Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New York Neon In The News

As a rule, I like to keep these blog posts a bit more substantive than simple ledger entries of media mentions.  This week, however, finds me still swamped promoting the neon book.  So – here are some media mentions to tide you over, and a few small news items.  

And in the meantime, please join me at the Skyscraper Museum on Thursday, November 29, 2012, for an hour-long old neon appreciation sojourn.  I’m hoping for a full-fledged return to the usual spellbinding content next week.  

• Chris Kokenes of CNN interviewed me for this piece, which appeared on Monday (11/26/12).
• A nice redux in the Urban Resources blog.
• A story and interview in Saturday’s (11/24/12) Wall Street Journal by Andy Battaglia.

• Bad news on 3rd Ave – Sarge's Deli has burned down.  From the JVNY and Lost City blogs.  What Sarge’s sign lacked in exposed tubage (channel letters closed in plexi) it more than made up for with great script letterforms – and even greater food and ambience within.  Here's wishing them (and their upstairs neighbors) a speedy recovery.

 Over at the Lost City blog, two old NYC neon signs I'd never seen before – the Skyview Deli in Riverdale and the Pitta Funeral Home in Brooklyn – one of which is already gone (curses!). 


 Nov. 29, 2012 at the Skyscraper Museum
 Jan. 24, 2013 at the 92nd Street Y TriBeCa 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Talking Neon

This week I busied myself taking care of something that's been on my to-do list for a long time: a lecture (or "talk", "presentation", or "slide show", if you like) in which I will ramble for an hour or so on the subject of – what else – New York Neon. My first speaking engagement is this coming Monday evening, November 19, 2012 – please stop by if you're in the neighborhood! There will be lots of pretty pictures to look at, so even if my droning bores you to tears, I can at least promise some neon eye candy.

In any event, the lecture prep got the better of my grand ambitions for this week's blog post.  Stay tuned for more elaborate posts to come.  In the meantime, here are a few odds and ends:


Great coverage in Friday's New York Post (11/16/12) by Chris Erikson.  Thanks Chris for letting me talk your ear off this week!

Mike Welton of the Architects and Artisans blog wrote up a nice piece earlier this week (11/14/12) illustrated with a nice selection of photos from the book – all five boroughs get coverage!


 From Yonkers, unhappy news that Nathan's will close in the next week or so; the building (and sign?) are set to be demolished (a smaller Nathan's is in the cards for a proposed new building on the site).  Sad news on one of the greatest signs in the tristate.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY!  A great way to pitch in for small businesses in NYC - neon bedecked and otherwise - many of which are still feeling the pinch of our week without power. 

Word from Roger Borg of 419 Neon that the Jersey Turnpike is retiring all of its neon alert signs.  Always wanted to get a shot of one of these glamourgirls in action!  (Fortunately a few folks over at flickr did the deed.)

Have you seen this really great looking new book?  "SignPainters" – by Faythe Levine and Same Macon, with a forward by Ed Ruscha – my Christmas list keeps getting longer…


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012

Shore Is Gone

For all their prominence as landmarks, old signs are frail and ephemeral things in the end.  Hurricane Sandy reminded us of this last week, the storm's long list of casualties including two of New York's best landmark signs.  

Lobster carnage at the City Island Lobster House, 691 Bridge Street in the Bronx.  (

In the Bronx, Sandy reduced the big neon crustacean over the City Island Lobster House to a sad pile of twisted metal and broken glass.  Near as I could tell, the big lobster wasn't particularly old (it seems to have been added to an existing roof sign in the late 1990s).  Though not so much historic, the lobster endeared itself to many as one of New York's most iconic neon signs, and probably City Island's most recognized landmark, a true signature piece of this Bronx enclave community.  The Lobster House itself has fortunately survived the destruction and is up and running again.  Plans for a new neon lobster are in the works, I am told, though the new lobster will probably be somewhat scaled down from the old one, sadly.

The City Island Lobster House in better days. (Kirsten Hively / Project Neon)

Across the city, the art deco vertical sign of Coney Island's Shore Theatre was a Landmark legally as well as literally.  Post-storm photos of the carnage appeared Tuesday on Tricia Vita's Amusing The Zillion blog, showing the sign's mangled remains dangling over Surf Avenue from the historic theater's facade. 

Wreckage of the Shore Theatre's art deco vertical sign, installed c. 1939. ( Krause

The sign was not quite as old as the theater, which opened as the Loew's Coney Island in 1925 with marquee and vertical signs lit by incandescent bulbs.  The original incandescent signs disappeared around 1939 to make way for a set of streamlined, neon-lit replacements, which included the just-destroyed vertical sign (the neon marquee was already gone).  These were likely produced by Artkraft Strauss, which did most of the work for New York-area Loews theaters by contract. 

The Shore Theatre sign was a Coney Island landmark.  (T. Rinaldi) 

Loew's seems to have employed a few standard designs for its theater signage over the years.  The Loew's Coney Island's vertical replacement sign had at least one identically styled sibling, over at the Loew's Oriental on 86th Street in Brooklyn.  The Oriental has lost its sign and marquee but still stands today (it's now a Marshall's).  The Loew's Coney Island meanwhile kept its sign, which was neatly re-lettered from LOEWS to SHORE when the theater changed hands and was re-named around 1964.  

The Loew's Oriental on 86th Street bore a twin replacement sign. (American Classic Images)

The sad irony is that this was one of very few neon signs in New York that enjoyed the protection of the city's Landmarks Commission (the theater was Landmarked in 2010).  Protected from man, but not from nature, it turns out.  Plans for the future of the long vacant theater are still formative, but here's hoping its Landmarked status will ensure at least a good facsimile, perhaps incorporating salvaged parts from the original.

All things considered, a few smashed up signs are the least of of the troubles still facing NYC's hard-hit low-lying areas, and the thousands still without power, heat and water more than a week after the storm.  Even some areas relatively unscathed are still without vital transit connections.  Here are some ways to help the many who are still in need: