Monday, October 31, 2016

Signs Inside

In my book New York Neon, I point to the use of old neon signs as objects of decor as one of the most vivid illustrations of the complex and contradictory nature of our relationship with neon through the years. Neon signs have been dismissed as tatty clutter on the one hand, and welcomed into restaurant dining rooms on the other.  True, this could be just a question of there being a time and a place for everything.   But the fact remains that while some have sought to have neon signs banned outright, others have gone to great lengths to ensure their preservation.  

Holland Bar / 532 9th Av., Manhattan.   Buildings Department records indicate a 1949 installation date for this sign at its original location on West 42nd Street.  The sign bears the mark of the Higger Electric Sign Co.  (T. Rinaldi)

My favorite place to reflect upon this irony is on a wobbly barstool at the Holland Bar, on Ninth Avenue just below the Port Authority Bus Terminal.  When circumstances forced the bar to relocate from its original home in the former Holland Hotel on 42nd Street years ago, its owners took their sign along with them.  Too large to hang over the bar's new storefront, they found room for it inside.  An urn nested between the letters O and L holds the ashes of Charlie O'Connor, a longtime regular.  

Emmett O'Lunney's (Sign formerly belonging to McHale's Bar at Eighth Ave and W46th Street) / 210 W50th St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

All over New York, old signs have been brought indoors to brighten bars, stores, lobbies and other spaces.  While this is a happy byproduct of our appreciation for these old signs, the downside is that it takes the signs away from their proper context - the city streets whose character they helped define for most of the 20th century.  And of course, they are liable to disappear without warning when a space changes hands.  A number of the signs pictured in this roundup have vanished since these photos were taken.  But where they can be found, these signs inside are like a scattered, un-curated museum of New York neon, perhaps the best demonstration of neon's infectious appeal.  

Emmett O'Lunney's / 210 W50th St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

HousingWorks Books / 126 Crosby St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Farrell's Bar / 215 Prospect Park W., Brooklyn (T. Rinaldi)

Mr. Wright Fine Wines & Spirits / 1593 3rd Ave., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Times Square Museum (Closed) / 1560 Broadway (Times Sq.), Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Crunch Gym (ex-David Barton Gym, ex-McBurney YMCA) / 215 W23rd St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

The 13th Step / 139 2nd Av., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Museum of the Moving Image / 36-01 35th Ave, Astoria, Queens (T. Rinaldi) 

Duke's (Closed) / 99 E 19th St, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

IFC Theater Cafe (Closed) / 323 Ave. of the Americas, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Kew Gardens Cinema (ex-Austin Theatre) / 81-05 Lefferts Blvd., Jamaica (T. Rinaldi)

Steven Sondheim Theatre (ex-Henry Miller's Theatre) / 214 W43rd St., Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Cafe Pedlar (Sign formerly at the Delightful Coffee Shop at 116th and First in Manhattan) / 210 Court Street, Brooklyn (T. Rinaldi)

Bone Lick BBQ (Closed) / 75 Greenwich Ave, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)

Streetbird (sign formerly belonged to the M&G Soul Food Diner on 125th Street) / 2149 Frederick Douglass Blvd, Manhattan (T. Rinaldi)


Untapped Cities will sponsor one more Greenwich Village Neon Walking Tour this fall:

 Wednesday, November 16, 2016 (7:30 PM)

Tickets available here!


 It's actually happening:  Jeremiah pays a farewell visit to the Carnegie Deli.
 Also via Jeremiah's Vanishing New York: lots of neon in the backdrop of the Gay Gotham exhibit up at the Museum of the City of New York. 
 Via Brooklyn Magazine: "Noble Signs is Making New York Glow Again."
 Way out west, Debra Jane has been busy making glorious galleries of old neon and other related eyecandy.
 From the Upstate New York Neon department: a great neon restoration at the Hotel Saranac in Saranac Lake.

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