coney Island Avenue near Avenue J which was around at least into the 1990s. Oriented by his parents towards a career in retail, he went to St. Johns College of Pharmacy (I think he really wanted to be a doctor)," writes Ms. Radin. "In 1955, around the time that my parents had their first child, he struck a deal to buy Barrata's Pharmacy," an Italian-owned corner drug store in the shadow of the Culver Viaduct at Avenue U and McDonald in Gravesend.
"There was a 'buy Italian' message circulating around the neighborhood," writes Ms. Radin. Wary of making waves, Harold Friedman waited a few years before re-naming the business and updating the sign. "Harold eventually overcame whatever these attitudes were and became a real neighborhood fixture. When he got comfortable that he was sufficiently established (probably around 1957) he updated the sign to its current wording. He kept the original style - the script lettering - of the Barrata's Pharmacy sign, according to my mom."
"I can remember hearing customers call him 'Signor Farmacista' and seeking his advice on health issues - so he definitely got to a point of acceptance and friendship with members of the community as time passed."
Ms. Radin's story is corroborated by records at the Buildings Department, which indicate a 1945-installation date for the sign, though its appearance seems more in keeping with signs of the following decade. The sign wears the makers mark of Super Neon Lights of Bensonhurst, an Italian-American-owned shop that has been in the same family since the 1940s and is still one of the most active sign companies in this part of Brooklyn.
Sadly, Harold Friedman's tenure in Gravesend was cut short by illness in 1980, just over 20 years after his name went up in lights over Avenue U. "He died at 51 of heart disease and I still recall the large community turnout at his funeral," recalls his daughter. More than thirty years later, Harold's name still brightens the shadows under the old Culver viaduct, a favorite among enthusiasts of New York's old signs and storefronts. "My dad was extremely proud of the appearance of his store," writes Ms. Radin: "no doubt he would have been smiling his characteristic big smile at the artistic impression the sign now creates."
• Harold's and other sights on Forgotten New York's grand tour of Gravesend.
IN OTHER NEON NEWS:
• Upstate, Newburgh's historic Ritz Theatre is getting a new marquee.
• Some North Carolina Neon at Shorpy.