Monday, March 19, 2018

Neon Purgatory

One might argue that we enthusiasts of New York's old neon signs tend to lavish our affections on those that still come aglow at night, advertising old restaurants and other businesses that have been neighborhood anchors for generations.  Less attention is diverted to those old signs that exist in a kind of purgatory - those that haven't lit up in years, either because their owners haven't been able to keep up with their maintenance, or because they've simply outlived whatever business they once advertised. Abandoned and sometimes forgotten, these are the signs that are most likely to disappear.  

Vasikauskas Bar & Grill / 279 Grand St. / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Sometimes, contemplating these old forgotten signs in my idle hours, I imagine ways they might be restored and lit up again.  Then, one day last year, an e-mail came from out of the blue suggesting that at least I wasn't the only one thinking about this.  It seemed that a prominent whiskey brand was looking for ways to partner with business owners to restore their crumbling old neon signs.  Could I suggest some good candidates for restoration in New York?  Could I ever!  

Spruce Florist / 222 8th Avenue / Chelsea, Manhattan

As it happened, I already had a shortlist of such signs.  That surprise e-mail prompted me update the list and punch it up with photos.  (Sadly, if not surprisingly, the updating revealed that a bunch of the signs on my list had already disappeared.) Unfortunately, that heaven-sent restoration plan has died on the vine.  So I present this gallery of New York's neon purgatory as an open invitation back to the drawing board.  Other cities have found ways to preserve and re-light some of their neon ghost signs as unique objects of cultural heritage that make appealing nocturnal landmarks.  Perhaps a bright future lays in store for some of these, too.

Home of Cheers Liquors / 261 W18th St / Chelsea, Manhattan

Marie's Crisis & Arthur's Tavern / 57-59 Grove St. / Greenwich Village, Manhattan 

United Palace Theatre / 4140 Broadway / Washington Heights, Manhattan 

Louis Zuflacht / 154 Stanton St. / Lower East Side, Manhattan

Chelsea Liquor Store / 114 9th Ave. / Chelsea, Manhattan

Suffolk Arms Bar / 269 East Houston St. / East Village / Lower East Side, Manhattan 

Liquor Store / 140 Havemeyer St / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Adamo Chapel / 405 Humboldt Street / Williamsburg, Brooklyn 

Loft's Candies / 88 Nassau Street / Manhattan

Broadway Liquors / 3139 Broadway / Harlem, Manhattan

North Village Liquors / 254 W14th St. / Chelsea / Greenwich Village, Manhattan

French Garment Cleaners Co / 85 Lafayette Ave / Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Katz's Drugs / 76 Graham Avenue / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Miller's Drugs / 173 Broad St / Stapleton, Staten Island

Post Road Theatre / 3429 Boston Road / Eastchester, The Bronx

DeVito Paints / 371 Graham Ave / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Ox Line Paints (OTB Bar) / 141 Broadway / Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Wu Han Restaurant / 1533 Pitkin Ave. / East New York, Brooklyn

Rubinestein & Klein / 6001 14th Ave / Borough Park, Brooklyn

Joe’s Tavern / 258 10th Ave / West Chelsea, Manhattan

Bangert’s Florist / 86-06 117th Street / Richmond Hill, Queens  

Lenox Liquors / 100 W124th St / West Harlem, Manhattan

Point Pharmacy / Hunts Point & Garrison Ave / Hunts Point, The Bronx

Fuller’s Drugs / 2688 3rd Ave. / Mott Haven, The Bronx

Q Tavern / 761 Nostrand Ave / Crown Heights, Brooklyn

Gun Post Lanes / 1215 E Gun Hill Road / Williamsbridge, Bronx

Delicatessen / 40 8th Ave., Greenwich Village, Manhattan

St Paul’s Church / 256 W145th Street, Hamilton Heights, Manhattan

Pier 40 / Greenwich Village, Manhattan 

Magic Touch Restaurant / 69 3rd Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn

Smolenski Funeral Home / 1044 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Kingston Lounge / 120 Kingston Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn 

Catania’s Shoe Shop / 3015 Westchester Ave., Pelham, Bronx

Garry Jewelers / 474 5th Ave., Park Slope, Brooklyn

House of Wine & Liquor / 250 East 34th Street, Manhattan

Caffe Roma /  176 Mulberry Street, Little Italy, Manhattan


 Check out San Francisco NEON SPEAKS! A weekend celebration of neon by the bay, coming April 20-22, 2018.  

 From the Shorpy photo blog:

    > Picadilly Circus, London's answer to Times Square, in 1961
    > An extravaganza of period signage (including one little neon goblin) in small town Texas.

