Ghost signs

No Comments

Is This the Last Relic of the Hippies on St. Marks Place?

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

It couldn’t have been easy being a barber on St. Marks Place during the hippie era but somehow one shop has survived. Now called the St. Marks Barber Shop, the haircutter has been around since the 1960s or ’70s, according to Albert, one of the shop’s barbers.

Recovering hippies may recall when this was the Royal Unisex Barber Shop, located across St. Marks from the Electric Circus. A ghost sign, with mind-blowing psychedelic lettering, was covered by a new sign for the shop in 2017 but was recently resurrected.

For more ghost signs of the East Village and Lower East Side, check out our series.

1 Comment

More Great Ghost Signs of the East Village and LES

We’re back with the fifth in our series of ghost signs. Click the photos to see artifacts of businesses that have long disappeared.

<STRONG>Edelstein Bros. Pawnbrokers, 233 East 14th St.</STRONG>

Edelstein Bros. Pawnbrokers, 233 East 14th St.

Jazz great Charlie Parker kept a chronology of the last 10 years of his life, which was published as Bird's Diary. Its last page shows a pawn shop ticket for Parker's famous King Super 20 alto sax from Edelstein Bros. dated Jan. 24, 1955, less than two months before his death.

According to Walter Grutchfield the Edelstein Brothers, Isaac and Max, moved to the 14th St. location in 1945. The brothers inherited the business from their father Simon in 1875. Edelstein Bros. remained at this location until 1981.

<strong>Burger-Klein, 28 Ave. A</strong>

Burger-Klein, 28 Ave. A

Fifty years ago, Ave. A was a mecca for furniture retailers. Nine stores stood cheek to jowl between Houston St. and 7th St. including Tifford's (107 Ave. A), Greenstein & Sons (26 Ave. A) and Lichtenberg's (48 Ave. A). Burger-Klein sported a distinctive cube-shaped sign that remained for years after the store closed but was removed in 2014.

<STRONG>Benson Furniture, 6 Ave. A</STRONG>

Benson Furniture, 6 Ave. A

The Ave. A furniture district is gone but the ghost sign of Benson Furniture has survived. Turn the corner on Houston St. and a skinny sign tucked away on the side of 244 Houston St. still beckons furniture shoppers looking for a good deal.

<strong>The Industrial National Bank, 72 2nd Ave.</strong>

The Industrial National Bank, 72 2nd Ave.

The design of the Industrial National Bank remains as unique today as it did on its opening in 1929. "The architects had produced a startlingly different structure," explains Daytonian in Manhattan. "The upper floors exploded in color and fancy. While the overall style was vaguely Renaissance Revival, the green and beige terra cotta spandrel tiles and the rope-twist engaged columns added an exotic air."

By 1931 Continental Bank & Trust moved in and the building has remained occupied by a variety of banks ever since, which has helped preserve its façade. Today the building is a branch of Bank of America but "The Industrial National Bank" remains etched in the roofline on 4th St.

<strong>Machinery Exchange, 136 Baxter St.</strong>

Machinery Exchange, 136 Baxter St.

When it closed in 2006 the Grand Machinery Exchange was the last artifact of a once-bustling downtown machine district. The Exchange was a showroom for used equipment used by nearby bronze forgers, book printers, food canners and garment makers. The New York Times explained that here "a tribe of used-machine dealers gathered, most of them former junk peddlers, and their refurbished presses, shapers and grinders kept the factories humming." As factories moved out of the area and fax machines and the Internet connected buyers and sellers, a central location of machinery was no longer needed.

The Machinery Exchange, opened in 1927, was not the building's first occupant. The Baxter St. building was erected in 1915 as a stable for the Police Headquarters on Centre St. Today it is called the 136 Baxter Condominiums, but some of the barely-legible Exchange signage remains.

<strong>Machinery Exchange, 136 Baxter St.</strong>

Machinery Exchange, 136 Baxter St.

When it closed in 2006 the Grand Machinery Exchange was the last artifact of a once-bustling downtown machine district. The Exchange was a showroom for used equipment used by nearby bronze forgers, book printers, food canners and garment makers. The New York Times explained that here "a tribe of used-machine dealers gathered, most of them former junk peddlers, and their refurbished presses, shapers and grinders kept the factories humming." As factories moved out of the area and fax machines and the Internet connected buyers and sellers, a central location of machinery was no longer needed.

The Machinery Exchange, opened in 1927, was not the building's first occupant. The Baxter St. building was erected in 1915 as a stable for the Police Headquarters on Centre St. Today it is called the 136 Baxter Condominiums, but some of the barely-legible Exchange signage remains.

<strong>Kletzker Brotherly Aid Society, 5 Ludlow St.</strong>

Kletzker Brotherly Aid Society, 5 Ludlow St.

