Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cab Call Decoded and The Utah House's Neon Epilog

After my May 30, 2013 post on the former Utah House in Chelsea, friend and reader T.R. Revella did what didn't occur to me, and looked up the corner of 25th and 8th in the Percy Loomis Sperr photographs over at the NYPL to see what was going on at this corner in the 1930s.  Photographs dated March 21, 1938 show the storefront occupied by a certain V. Protopapas Pharmacy.  Like most drug stores of that period, Protopapas had a handsome little neon swing sign dangling over the corner, advertising "DRUGS" and "SODA". 

In writing on the Utah House and its ancient, hand-painted sign, revealed in the midst of a storefront renovation, I hoped that this relic might be covered over in plywood and entombed to one day reveal itself again.  Sadly, the sign has since been destroyed.  The storefront's new occupant, the Market Cafe, had the brownstone lintels slathered in black, Karnak-like crap.  So much for that.

(T. Rinaldi)

Asked and answered:  my post on the St. Regis Hotel's lovely and mysterious "Cab Call" sign had hardly merged onto the information superhighway when an e-mail came in from architect Rick Zimmerman.  "Many, if not all of those cab calls were made by the now defunct Kliegl Bros., makers of much theatrical lighting equipment," he writes.  Mr. Zimmerman directed me to old Kliegl catalogs, scanned versions of which can be viewed online at  The catalogs will delight any enthusiast of old signs.

(Kliegl Bros.)

Cab Call signs appear in Kliegl catalogs from 1913 through as late as 1936, in pretty much the exact form as the one over at the St. Regis. Kliegl's product lit describes them as "a rapid, quiet and effective means of calling vehicles to doorways of theatres, hotels, department stores, and other public buildings."  The signs were "constructed entirely of metal" and made up of "three numbers placed together in one frame. . . . Each number is distinctly outlined by incandescent lamps and can be seen clearly by day as well as by night." 

(Kliegl Bros.)

In the post, I speculated on how exactly they worked.  Says Kliegl Bros: "One special constructed switch which is operated without inserting a card or other contrivance, by simply operating the numbers, units, tens and hundreds on handle and pressing the handle inward, makes the correct connections quickly. . . . Any printed card with numbers can be given patrons, so that on return of same, the proper carriage can be called by attendant."  In other words, sort of like the take-a-number system over at the DMV.  Mystery solved!

Many thanks to T.R. Revella and Rick Zimmerman for writing in with these helpful hints.


• Another one gone:  The Charles St. Garage sign (featured in the neon book) has been replaced by this glamour girl:

• Charles St. may have lost its neon, but St. Charles still has its – from James and Karla Murray, an absolutely gorgeous photo of the St. Charles Garage "for Transients" over on East 60th Street.

• A painful loss on the horizon: the Back Fence, on Bleecker, set to close in the coming weeks.  

(T. Rinaldi)

• Much as I hate to be the bearer of really sh*tty news ... the rest of Hinsch's neon seems to have come down, "for repairs."  Don't hold your breath.  Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for the link.

Speculation on the future of the Watchtower sign in Brooklyn Heights.  

• Not all news is bad news: via Rolando Pujol, Riverside Liquors is up and running again, along with its great old sign, on the Upper West Side.  Welcome back guys!

(Rolando Pujol's instagram)

• Check out this really great write-up on New York Neon over at The Bowery Boys blog!

• A great shot of The Hub in the Bronx, c. 1940, in all its neon glory, via Shorpy.

• Also via Shorpy, feast your eyes on Jamaica, Queens, here absolutely dripping in neon storefront signs in 1944.

• And yet another one from Shorpy – a wonderland of suburban neon out in Smithtown, Long Island, 1954.

• By way of Rob Yasinsac, another upstate loss, at the Peekskill Inn overlooking the Hudson in Peekskill.

The Inn on the Hudson, nee the Peekskill Inn. (T. Rinaldi, above, Rob Yasinsac, below).       

• From Tom over at Krypton Neon: a very promising trailer for a very promising new doc called "Signpainter," based on the recently-released book by the same name.

• Not neon, but of the same ilk: Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reports that the now-shuttered Elk Hotel's "Entrance on 42nd Street" signage, a relic of seedy Times Square hiding in plain sight at 43rd and 9th, is now hiding somewhere else.

(T. Rinaldi)
• Way out of the tristate, but neon news nonetheless – some spectacular Pontiac dealer signage "gone the way of the Pontiac" in Orlando, Florida. 

• A great roundup of old Boston signage (neon and otherwise) at this tumblr page.

 And finally, a last bit of unhappy news: RIP to Big Nick's on the upper west side, which had one of my favorite neon window signs in town.  

(T. Rinaldi)

1 comment:

  1. Nothing in NYC has any value unless it can be torn down and ugly, cheaply built boxes can be put up to house tasteless people with no culture. Just be glad NYC's developers and politicians don't have any control in Paris, London, St. Petersburg, etc.