Thursday, February 23, 2012

Harlem Neon Nocturne

Forgive me - a short post this week, but a pretty exciting one, I think.  I ran across two fascinating film clips the other day.  They show 125th Street in Harlem on a cold winter's night in 1964.  If you like the old signs as much as I do, this footage will really get your blood flowing. 

Click here for the first film.  (Critical Past)

One of the most fascinating things about these old films is that they show how so many storefront signs were once animated.  Animation is gone from virtually all of the signs from this period that survive in New York today - Manganaro's flashing sign on Ninth Avenue being about the only one that I can think of that still so much as blinks on and off. It's a pretty safe bet that a lot of the old signs that survive today were intended to flash when they were installed.  As the years went by, their owners likely grew weary of having to service their clunky old flashing mechanisms.

Click here for the second film.  (Critical Past


I came across these films in searching around for old photos of the wonderful vertical sign at the former Blumstein Department Store, which I confirmed this weekend at the NYPL is the work of the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corp., installed in 1936.  The sign still exists under very boring new vinyl faces installed for Touro College.  The cover-up is a bit of a heartbreak, but we can be grateful the sign is still there at all: of the many that appear in this footage, Blumstein's is one of only two that survive - the Apollo Theater (installed 1940) being the other, though what you'll see there now is a good facsimile of the original. The others - the Spot Lite Bar, Baby Grand Chinese, Lido Bar & Grill, Sugar Ray's, Loew's Victoria, West End theater, Ripley's Clothes, London Character Shoes - have closed up or vanished.

Unfortunately, Critical Past (the web site that hosts these films) doesn't seem to offer information on the provenance of this footage.  The date given (February 1969) seems to be wrong, given what's showing at the Loew's Victoria.  They appear to have been shot by the same person, who did a lovely job indeed.  Critical Past does have a great variety of interesting old films, though, including more historic footage of neon signs in New York and elsewhere - all of it for sale.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

• The neon book has reached draft galleys - lookin' good!
• Bad news from Brooklyn: Hinsch's in trouble again (by way of JVNY)
• I have seen the Artkraft Strauss collection at the NYPL, and it is good.
• Check out Cold War Polish Neon online (and brush up on your Polish).
• Over at Project Neon, Kirsten has brought a number of new (to me) old signs to light, including:
   - Westchester Pharmacy in the Bronx
   - Lorraine's Bar and Grill, also in the Bronx
   - Midland Wine & Liquor, in Jamaica
• Doh!  I missed the deadline to nominate neon signs to WNYC's "New York in 10 Objects" project.
• This weekend I head to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit the American Sign Museum.

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