Tuesday, July 17, 2012

J. Leon Lascoff & Son

I have scrapped my planned blog post this week to run yet another obituary piece, this time for J. Leon Lascoff & Son, "Apothecaries," on the Upper East Side.  The news comes via the blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York.  Sorry to say, I never patronized Lascoff's, so I'll (mostly) leave the memorializing to others and get down to neon business. 

Lascoff's, at 82nd and Lex.  The business served New Yorkers from 1899 until this past weekend.  The sign dates to 1931. (T. Rinaldi)

Suspended over Lascoff's storefront is one of the oldest neon signs in New York, installed in 1931.  The tubes vanished years ago, but the rest is there: raised letters, both serif and sans-, bead-and-reel border molding, and - best of all - that superb, pre-deco, symmetrical silhouette.  It's one of the most significant neon signs in the city.

Lascoff's sign exemplifies typical details common among neon signs of the late '20s and early '30s, including raised lettering, stamped sheet metal border moldings, and a symmetrical silhouette. (T. Rinaldi)

Lascoff's is (was) one of those neighborhood institutions that had been around so long (113 years) it seemed immune from the pressures that have done in so many businesses like it.  The shop was already old when the writer and painter Charles Green Shaw featured it in his book New York, Oddly Enough, back in 1938.  What caught Shaw's eye was not Lascoff's neon sign - then quite ordinary - but an old wooden mortar and pestle that hung just beneath it.  "Established in 1899, Lascoff's has served the Yorkville community ever since, and recently filled its millionth prescription," Shaw wrote.


Lascoff's as pictured in Charles Green Shaw's New York, Oddly Enough, in 1938.  The bottom of the neon sign is visible at top left. (NYPL)

The old mortar and pestle disappeared at some point, leaving just the metal bracket that held it in place.  I called Lascoff's last year to enquire about both signs, but the man I spoke with knew nothing about either.  By appearances, Lascoff's wooden sign was not quite 40 years old when Shaw photographed it.  The store's neon sign (which is featured the neon book) turns 81 this year.  

Lascoff's, elevation sketch.  (T. Rinaldi)

Someone needs to save this sign - do it for New York, do it for cultural heritage, do it for neon - but please, someone, save this sign!  If anyone has any information regarding the owner's intentions for the sign or a means of contacting them, please drop me a line.

Save This Sign. (T. Rinaldi)

• News of Lascoff's closing at JVNY.
• Lascoff's profiled in-depth at Forgotten NY.
 Lascoff's profiled in print in "The Historic Shops & Restaurants of NY" by Ellen Williams.

• A heads-up from my uncle: in Western NY, the landmark Batavia Downs sign has made way for a LED replacement.


  1. Tom what an interesting post! I have walked by this sign for many years. It was great to meet you last night at the Astoria Historical Society!

  2. Thanks Rebecca! Very nice meeting you as well. Real bummer about Lascoff's, fingers crossed for the sign...