Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hotel Baron, Aleppo

This post is dedicated to all who have suffered and sacrificed for freedom of expression and democracy in Syria.  

(Regular New York Neon programming to resume with the next post.)

Hotel Baron, Aleppo. July 16, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Baron, Aleppo, by day.  July 16, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Baron, Aleppo.  July 16, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Near Al Marjeh Square, Damascus.  July 15, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Al Hamra, Damascus.  July 15, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Alaa Tower, Damascus.  July 15, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Cinema Al Zahraa, Damascus.  July 14, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Cinema Amir, Damascus.  July 14, 2009. (T. Rinaldi)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Losing Lascoff's

A none-too-optimistic update on the ancient sign at Lascoff's Drugs: the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati offered to make arrangements to have the sign brought to its sign heaven in Ohio, so on Saturday (July 21) I went up to the store to leave a note asking the owners to contact the museum if they were interested in working something out.  

Lascoff's incredibly historic sign, with lettering removed, July 21, 2012. (T. Rinaldi)

No one contacted the museum.  Then, on Monday (July 23) I learned (via Wayne Heller at Lite Brite Neon) that the sign had been listed for sale on Craigslist.  

Lascoff's "museum quality" sign could have been yours via Craigslist. (Craigslist)

The ad was posted on July 16 with the caveat that the sign had to be removed by the next day, but the listing remained online through the 23rd (it's gone now) and the sign was still there as of Tuesday the 24th (though most of its lettering has been carefully removed, apparently for salvage).  I replied to the ad but once again got no answer, so, sadly, we are left to watch and wait. 

Lascoff's gutted: Saturday, July 21, 2012. (T. Rinaldi)


What can I say that hasn't been said already, except - three lovely lady restaurateurs, three lovely signs.  Let's hope Sylvia's will be here for a long time to come.

From top: Sylvia's at 328 Lenox Ave.; Elaine's, formerly at 1703 Second Ave.; and Fedora, in its old guise, at 239 West Fourth Street. (T. Rinaldi)


• On a happier note, Debra Jane is back on the road, making daily posts brimming with vintage sign porn par excellence through mid-August.
• By way of JVNY - Manganaro's closed back in March and now the sign is gone too: replaced, at least, with a well-intended approximation of its predecessor.  (The new business looks promising as well.)
• Special thanks to the Postcards from Hell's Kitchen blog for the shout-out this week!
• From the Up-For-Grabs department: Duke's Bar on East 19th Street is entertaining bids for a c. 1950s liquor store sign that has decorated its back room for the past decade or so.  Photo here. 

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.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Da-Nite Neon Signs

One of the more nagging frustrations of researching the neon book was how little information I managed to find on Da-Nite (pronounced "day-night") Neon Signs.  Despite being one of New York's most prominent illuminated sign shops for more than fifty years, I have thus far come up with almost nothing on this company.  A similarly-named Da-Nite Sign Co. has operated in Columbus, Ohio since 1954, but a nice young woman who answered the phone there assured me that the two firms are of no relation.

"Sign Architects since 1915," "Manufacturers of Brilliant Neon as Used at the World's Fair," and "The Finest Neon Showroom in New York."   Da-Nite display advertisements from the Manhattan Classified Telephone Directory, from top - 1935, 1950 and 1960. (NYPL, N-YHS)

Based on Da-Nite Neon's classified advertisements in the Manhattan yellow pages, one gathers that the company operated from 1915 to the mid-1970s.  Neon signs themselves didn't show up in New York until the 1920s, leaving one to wonder what the firm might have called itself in its earlier years.  After 1965 it seems to have changed its name to "Day & Nite Neon Signs". Its distinctive advertisements began to appear in the phone book by the early 1930s, and remained there complete with the company's very deco-style lettering for the next forty years. 

Da-Nite's mark at 79th Street Wine and Spirits. (T. Rinaldi)

At least two Da-Nite signs can still be found in Manhattan, both on the west side.  If these examples are any indication, the firm's body of work must have been very impressive indeed.  79th Street Wine and Spirits, at 230 West 79th Street, retains simple but handsome vertical and fascia signs once typical of midcentury liquor stores throughout the city.  Only the vertical sign bears Da-Nite's marking, but the two signs are very well matched, suggesting the same provenance for both.  