 In LA, an arousing exhibit of preserved signs at the Museum of Neon Art in LA.  See also blogger Debra Jane Seltzer's review of the show here.  

 In Anchorage, Alaska, "The fate of the iconic neon palm tree sign that once stood in front of the derelict Paradise Inn on Spenard Road will now be decided by a federal judge."

 Reporting belatedly from Manhattan's Lower East side, the latterday neon landmark Schiller's restaurant has bowed out.

 In Rockland County, NY, someone has tried and failed to sell the wreckage of the Rockland Drive-In Theatre signage for a whopping $19k.  

 And finally, from the extremely depressing news department, confirmed reports came late last week that the El Quijote restaurant on West 23rd Street, in Manhattan's shuttered Chelsea Hotel, will close at the end of March 2018 after an 88 year run.    

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Neon News & Links

 From the bad news department, Angelo's on Mulberry Street in Little Italy suffered a serious fire on February 17, 2018, and will be closed at least for several months. 

Closed indefinitely due to fire: Angelo's of Mulberry Street. (T. Rinaldi)

 The official fork has been stuck in Two Boots Pizza's plan for the former Loft's Candy space on Nassau Street.  A "space for rent" sign has gone up.  This casts serious doubt on the future of the incredible Loft's sign, whose restoration was in progress.

Not so fast: Loft's neon resurrection in doubt. (T. Rinaldi)

 Also from the bad news department: we learned recently that Seward Wines and Liquors on Grand Street is no more.  

RIP: Seward Park Wines & Liquors. (T. Rinaldi)

 From the Shorpy blog, the following: 

      > Neon Central - Times Square NYC, 1957  

      > Anytown Neon - Durham, NC, 1940 

 Check out the American Sign Museum's "Save Our Signs" campaign. 

 A lovely tribute to West 46th Street's legendary Barbetta Restaurant featured in the New York Times, with an honorable mention  for the NY Neon blog, by writer Julie Besonen. 

Pre-neon survivor: Barbetta's opalescent sign glows on over West 46th Street. (T. Rinaldi)

 In Jersey, the great TRENTON MAKES - THE WORLD TAKES sign has been LED-ed.  

 Over at the Bowery Boys podcast, an evocative visit to the low years of Times Square in all its neon-clad glory. 

 While listening to the Bowery Boys reminisce on 42nd Street's bygone grit, feast your eyes on these fantastic photos by Maggie Hop showing Times Square and environs awash in crumbling, grit-encrusted neon signs.  

 And finally, from Debra Jane Seltzer, enough bad news to make you sick for a good long time.  Debra Jane spent the first months of 2018 checking in on a few dozen of the old signs she's photographed across the country.  The results of her survey are just plain heart breaking.  Her state-by-state redux starts here.  

Taking stock at Debra Jane Seltzer's Roadside Architecture blog.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Strand Books Neon

I will grant that my neon-centric worldview has made me abnormally attuned to all things neon.  But on a recent visit to the Strand bookstore here in New York, neon seemed to be everywhere. 

The trend for fake neon in graphic design (as noted in this post from last year) continues, as can be seen in cover art for all sorts of books.  Some of these neon covers, like that of Sheldon and Stefan Nadelman's superb book called Terminal Bar, are at least tangentially related to the subject matter within.  Others, not so much.  

Over on the new releases table, we find Hermione Hoby's novel Neon in Daylight, named in reference to Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems ("Neon in daylight is a great pleasure . . . ").  O'Hara, incidentally, lived just two blocks down from the Strand, in an old building that was destroyed a few years back to make way for a junior sized luxury residential palazzo.

Better still, neon between the covers.  Some old New York signs (neon and other) get their due in Julia Wertz's lovely new book Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City


Up in the photography section, meanwhile, neon makes some resplendent cameos in "Modern Color," a monograph of works by photographer Fred Herzog.  

And then there's I See A City: Todd Webb's New York, an exceptional photographic freeze-frame of the city as it appeared in the 1940s and 50s.  If not the first compendium of NYC street photographs from this era, this is certainly one of the most engaging and drool-inducing I've seen in a long time.

Finally, over by the cash registers, one last little testimonial for neon's place in the iconography of the city:  a nice glamour shot of the Chelsea Hotel sign in a rack of postcards featuring classic images that define the city, from the Staten Island Ferry to the Brooklyn Bridge to the famed WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU coffee cup.  In the New York Neon book, I wrote that the Chelsea Hotel sign's neon tubes are "as much interwoven with the fabric of the city's identity as any landmark of brick and mortar." The sign itself has gone unlit for years now, leaving us to wait and see whether this particular icon will prove more or less ephemeral than its likeness in books and picture postcards.