Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eagle Clothes

I guess it had to happen sooner or later:  the one and only Eagle Clothes sign in Gowanus, a much-photographed Brooklyn landmark, is coming down.  This week.  It's likely already gone as you read this. I always figured the cause of death would come in the form of some Buildings Department citation for falling chunks of Eagle signage hitting the sidewalk.  But DNAinfo reports that the sign's demise has come instead at the hands of U-Haul, its owner, who plans to add two stories of self-storage units to the former industrial building on whose roof the sign has stood for the past 62 years.

RIP: Eagle Clothes, a Brooklyn landmark. (T.Rinaldi)

As it happens, I had just been prepping a little tribute to the Eagle sign for a forthcoming post.  Sadly that tribute is going up ahead of schedule, now as an obituary piece.  The Eagle sign debuted in the summer of '51, advertising the wares of Eagle Clothes, a now-defunct maker of men's suits.  Like the neighboring Kentile Floors spectacular (erected a few years later), the Eagle sign took aim at motorists and passengers on the elevated viaducts of the Gowanus Expressway and the IND subway (now the F train).  


Both signs were the work of the White Way Neon Sign Co of Chicago. Signs of the Times magazine devoted a substantial illustrated blurb to the Eagle sign upon its installation: "The word 'Eagle' is spelled out in red 18-foot porcelain enamel letters," it said. A "realistic back-lighted skyline silhouette of plastic buildings," already long gone, originally crowned the top.  Otherwise, the sign went unchanged through the years, even after Eagle Clothes went belly-up in the 1980s.

Signs of the Times, November 1951. (ST Media Group, used with permission)

It's gone now.  "U-Haul had originally hoped to preserve the vintage sign," reports DNAinfo, "but . . . installing the sign on top of two additional floors would make the entire structure too tall for city height limits."  Huh?

"City height limits"?  

Somebody ought to tell that to the guys building all those 12-story condos in the neighborhood, like this one, this one – oh, and this one, two blocks away.  


DNAinfo also reports that U-Haul "worked with the city to find community members or local groups to weigh in, but no one stepped forward."  Oh yeah?  Earlier this year, an anonymous comment on this blog suggesting the imminent demise of the nearby Kentile sign sparked a mild torrent of Internet chatter, until the New York Times established that the rumor was a false alarm.  Seems like a proposal to drop the Eagle might have made at least a ripple in the murky waters of the Gowanus.

#gowanus (_jlu_ on Instagram)

Not to worry: U-Haul has pledged to do "everything in its power" to "make sure we maintain the past and incorporate parts of the sign into the new building."  Except that the letters seem already to have been dumped.  Writes Wayne Heller of Lite Brite Neon (whose shop is on the same block as the Eagle sign), "they appear to be chopping the whole thing into pieces before tossing it into the dumpsters. . . .  I don't think much will be left by the end of the day tomorrow [Thurs 7/25/13], the Eagle letterforms are already trashed." 

The Eagle has landed - apparently in the trash.  (Wayne Heller)

I wish U-Haul would just have told it like it is:  they could have figured out a way to keep the sign, but it would have cost too much damn money.  They could cleverly built around it, taking a cue from the developer of 4610 Center Boulevard in Long Island City, who cantilevered their tower behind the famous Pepsi sign to create a "shadow box, so the letters stand out."  They could have formally proposed re-erecting it on the roof of the new addition, and let the Buildings Department take the fall if indeed such an installation would exceed "city height limits."

(T. Rinaldi) 

But, as U-Haul pointed out, the sign wasn't Landmarked (nor is Pepsi, or Kentile, or basically any other sign in New York, unless it happens to belong to an already-landmarked structure – food for thought), so by rights they can do whatever they please here.  And that they have.  Eagle Clothes will no longer woo, please, amuse or charm passersby on the Gowanus Expressway, or the F train, or the newcomers in those luxury mid-rises.  But there will be plenty of self storage.  And with more new buildings on the way, Gowanus: you're gonna need it.

 JVNY's excellent redux of the life and times of Eagle Clothes.  
 An Eagle eulogy from Forgotten NY.
 A survey of Eagle and other south Brooklyn relic signs, also from Forgotten NY.

1 comment:

  1. I passed the site today, no activity this morning. "Home of" still remains. When the suggest they might preserve a portion of the sign, this is probably it. "Home of U-Haul."