Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lights Out 2013: Signs We Lost This Year

Not to be a big debbie-downer right in the middle of the holidays, but - behold, the signs we lost in 2013.  I was all set to write up a little story on the recent disappearance of the Apple Tag and Label signs in Long Island City, when I figured "what the hell" - let's do 'em all.  

Since I started keeping tabs on New York's old neon signs for the neon book, I've found that the signs disappear at a rate of about a dozen each year, on average.  That statistic holds for 2013.  Some great signs vanished this year.  From Harlem's Lenox Lounge to U-Haul's wanton destruction of the huge Eagle Clothes sign in Brooklyn ... here they are, for the record.  Read'em and weep.  

Lenox Lounge, 961 Lenox Ave., Manhattan
Installed c. 1948.
A heartbreaking loss, the Lenox Lounge sign was pulled down in the midst of a bitter dispute over the closing of what had become an iconic Harlem institution.  Word is the venue is set to re-open under new ownership, perhaps with a replica of the original sign.

Hinsch's Confectionery, 8518 5th Ave., Brooklyn.  
Made c. 1948
Excruciatingly lost over the summer with a heavy-handed renovation of this veteran Brooklyn soda fountain.

Cork & Bottle Liquors, 1158 1st Ave., Manhattan.  
Made c. 1940 (vertical); 1971 by Laster (horizontal)
Replaced by new LED signs that roughly approximate their predecessors.  

Eagle Clothes, 213 6th Ave., Brooklyn.  
Made 1951 by White Way Neon
Trashed this summer when building owner U-Haul announced plans to build atop the former Eagle plant in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Charles Street Garage, 97 Charles Street, Manhattan.  
Made c. 1962
Vanished to make way for a generic, Helvetica-emblazened, plastic-faced replacement.  

Tad's Steaks, Times Square, 701 7th Ave., Manhattan.  
Made c. 1975
Tad's had been on this block since the late 1950s, making it one of the very last real hold-outs of the "old" Times Square.  The signage likely dated to the late '70s, when Tad's opened up in the former Loew's Mayfair Theatre building.  Sadly, the Times Square Tad's got the boot this year when the landlord began vacating the historic theater in preparation for its demolition, now in progress - also quite a bummer.

Tad's Steaks, 34th Street, 152 W34th St., Manhattan.  
Made by Atlantic Sign Corp., c. 1964
Tad's dished out broiled steaks from this East 34th Street storefront, across the street from Macy's, from 1964 until it closed earlier this year to make way for a Croc's store.

Bernard F. Dowd Funeral Home / 165-20 Hillside Ave., Jamaica, Queens.
Made by Grauer Sign Co., c. 1984
A pair of real classic signs that first went up at this Queens funeral home in the 1950s, and were re-lettered in the 1980s after an ownership change.  

R.H. Macy Co., 441 7th Ave., Manhattan.  
Made c. 1948
There was neon in them there stainless steel reverse channel letters.  They're all gone now, lost in the course of Macy's $400m renovation.  

JL Wine & Liquor (formerly Goldrich Wines), 60 E34th St., Manhattan.  
Made 1950
Lost to make way for a plastic-faced LED replacement sign.  

Apple Tag & Label
Sadly, the big roof signs over the old Apple Tag & Label warehouse have not survived the building's ongoing residential conversion.

St. Charles Garage, 403 East 60th Street, Manhattan.
Shot down this year, as reported by James and Karla Murray.


Gallagher's Steak House, 228 W52nd St., Manhattan.  
Made c.1936
Gallagher's closed earlier this year, after 85 years in business.

Olympia Florist, 3799 Broadway, Manhattan.
Made 1950.
This Hamilton Heights florist bit the dust after about 100 years in business.   

Back Fence, 155 Bleecker Street, Manhattan.
Made 1946.
RIP to the back fence bar, which held down this Greenwich Village corner from 1945 until this autumn.  

