On West Houston Street, one of my favorite neon relics goes largely un-noticed in the shadow of the great neon marquee of the Film Forum. At first glance, it’s not much to look at. Give it another look and your keen eye will pick out the sign’s telltale streamlined silhouette and sheet metal box construction that give away its neon origins.
Neon archeology on Houston Street. (T. Rinaldi)
Somewhere along the way someone removed its neon tubes and installed crudely re-lettered panels over the sign’s original faces. Intrigued, I decided to look into the matter on one of my visits to the Municipal Archives down on Chambers Street. Sign sleuthing in the city records is a hit-or-miss affair. Lucky for me, the microfilm gods must have been smiling the day I went to look up this bit of commercial archeology.
Distinctive silhouette, sculpted in sheet metal. (T. Rinaldi)
The city’s circa-1940 tax photo shows this sign in its original livery, advertising the wares of G. Cardarelli & Co., purveyors of “fine furniture”. The sign went up a few years earlier, in 1936. There the trail goes cold: the old DOB (Department of Buildings) docket book reveals the year the sign went up, but sheds no light on its fabricator. For the time being, its design remains unattributed.
The G. Cardarelli sign as it appeared c. 1940. (Municipal Archives)
As for Cardarelli, a Google search turns up a 1991 blurb in New York Magazine that dates the store’s genesis to 1900. A piece in the New York Times from around the same time identifies the company’s founder as a certain Gaetano Cardarelli. In 1936, when the sign went up, the business was under the direction of one Henry Cardarelli, perhaps the founder’s son.
Shades of the old Cardarelli sign can be seen today at C.O. Bigelow on 6th Avenue, installed c. 1938. Could they have been the work of the same sign shop? (Municipal Archives; T. Rinaldi)
By 1994, they were gone. Today 205 West Houston Street is home to United Protective Alarm Systems, whose services this 75-year old sign advertises now. Maybe one day United will give the old girl a nice refurbishment, with letters better tailored for the sign’s handsome shape – and some neon tubes to boot.
A sketch showing how the old Cardarelli sign might look like restored. (T. Rinaldi)