In the late 19th century, the Kletzker Brotherly Aid Society was one of many landsmanschaftn, organizations that provided medical and financial help to Jewish immigrants from a specific hometown – in this case, Kletsk, Poland. The Lower East Side notes, "At its humblest, the landsmanshaft was simply an association of people from the old town who could provide the lonely immigrant with moral support, and perhaps with modest funds to take care of such stark necessities as medical care or burial. More prosperous associations could help struggling businessmen get started, or even build their own synagogues or gathering places."

The building was sold in 1911 and since 1930 a series of funeral homes have occupied the ornate building. Today Boe Fook Funeral Home serves the Chinese community there.

<STRONG>Infants' Wear, 21 Ave. A</STRONG>

Infants' Wear, 21 Ave. A

For decades, Ave. A was the destination to shop for baby carriages, strollers, cribs and toys. Ben's Juvenile Mart (87 Ave. A) and Schachter's Babyland (81 Ave. A), with its kiddie horse ride in front, were a few doors apart. Schneider's Juvenile Furniture (20 Ave. A) on the corner of 2nd St. was the last to leave the neighborhood in 2004.

Across Ave. A from Schneider's was another kids store whose name is unknown. Its gilded glass signs advertising children's dresses and suits, underwear and "novelties" remained hidden for decades until they were discovered in 2016 by the owners of 2A Bar. "We were simply doing routine renovations on the façade of the building to fix our windows," says Laura McCarthy, co-owner of 2A since 1984. "Lo and behold, we found these signs hiding out for decades upon decades underneath."

<strong>Infants' Wear, 21 Ave. A</strong>

Infants' Wear, 21 Ave. A

McCarthy found that one of the six original panes was missing. Local artist and patron Lisa Barnstone created a replacement that reads "2A Bar." "She was able to beautifully replicate the missing plate in the same style and font as the originals and it blends right in," says McCarthy. The bar features a small gallery of historical photos of the corner storefront that includes its past life as a dentist's office.

<strong>Restaurant Supplies at Alabama House, 221 Bowery</strong>

Restaurant Supplies at Alabama House, 221 Bowery

The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors notes that "by 1890 it was estimated that 9,000 homeless men, many of them alcoholics or gambling addicts, found lodging in Bowery flophouses. Accommodations could be a person-sized spot to flop on a wooden floor in a large open ward for five cents or a wooden cubicle about four-feet-by-seven for 15 cents."

The Alabama House was built in 1889 to fill that need. Daytonian in Manhattan provides an exhaustive account of the “loafers, lounge lizards, dancing men and kindred Broadway and Bowery folk" who flopped at the Alabama. A faded ghost sign for the hotel is visible on the north side of the building.

<strong>Restaurant Supplies at Alabama House, 221 Bowery</strong>

Restaurant Supplies at Alabama House, 221 Bowery

By the end of the 20th century, the Bowery's Skid Row was replaced by the Restaurant Supply District. Chair-Up, a supplier of chairs, stools and tables, moved into the storefront in 1984 and covered the façade with huge signs. When Chair-Up moved to Delancey St., the removal of its awning revealed painted glass signs that advertise coffee urns, steam tables and other restaurant supplies. By their age, the signs may have been for Advance Kitchen, Chair-Up's predecessor.

<strong>Witty Brothers, 50-52 Eldridge St.</strong>

Witty Brothers, 50-52 Eldridge St.

In 1939 the Witty family – four brothers and a cousin – took over the Lower East Side clothing shop founded by their grandfather in 1888. Witty Brothers became a chain of six stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn that sold high quality men's wear. The eight-story Eldridge St. manufacturing plant employed 400 people, according to Distinguished Jews of America. Witty Brothers was acquired by Eagle Clothes in 1962. Infamous New York notes that when notorious mobster Monk Eastman was found shot to death on 14th St. and 4th Ave. in 1920, detectives found a Witty Brothers tag inside his jacket. The tag read, "E. Eastman, October 22, 1919—No 17,434—W.B.” After the murder, Henry Witty told the New York Tribune, “Monk Eastman, the old time gang leader … we have made clothes for him for 19 years. The last suit we made for him was delivered Oct. 21, this year.”

<strong>Martin Albert Custom Draperies, 288 Grand St.</strong>

Martin Albert Custom Draperies, 288 Grand St.

In 1980 friends Al Harary and Martin Zeliger founded Martin Albert Custom Decorators at 288 Grand St. The custom drapery store had a small upholstery business around the corner on Eldridge St. "On Sundays you couldn't move on that street," says Harary. "We had a guard at the door, we couldn't let everybody in at one time."

Its two-story sign, with a bold red arrow pointing to the storefront, was painted a year or two after the store opened. "We're looking at about $300 to paint the sign and considering how they designed the lettering [laughs] it was a little rough. I think it was a guy with a scaffold. We didn't have money for sign painters. A year or two ago somebody painted over the sign so it wouldn't disappear from the world. Kind of an amateur restoration."