D'Aiuto Bakery, 405 8th Ave., Manhattan.  
Made 1960 by Grauer Sign Co.
D'Aiuto closed this fall, reportedly for "renovations," but has yet to re-open some months later.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hotel Neon: The Hotel Arlington

A short post this week, what with the table nearly set for turkey this Thursday.  There's not much to say about the old Hotel Arlington, on West 25th Street just off Madison Square, at least not that I could discover from a little light Internet prowl.  No sordid tales of hookers and whores, no spooky basement bath-houses, no two-timing floozies ending their days here in some torrid tryst gone awry.  

"Beautiful Old Hotel with Neon Sign in New York."  (Nicole DiMella /

Surely no old New York hostelry worth its salt is without its share of such tales, especially those that sported big old flickering neon signs over their doorways, as the Arlington once did.  But I'll leave those for someone else to find, and dwell instead on the Arlington's bygone place in New York's neon landscape. 

"The Brickbuilder," 1904.

The Arlington began life back in 1901-02, as an "apartment hotel" designed by architects Israels and Harder.  I chanced upon an old photo of its especially handsome brick and terra-cotta facade in a tattered back issue of a trade publication called "The Brickbuilder."  Its construction and ownership history is thoroughly detailed over at Walter Grutchfield's amazing web site, 

"The Brickbuilder."

Like any number of once-fashionable hotels on the side streets around Madison and Herald squares, the Arlington became an SRO by the 1980s.  As recently as a few years ago, the term "SRO" was as much a part of the New York vernacular as "stoop" or "schlep."  These days I find myself constantly having to define the term whenever it rears its head in casual conversation with anyone under the age of 35 or so. 

"The Brickbuilder."

In a 1998 story on their already-waning numbers, the New York Times neatly summarized the SRO phenomena in two sentences: "Home to prostitutes, drug addicts and the mentally ill, single-room-occupancy hotels are often seen as a blight, dragging down neighborhood property values. But with tenants paying an average of $426 a month, according to a 1996 city study, S.R.O.'s have also long attracted artists, factory workers, single women, students and the elderly poor."

By the 1980s, increased demand for Manhattan hotel rooms led many SROs, including the Arlington, to re-convert back into conventional tourist hotels.  This of course led to the displacement of all those prostitutes, artists, etc.  

The Arlington in 2005.  (Walter Grutchfield)

When Mr. Grutchfield visited upon the Arlington back in 2005, he found its neon "HOTEL" sign still in place, over a marquee emblazoned with Han characters.  "The Chinese seems to say Ya Ning Dun Jiu Dian (Pinyin): Elegant Peaceful Pause Hotel," writes Grutchfield at 14to42: "or, the first three characters could be Ya Ning Tun (Wade-Giles) - i.e., Ar-Ling-Ton in transliteration."

The Comfort Inn Chelsea in 2012.  (T. Rinaldi)

By the time the Arlington figured into the backdrop of my daily commute in 2009, its neon herald had made way for signage better suited for the Interstate than the side streets of New York.  Its former name survived Chinese translation, but couldn't survive the new world order of 21st Century-New York. Now known as the "Comfort Inn Chelsea," it has 3.5 stars at Yelp, though one Chris B. of Boxborough, Mass bemoans its "carb heavy" free breakfast: "we walked to the NY Racquet Club for non-dairy smoothies."

THIS IS THE SEVENTH in a series of stories entitled "Hotel Neon," exploring the unique resonance of neon hotel signs in the American psyche. See also: 

• A visit to the Arlington at the Ephemeral New York blog.
• "Checkout Time?" The NYT on SROs in 1998. 

• A neon holiday shopping guide from ProjectNeon ~ there's a certain neon book available, if you haven't picked one up yet!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Riverside Liquor Co.

If I hadn't called up Riverside Liquors to ask them about their sign while researching the neon book, I'd have never known the quirky history of this particular sign that makes it one of my favorites in New York. As the sign's age suggests, Riverside has been an Upper West Side institution for a long, long time.  When the shop moved to a new location this past summer, the sign came with them.  It now shines from a new perch, at 2728 Broadway, just below 105th Street. 

Riverside's neon raceway sign at its new perch.  (T. Rinaldi)

What one wouldn't know to look at it is that this isn't the first time Riverside and its big neon LIQUORS sign have moved.  Until around two decades ago, the sign hung over a storefront at the southeasterly corner of Broadway and 105th Street, about 100 feet from where it is now.  And - more interesting - it originally belonged to a three-part set that included two horizontal raceway signs and a big vertical display that hung over the corner.  

