Friday, February 20, 2015

La Parisienne

Yesterday, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York reported the disappearance of La Parisienne, a classic New York coffee shop (young folks would call it a "diner") at 910 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.  Despite its grandiose name, La Parisienne was a bastion of affordability, comfort and normality, hidden in plain sight just around the corner from Carnegie Hall.  

La Parisienne, July 28, 2010. (T. Rinaldi) 

The restaurant is featured in my book New York Neon with the following caption: "La Parisienne offers a haven of down-to-earth hospitality in a part of midtown Manhattan where ultra-high rents leave almost no room for even remotely ephemeral parts of the urban landscape.  Open since 1950, La Parisienne's sign appeared roughly two decades later."

July 28, 2010. (T. Rinaldi) 

The sign featured a jaunty script rendered in tricolor-esque red and blue neon, swaddled in anodized aluminum channel letters; my best guess is that it corresponds to a 1968 sign permit on file at the Buildings Dept, though there are also permits dating from the late 70s for this address.  The manager (when asked by me) had no idea when the sign went up.  The restaurant itself dated its origins to 1950 (though no establishment by that name turns up at this address in my copy of the 1954 Manhattan Yellow Pages).

July 28, 2010. (T. Rinaldi) 

With middle-finger towers of oligarch housing rising all around it, even the most naive among us had to know this place was on borrowed time.  Au revoir, Parisienne: borrowed time expired for a last sliver of New York's New York in a part of town where the city seems less itself than ever.

SEE ALSO: A Parisienne send-off at

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Subway Inn's Orphaned Neon

As reported elsewhere, the Subway Inn has happily found new digs after developers evicted the venerable neighborhood watering hole from its longtime home at 60th and Lex in Manhattan.  And the bar has taken its neon with it - some of it.  Encouraging photos posted at the Subway Inn's Facebook page show the old fascia sign in the process of restoration; the bar is slated to re-open at its new home sometime soon.  

The vertical sign however, which once beamed down 60th Street all the way to Central Park, has been left behind.  In my research for the neon book, I found that the vertical neon is actually the older of the two signs, installed in 1950.  It's a sad sight to behold now.  

Subway Inn's orphaned vertical neon, February 2015.  (T. Rinaldi)

The bar's ownership didn't reply to an e-mailed query in time for this post, but word on the street is that they were daunted by the high cost of properly dismounting and restoring the old sign, which was fully functional up until the place closed in December 2014.  Current zoning codes would likely also restrict them from installing it over their new storefront at 2nd Ave. and 60th Street.  

February, 2006. (T. Rinaldi)

Still, I would suggest that the old sign can and should be saved.  Other bars have installed signs like this indoors as decor (McHale's neon on display at Emmett O'Lunney's, for one).  

Is this perhaps the stuff of a neon kickstarter?

September 2014.  (Photo by Nick McManus / Impossible Project Prints)


• A more comprehensive Subway Inn update at Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Don't miss this great short film by Zagat, featuring the Subway Inn and the struggle of small independent businesses to stay afloat in today's New York.
• Previous coverage of the Subway Inn story at this blog, here and here.


• "Retro Signs of NYC" via AMNY and Rolando Pujol. 
• A new tenant has emerged for the former DiRobertis Pasticerria space in the East Village, via JVNY.  The new business pledges to keep much of the historic interior finishes.  No word on the neon.
• From the west coast: artist Michael Hayden's neon installation in downtown LA has just been restored and re-lit.
 Also in downtown LA: the storied Clifton's Cafeteria, home to what may be the world's longest continuously-lit neon, is set to re-open after a long rehabilitation.
 When in Orlando, FL, skip the theme parks and visit one of the country's best galleries of preserved neon at the Morse Museum of American Art.
• And finally, two old views from New York's neon heyday from the our friends at the Shorpy blog:
   ~  A westward view featuring the Hotel Dixie on 43rd Street, today's glamorous Hotel Carter, whose neon still survives.  Note too the West 43rd Street Garage neon partially at right in the photo, also still extant - just about the last vintage neon near Times Square.
   ~  A streamlined trifecta of neon, terrazzo and stainless converge in this 1950 view of an un-located NYC newsstand.

SPECIAL THANKS to Eric Evavold of the Museum of Neon Art and to Kyle Supley for some of the links above.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A. Blank Office Furniture

While strolling down Broad Street in lower Manhattan just before Christmas, something caught my eye - an old sign, of course.  A big vertical sign, lording over the corner of Broad and Stone streets, a remnant, apparently, of a vanished pizzeria called Giuliano's.   

The mystery sign at Broad and Stone, December 2006.  (T. Rinaldi)

One look at this old sign and just about anyone can tell there's more to the story.  The sign faces are relatively new; they've clearly been tacked onto an older sign beneath them.  The sides of the framework are clad in stainless steel - that classic sign material of the neon era, unseen in signs made for most of the past 50 years.  To my twisted mind, relics like these are almost more interesting than those old signs that remain unmolested.  Here, in a part of town with little else to offer in the way of neon archeology, I suddenly had a little lunch hour mystery to solve.  

The corner of Broad and Stone in 1999. (Dylan StoneNYPL)

Minutes later, mystery solved - thanks to the New York Public Library's newly-revamed Digital Collections archive.  The magic bullet photo came from an archive curiously called  "Drugstore Photographs, or a Trip Along the Yangtze River," featuring the work of photographer Dylan Stone.  This particular collection, says the NYPL, is a "comprehensive recording of . . . the buildings existing below Canal Street" as they existed in 1999.  As for the title, says Mr. Stone: "I take the shot film to be developed at a drugstore, which returns the processed film in an envelope advertising 'A Trip Along the Yangtze River.'"

A. Blank's relic sign, photographed by Anthony Cortese in 2006.  (Anthony Cortese / Flickr)

Getting back to that mysterious sign: Mr. Stone's photo reveals that it previously advertised a business called A. Blank Office Furniture, which, as the sign formerly proclaimed in neon, had been around since 1899.  The Internet (ahem) draws a bit of a "blank" on Blank's.  The business seems to have made way for Giuliano's by the time Mr. Stone passed by here in 1999. 

DOB records indicate a 1958 installation date for the sign, which looks about right. It featured stainless steel channel letters mounted to a canary yellow porcelain enameled sign face, just like the still extant sign at the Papaya King on the Upper East Side.  Blank's sign appears to have remained in its original neon form at least as late as 2006 - a handful of photos taken that year show it with neon still intact.  Somehow I never noticed it until that day this past December, by which time the old letters had been stripped and those cheap new sign faces slapped over the old framework.  Is it possible that I really never strolled past here in all these years?  Or did this old thing just get lost in the busy backdrop of lower Manhattan?  

In any case, the building behind it is in the midst of a gut-reno, suggesting that Blank's reliquary neon may not be long for this world.


• In Long Island City, Silvercup Studios is plotting a billion-dollar expansion.  What this means for the landmark Silvercup roof sign is unclear - some renderings show it relocated to the waterfront a-la Pepsi - but the local Community Board has gone on record with a request that the developer "use original and not modern materials when constructing the Silvercup sign to preserve the historic nature." The sign is not a protected New York City landmark.
• Check out Recapturist, a commercial archeology documentation project by Bill Rose.