79th Street Wine & Spirits.  I especially enjoy the "Q" in "LIQUOR" on the fascia sign. (T. Rinaldi)

Records at the Building Department fail to indicate an installation date, but their style implies something from the Truman administration. The ensemble is complemented by the older blinking sign of the Dublin House bar across the street, making the corner of 79th and Broadway one of the most memorable in the city – at least for the neon aficionado. 

79th Street Wine & Spirits.  (T. Rinaldi)

A still more pleasing bit of Da-Nite's handiwork can be found on Eighth Avenue and 44th Street, at Smith's Bar and Restaurant.

Smith's Bar and Restaurant, 701 Eighth Avenue. (T. Rinaldi)

This especially appealing set of signs served as the backdrop for my recent interview on WNBC's "The Debrief with David Ushery."  The signs were installed in 1954.  22 years later they enjoyed a brief cameo in the closing credits of Martin Scorsese's 1976 film "Taxi Driver."

Smith's Bar looks much the same today (above) as it did more than 30 years ago in "Taxi Driver."  (NBC Universal; "Taxi Driver")

The Smith's Bar signs are painted black now, but until recently their sheet metal remained in its original unpainted glory, though the aluminum (?) sign faces had begun to look a little worse for wear.  Vacant electrode housings within the letters BAR indicate that these once enjoyed an additional set of tubes.


Smith's Bar, before (above) and after (below) the paint job. (T. Rinaldi)

For the past year or so, the lettering BAR and RESTAURANT has flashed on-and-off in alternating sequence.  Probably not many passersby wonder, as I do, whether the sign flashed originally or if this new blinking act simply recalls a flashier era in New York neon.  This is a secret Da-Nite seems to have taken to the grave.

Schematic sketches of the Smith's Bar signs accompanied their original permit application at the Department of Buildings in 1954. (New York City Department of Buildings)

Da-Nite Neon at nyneon.org.

• At the Lost City blog, parsing out the history of the Hotel Roger Smith (one of NYC's last hotels neon).

• By way of John Anderson at Mega Volt Neon, an almost hypnotic Parisian apocathary sign.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Neon's Red Glare

July 4th: a good day for bar-b-cues, parades, not going to work, and - that's right - American flags rendered in neon.

I spotted this little darlin' some years ago at a newsstand in the Union Square subway station.  It has since disappeared, I am sorry to report.  But as a quantity item, there seem to be others around.  Keep an eye out and drop me a line if you spot one!

If that doesn't get your patriotic juices flowing, there's also this handsome jobber, which caught my eye from the window of the New York Nail salon on Route 9 in Hyde Park, New York.

Illuminated Engineering Practice, 1916. (NYPL)

In researching the neon book, I found that electrified displays of patriotism are nothing new.  Precedents go back to the earliest days of incandescent bulb signs.  William Hammer, the Edison-associated credited with creating the world's first electric sign, is said to have mocked-up animated electric flags as early as 1889.  In the years leading up to America's entry into WWI, animated flag signs became profuse: Betts & Betts, then the industry's most prominent maker of "flasher" mechanisms for electric signs, even introduced a special automated switching device intended for animated flags by 1916.

Stars and Stripes aglow, around the time of the First World War.  (Signs of the Times magazine, Feb-Mar 1916)

Illuminated patriotism seems to have subsided somewhat during the interwar years, but made a come-back during WWII, by which time Americans had turned to neon as their illuminant of choice.  Today one can still find a few neon iterations of Old Glory out and about.  But here as with so many other displays, the trend is toward LEDs, as the recent conversion (from fluorescent lamps to LEDs) of the illuminated flag at the Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station attests.  Proof thro' the night that our flag, if not our neon, is still there.
The Armed Forces Recruiting Station in Times Square, before (above) and after (below) LED-ification. (T.Rinaldi)