Riverside's intermediate home, until this past summer, on Broadway between 105 and 106.  (T. Rinaldi)

The sign can be seen its original configuration in the city's circa-early-80s tax photos, now housed at the Municipal Archives.  The vertical sign featured a revolving time-and-temp display at its base.  People headed to work in the morning would set their watch by that clock, recalled John of Riverside, who answered the phone when I rang them up.  Buildings Department records suggest an installation date of 1955 for Riverside's neon triptych. 

105th and Broadway, wreathed in neon in the awesome eighties. (Municipal Archives)

Though the tax photo shows them half-dimmed in classic neon dysfunction, John remembered the signs for their reliability:  "Them things never went bad, not in all the years I worked here," he told me.  When their building at 105th and Broadway went co-op around 20 years ago, Riverside relocated half a block further uptown, taking just the LIQUORS sign with them.  There the sign and shop stayed until this past summer, when they moved again to their current location.

Inasmuch as New York's old neon signs are metaphors for survival against the odds, Riverside and its old sign say it loud and clear.  Stop by, pick up a bottle of something to thaw those frozen toes in these cold, dark months, and raise a toast to neon and perseverance.   


 On the subject of old UWS businesses shuffling signs and storefronts, check out this gem posted a few weeks ago at the Ephemeral NY blog.

 Another one down: via James and Karla Murray, news of the disappearance of the St. Charles Garage sign, by the Queensborough Bridge.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Neon Sketchbook, Part II

Picking up where we left off two weeks ago, here is the second of two installments of neon sign sketches I made as part of the project that eventually became my book, New York Neon.  As those of you who saw Part I of this series may remember, none of these sketches ultimately made it into the book.  C'est la vie.  As it happens, I think the book came out fine without them.  But just so it wasn't a totally wasted effort, I thought I may just as well post them here on the blog. 

In Part I, we made the rounds of various liquor establishments, and admired those signs that contrast script and block letterforms.  Let's kick-off Part II at the movies:

ABOVE: Paramount Theatre, 560 Bay St., Stapleton, Staten Island (Gone); RKO Keith’s Theatre, 117-09 Hillside Ave., Richmond HIll, Queens; Variety Theatre, 110 Third Ave., Manhattan (gone); Earle (Eagle) Theater, 73-07 37th Road, Jackson Heights, Queens, made c.1939 (gone).

Sadly, New York City has almost no historic movie theater neon left in any of the five boroughs, though movie houses were one of the great bastions of neon signage for most of the midcentury decades.  The marquees depicted above were about all I could find to sketch when I began this project in 2006.  One of them - the Variety - was in fact already gone (I sketched it from good photos I found online).  The Earle (aka the Eagle) lost its marquee a few years ago, and the Paramount's marquee has unfortunately been altered beyond recognition.  The RKO Keith's was still there at last check, although - as you may have noticed - it's entirely incandescent, not neon.  

A paltry handful of vertical signs for old theaters survive, too:

ABOVE: Loews 175th, 4140 Broadway, Manhattan, made 1930 probably by Claude Neon/Strauss Sign Co.; Loews Coney Island, 1301 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, made c.1938 probably Claude Neon/Artkraft Strauss (gone); Loews Post Road, 3475 Boston Road, Bronx, made in 1939 by Artkraft Strauss; New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W42nd Street, Manhattan, made in 1937 by Artkraft Strauss (altered 1955).

But these haven't fared well either:  the old SHORE sign didn't make it through Hurricane Sandy, and the Loew's POST ROAD and 175th Street signs are both relics in need of restoration.  Only the New Amsterdam Theatre sign on 42nd Street survives with a bill of good health.  This excludes, of course, for the Radio City Music Hall signs, which are well-enough documented that I skipped them for this exercise.  

So much for the movies.  This next bunch defies categorization, so we'll go into hodge-podge mode for the home stretch.  First, with some fascia signs:

ABOVE: Faber’s Fascination Arcade, 1230 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, made c.1948 by Silverescent (gone); Frank’s Fish Market, 4230 Broadway, Manhattan, made c.1949 (gone); Maryland Furniture Store, 911 East Tremont Ave., Bronx, made c.1957 by Grauer Sign Co.

