Thursday, July 18, 2013

Signs Under Awnings

In rounding-up old signs for the neon book, I managed to find just a few hundred specimens of "pre-helvetica" neon scattered around the five boroughs.  In truth, however, there are probably hundreds more, hidden beneath layers of newer signage hung by thrifty business owners who saved a buck by simply installing their own signs over those of their predecessors. 

Old neon hidden under / peeking out from / revealed by the removal of newer signs installed over them.  From top: Fink's Fine Footwear, Livingston St., Downtown Brooklyn; unknown bar off Fulton St., downtown Brooklyn; unknown Delicatessen/Restaurant on First Avenue in Manhattan; Floral Expressions of Harlem, on 135th Street.  (T. Rinaldi)

The palimpsest thus formed reveals itself every so often, when those newer signs come down, and the layers of the urban fabric temporarily unravel.  Sometimes, the disinterring of a long-buried relic sign  elicits an outpouring of exaltations from enthusiasts of old New Yorkiana, as in the case of the Dixon's Cafeteria sign off Times Square, which was revealed 2007.  

The Loft's Candy chain is long gone, but this sign remains under an awning at 88 Nassau St. in Lower Manhattan (T. Rinaldi).  A matching sign once hung on the Bond Building in Times Square (below, between Woolworth's and Regal Shoes, by way of American Classic Images).

The signs are not always neon.  A recent storefront rehab on 8th Avenue revealed the ancient herald of the Utah House, which likely pre-dated the discovery of neon in 1898.  There are porcelain signs, hand-painted signs, signs for shops that vanished generations ago and signs for businesses that simply installed newer signs over their old ones.

Non-neon ghost signs revealed on 8th Ave. in Chelsea, at 22nd St (top), 30th St (middle), and 25th St (bottom). (T. Rinaldi)

Once exhumed, these old relics are sometimes covered back up by newer signs, entombed again perhaps to reappear one day for the amusement of future antiquarians.  More often than not, however, the unearthing of these old signs presages their imminent demise.  The Dixon's Cafeteria sign reappeared only to be taken down soon afterwards.  Dapper Dan's "Imperial" clothes on 14th Street was revealed only to be lost a few months later. 

Hidden signs found out and undone, from top: 125th Street in Harlem; old signs for Faber's Fascination arcade on Surf Ave. in Coney Island, exposed during the building's demolition; Dapper Dan "Imperial" clothes, on 14th St. in Manhattan, saw the light of day again for a few months before being taken down. (T. Rinaldi)

So don't be shy about looking up under the awnings of your neighborhood bodega, liquor store or wash-and-fold; you never know what friendly neighborhood ghosts might lie beneath.  


 Signs under awnings turn up every so often over at the Ephemeral New York blog, as they do here and here.

 This unearthed Treadwell Shoes sign in Williamsburg could be yours:  

• A Brooklyn butcher sign recently revealed and removed, at JVNY.

 Unearthed signage for Bogan's Corner Bar & Grill in Harlem and the Normandie Bake Shop in Crown Heights, photographed by Dave Cook of Eating in Translation after being disinterred.  They're both gone now:

• By way of Rolando Pujol, a relic of Longchamp's restaurant at the Chanin building made a brief appearance a few years back:


• July 22, 2013, at the NYPL / Mid-Manhattan Branch.



  1. you ROCK!
    *that is all!*

  2. Come to Astoria--we have plenty of hidden signs!

    1. Yes. There is one under the awning of the candy store on the southeast corner of Broadway and Crescent Street. It used to be a luncheonette (where I used to eat on occasion). And I think there is another hidden sign under the candy store awning on the south side of Broadway between 30th and 31st Street.

  3. Now that looks pretty interesting. These little but significant architectural details make up a culture—it signifies a city's way of life. Anyway, thanks for posting this informative write-up. This is very well appreciated. Have a great day to you.