Martin Albert Interiors moved to 19th St. in 1993. In 2012 Martin Albert moved to 257 W. 39th St., where today it creates custom interior designs and upholstery that have appeared on the Today show, Saturday Night Live and Sex and the City.

<STRONG>First Roumanian-American Congregation, 89-93 Rivington St.</STRONG>

First Roumanian-American Congregation, 89-93 Rivington St.

The First Roumanian-American Congregation, a synagogue built more than 150 years ago, was known as the "Cantor's Carnegie Hall" for the acoustics created by its high ceiling. The synagogue was torn down in 2006 after its roof collapsed but its entrance's ghost sign remains. According to At the Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, Jacob Pincus – who would go on to achieve fame as opera star Jan Peerce – was one of many cantors "drawn by the synagogue's magnificent acoustics … entertainers Eddie Cantor and Red Buttons were in the congregation's choir. George Burns was a member … Edward G. Robinson lived on Broome St. for a while and celebrated his bar mitzvah" at the synagogue.

<strong>Max Feinberg, 86 Orchard St.</strong>

Max Feinberg, 86 Orchard St.

Pushcarts dominated the streets of the Lower East Side before they were banned in the 1930s but local businessman Max Feinberg thought big. Feinberg bought the building at 86 Orchard St. in 1928 and established his clothing business on the street still famous for its storefront merchants.

"Feinberg provided ready-to-wear children’s clothing, and sold them at wholesale prices on the ground floor of his building, while holding his office on the 2nd floor and storage on the 3rd," notes the Tenement Museum.

<strong>BONUS: Thomas Beauty Salon / Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St.</strong>

BONUS: Thomas Beauty Salon / Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St.

Paul Devitt converted the venerable salon into a bar in 1995 and the concept has spread across the U.S. Beauty Bar customers can sit under the salon's original hair dryers and enjoy a manicure with their martinis.

<strong>BONUS: Thomas Beauty Salon / Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St.</strong>

BONUS: Thomas Beauty Salon / Beauty Bar, 231 E. 14th St.

Though the retro signage at the Beauty Bar seems authentic, its design is based on the original signs of the Thomas Beauty Salon, a 14th Street fixture for 40 years. "We had the original signage for a few years, but had to replace them with similar style signage, due to damage and age," explains Michael Stewart, managing partner of the "beauty saloon." "The only original sign is the one inside the display window."

Photos by Frank Mastropolo

No Comments

A Favorite Ghost Sign Quietly Vanishes in the East Village

Before. (Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

Lanza’s Italian restaurant opened in 1904 at 168 First Ave., an East Village favorite until it closed in 2016. A regular customer, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, was Carmine “Lilo” Galante, boss of the Bonanno crime family. Lanza’s had a reputation as a mob hangout since the Bonanno and Columbo families dined there.

For perhaps the entire life of Lanza’s, all its customers passed under a turn of the century ad for PN Corsets. The sign was there in 1993 when Woody Allen used Lanza’s for a restaurant scene in Manhattan Murder Mystery. In 2015 we featured the PN ad, painted on the adjoining building, in a collection of neighborhood ghost signs.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

For the Record, J&R Music World Is Not Actually Back in the Needles Business

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

Last week was Record Store Day. This week is record store back in the day. This ghost sign was recently revealed during the demolition of the J&R Music World strip of stores on Park Row. The pitch for “tapes” probably dates the sign to the mid-sixties but vinyl was still king as “needles” takes the top rung. The word “stereo” is obscured above the cool music notes.

Click here for more ghost sings around town.

No Comments

Sign of the Times: A Cuban Relic in the West Village

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

(Photo: Frank Mastropolo)

In light of President Obama’s momentous meeting with Raul Castro in Cuba today, it’s worth pointing out this ghost sign on the corner of Avenue of the Americas and King Street. It’s one of the few remaining emblems of the countries of the Western Hemisphere to hang on lampposts along the avenue.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

More Great Ghost Signs of the East Village and LES

All photos: Frank Mastropolo.

With the rapid pace of development in the Lower East Side and East Village, it’s remarkable that so many ghost signs – ads that have long outlived their businesses – have survived. As you’ll see, sometimes progress can also reveal long-hidden signs. In January we brought you our Top 10 favorite ghost signs but there are too many good ones left to stop now. Click through the slideshow that follows to see our picks, then leave your own in the comments.

Keep Reading »

No Comments

Top 10 Ghost Signs of the East Village and LES

Photo:

(Photos: Frank Mastropolo)

Though many lament the frenzy of change in New York’s oldest neighborhoods, there are still remnants of the past to see if you’d look up from your smartphone. Ghost signs, advertising signage that has survived long after a business has gone bust, are still around… but are disappearing fast.

Click through the slideshow to see our favorites, then leave your own in the comments.
Keep Reading »