Then, with some vertical signs:

ABOVE: E94th Street Garage, 231 E94th St., Manhattan, made c.1937; Barbetta Restaurant, 321 W46th Street, Manhattan, made in 1931; C.O. Bigelow Drugs, 414 6th Ave., Manhattan, made c.1938; Hinsch’s Confectionary; 8518 5th Ave., Brooklyn, made c.1948;  Hotel New Yorker, 481 Eighth Ave., Manhattan, made 1939-40; Keller Hotel, 150 Barrow St., Manhattan, made in 1933 by Beacon Sign Co.; Lascoff Drugs, 1209 Lexington Ave., Manhattan, made in 1931;
Nathan’s Famous, 1310 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, made c. 1930 Neergaard Drugs, 454 5th Ave., Brooklyn, made c.1950 by Silverescent; Veniero Pasticceria, 342 E11th Street, Manhattan, made c. 1945;

Truth be told, most of New York's surviving vintage neon is pretty modest compared to the old signs one finds in places like Los Angeles.  (I go into the reasons for this in the neon book.)  But we still have a handful of signs that are impressive works of the signpainter's skillful hand.  I've always been particularly drawn to the bold, distinctive silhouettes of swing signs, like these:

ABOVE: Crown Caterers, 4909 13th Ave., Brooklyn, made c.1949 (gone); Famous Oyster Bar, 842 7th Ave., Manhattan, made c.1960; M&M Pharmacy, 1901 Avenue M, Brooklyn, made c.1936; Theatre 80 St. Mark’s, 80 St. Mark’s Place, Manhattan; Village Vanguard, 178 7th Ave. South, Manhattan, made c.1945.

How amazing to think that this handful of signs represents an infinitesimal fragment of the many thousands of signs installed over the storefronts of New York during the glory years of electric signs.  As they continue to disappear, if nothing else, we'll have these sketches to remember them by.


  S&G Gross Loans by Penn Station appears to be undergoing its demi-centennial makeover: at last check, the porcelain enamel facade had been pulled off its 3-story facade, but the great vertical neon sign was still there. This is probably the city's most picturesque pawn shop of yore - here's hoping that neon survives.

  Speaking of gross - some totally awful news from Yonkers (via Rob Yasinsac): Curry Chevy has completely destroyed its museum-piece dealership, including its great ensemble of neon.  This was hitherto a truly outstanding, 100% intact c.1958 car dealer.  What a goddamn shame.

  If you're looking to brush up on your neon tube bending skills, look no further than, which has recently updated its listing of neon schools nationwide.

  Good news, for once (though not neon related) - the "Ideal Hosiery" building down on the Lower East Side has been landmarked.  Someone looked at the facade over that great signage and realized this building is a substantially intact 1833 row house.  Any changes to the signage will require the blessing of the Landmarks Commission - one wonders how the commission will interpret the significance of handpainted mid-20th century signage on a federal style residential building.

  More neon (and other) treats from SoCal, via Debra Jane Seltzer.  Check out the San Fernando Relics Museum!

  Good news from Greenpoint!  The Greenpointers neon documentary made its funding threshold and will be going into production.

  From Jim and Karla Murray, a look at one of my favorite neon relics: the Berkeley Coats-Suits-Dresses sign in Brooklyn.

  Enjoy a whole wagonload of other neon news links over at ProjectNeon.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Neon Short

I'm diverting from my scheduled post (which was to have been Part II of last week's post) in order to plug another NYNeon-type project I learned of recently: a 15 minute documentary film that will look at where the signs are made and how they fit into the identity of the city.  

Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern. (Jen Galatioto)

Jen Galatioto over at blog has launched a kickstarter online fundraiser to see the project through.  Their deadline is this coming Sunday (kickstarter requires a project to meet its target in order for it to receive funding).  The film would feature an interview with yours truly – obviously, this will be a blockbuster, if they get the funding!  Have a look and help them out (before Sunday) if you like what you see and you’ve got a few $$ to spare.

