Monday, June 30, 2014

Papaya King

When I set out to write the neon book, one of my top priorities was to include historic design drawings showing how these old signs came together from a creative and technical perspective.  Much to my consternation, tracking down such drawings proved to be almost impossible.  One industry old-timer after another told me that I'd come too late: old sign shops had closed up or sold-out, trashing truckloads of the archival material I was after in the process.

Justin Langsner, retired third-generation president of the LaSalle Sign Co., and the Papaya King sign made by his company fifty years ago. (T. Rinaldi)

Then, through a series of chance connections, I managed to get in touch with Justin Langsner, semi-retired president of the LaSalle Sign Company.  As luck would have it, Mr. Langsner still had an active maintenance account with the Papaya King on East 86th Street in Manhattan, and had held onto the entire project folder since his firm first made the sign in 1964. 

Research pay dirt: the Payapa King folder. (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

The drawings, sketches and various miscellanea in the Papaya King folder yield a sense for how these old signs came together.  I am often asked how much it cost to install signs like these; LaSalle's Papaya King folder tells us that the sign cost $3,500 back in 1964, about as much as that year's Buick Wildcat convertible.  There are schematic sketches showing how the designer parsed out neon tubes by the linear foot, and final design renderings bearing the hand-written approval of the business owner.   And happily, the Papaya King sign still blinks out into the night at the corner of Third Avenue and East 86th Street, looking great fifty years on.

Original signed contract, on LaSalle Sign Co letterhead.  In 1964, the contract price of $3,500.00 could have bought you a Buick Wildcat convertible. (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

'64 Buick Wildcat. (Old Iron Online)

Schematic diagram, showing the linear footage of neon tube required for the sign’s various components.   (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

With the design finalized, the sign company drafted a more formal schematic sketch for the owner’s approval. (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

Final scale design drawing with exact specifications for colors, dimensions and materials.  This too bears the owners signature. (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

Design sketch showing "Papaya King" caricature for the sign's Plexiglas panel, facing Third Ave. (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

Reference photo showing Papaya King c. 1970.  (Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp.)

LaSalle's Payapa King signs, fifty years strong. (T. Rinaldi)

MANY THANKS to Justin Langsner for the materials reproduced in this post, and to my dad for digging up the list price of the '64 Wildcat.

•   "A Signman's Album," featuring photos and anecdotes from Mr. Langsner's 70-year career in the sign business.

•   Save the date: another NY Neon walking tour scheduled for August 15, 2014, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative.  Click here for more info.
• Another one down:  as anticipated back in 2012, the Brite-Buy Liquor sign in TriBeCa has bit the dust (along with the store and the building that housed it).
• For the type-o-phile, two excellent lessons on typographic terminology from Paul Shaw, here and here.
• From the great northwest, Debra Jane Seltzer has wrapped up an epic 13-day neon and roadside Americana scavenger hunt
• By way of Jeremiah and Grub Street, news of changes afoot at the El Quijote, in the Cheslea Hotel on 23rd Street.  Put this one on the neon watch list.
• And finally, some West Village neon appreciation via Ephemeral New York.

1 comment:

  1. Great ! Have many pleasant memories taking to Justin for over 30 years.
    A wonderful man.