Regularly scheduled posts to resume next week.

 Looks like we're about to lose another one: Home of Cheers Liquors, at 18th and 8th in Chelsea, has apparently lost their lease.  

Home Of Cheers. (T. Rinaldi)

They're moving to 9th Ave - will their signs follow?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Neon Sketchbook, Part I

Among the more prominent scraps on my cutting room floor after finishing the neon book is a series of elevation sketches I made showing some of the signs that appear in the book. I first set out to sketch a few signs around town as a study of the unique silhouettes of their sheet metal sign faces.  For a crazy person like me, this turned out to be the slippery-slope down a long, dark road that ultimately led to my creating detailed elevation sketches for about 50 old signs found all over NYC.

The sketches began as simple silhouettes of the more distinctive old swing signs still hanging over New York sidewalks.  (T. Rinaldi)

My idea was to create a sort of HABS/HAER-type documentation of these signs as significant works of vernacular design, before they disappear.  I also thought that these little sketches might look good illustrating the endpapers of the neon book.  Short of traipsing all over town with my step ladder and measuring tape, I made these in CAD by tracing perspective-corrected photos.  So, if not quite accurate to a 32nd of an inch, these sketches at least provide something of a record beyond the photos in the  book.  

The drawings never made it into the book, so - here they are, out of the depths for your enjoyment and some measure of posterity, in two installments.  Stay tuned for Part II next week.

I have attempted to organize these by business type.  Let's start at the bars:

FROM TOP: Collins Bar, 735 8th Ave., Manhattan, made c1930;  Boulevard Tavern, 579 Meeker Ave., Brooklyn, made c1935; Farrell’s Bar & Grill, 215 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, made c. 1935*; Fedora Restaurant, 239 W4th Street, Manhattan, made c1946; Minetta Tavern, 113 Macdougal St., Manhattan, made c1950; Old Town Bar, 45 E18th St., Manhattan, made 1937; White Horse Tavern, 567 Hudson St., Manhattan, made 1947 by the Allen Sign Co.; Rudy's Bar & Grill, 627 9th Ave., Manhattan, made 1937; Rocco Restaurant, 181 Thompson St., Manhattan, made 1934.

Still Thirsty?  We can always pick up more at these fine establishments:

FROM TOP: Casa Oliveira Wines and Liquors, 98 7th Ave. South, Manhattan, made 1935; Golden Rule Liquors, 457 Hudson St., Manhattan, made in 1934 possibly Neon Sign & Svc. Co.; Manley’s Liquors, 35 8th Ave., Manhattan, made c1934*; Mom’s Liquor Store, 2045 Richmond Terrace, Port Richmond, Staten Island, made c. 1935; Sterling Wines Liquors, 117 Smith St., Brooklyn, made c. 1935.  

Phew!  So much for the drinking establishments.  Let's go nurse that hangover with a little typography appreciation.  As previously noted on this blog, sign painters really enjoyed juxtaposing scripts with block letters.  I enjoy it too:

FROM TOP: Catania’s Shoe Shop, 3015 Westchester Ave., Bronx, made c1945 by Globe Neon; Garry Jewlers, 474 5th Ave., Brooklyn, made c1961*; Long Island Restaurant, 108 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, made c1953*; Morscher’s Pork Store, 5844 Catalpa Ave., Ridgewood, Queens, made c1950 (RIP); Patsy’s Restaurant, 236 W56th Street, Manhattan, made 1954 by Serota Sign Corp.;  Smith’s Bar, 701 8th Ave., Manhattan, made 1954 by DaNite Sign Co.

That's it for Part I. Stand by for more next week.....

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.


 Speaking of cool elevation drawings of old neon signs - you can help restore the old neon marquee of the former Grauman's Chinese Theatre in LA, now in the collection of the Museum of Neon Art. 
From James and Karla Murray, a depressing then-and-now of the late great McHale's bar in Hell's Kitchen.  
 At Shorpy, an inspirational if vanished scene from Southington, CT.  
 Not nice (or entirely accurate) but worth a read: some anti-neon propaganda from the LED people.
Over at Project Neon, a nice write-up on the neon-festoond Kiosk of SoHo, apparently not long for this world.