Over the years, B+B contributor Frank Mastropolo has brought us a series on Lower Manhattan’s ghost signs; painted on walls or erected in metal or neon, ghost signs are relics of businesses that vanished long ago.
Schiffer Publishing has just released Mastropolo’s new book, “Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.” With photos of more than 100 signs, the book reveals the stories behind the old ads.
Click through the slideshow to see ten additional ghost signs recently spotted.
R&L Restaurant, 69 Gansevoort Street
R&L Lunch opened in 1938, serving the butchers and longshoremen in the Meatpacking District. In 1955, the eatery was renamed R&L Restaurant. Florent opened in the space in 1985 at a time, the New York Times noted, that the neighborhood hosted “a brand of debauchery that had little in common with the sleek corporate offerings that define the neighborhood today.” Florent closed in 2008 and later R&L became a retail space.
Waverly Smoke Shop, 29 Waverly Place
The Waverly Smoke Shop, across the street from New York University, opened in the 1940s and for decades sold cigarettes, candy, newspapers and NYU gear. Shop owners Mel and Jerry Goldstein were perplexed, the New York Daily News reported in 1991, when they were deluged with requests for NYU tank tops. Fans were trying to emulate Ellen Barkin, who wore the shirt in a scene from the film Switch. When Oren’s Daily Roast closed this year, the smoke shop’s sign was revealed.
Ramon, 201 West Eleventh Street
Ramon Hair Design was a Greenwich Village salon in the 1980s. When Two Boots West Village closed for renovations in 2019, workers removed its signage to reveal Ramon’s ghost sign.
S. Klein, 68 Clinton Street
The flagship of the S. Klein department store chain was open on Union Square from about 1912–1975. S. Klein was founded in 1905 and had other stores in New York and New Jersey. This ghost sign, embedded in the floor at the entrance of the Pig & Khao restaurant, may be the last evidence of the stores in Manhattan.
S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer, 317 East Fifth Street
The retail space down a few steps in the East Village was a bar and grill from at least the 1940s until the 1980s. S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer is apparently a much older tenant, though little is remembered about it. Its ghost sign was revealed during renovations in 2019.
Foot Gear Plus, 131 First Avenue
Foot Gear Plus opened in the East Village in 1980. Owner Tony Scifo told EV Grieve why he decided to close in 2019. “After several years of peaks and valleys in business there were just too many valleys . . . We offered great merchandise and great service — no gimmicks. But we just can’t compete with online.”
Foot Gear’s original sign was revealed by workers in 2019 as the site was being cleared.
Nathaniel Fisher & Co., 146 Duane Street
In the 1880s Duane Street and West Broadway was a neighborhood of shoe manufacturers and dealers. One of the most enduring was Nathaniel Fisher, a manufacturer and importer of shoes and boots. Its founder moved here in the late 1800s and remained at the address until 1953.
Craig’s Shoes, 114 Chambers Street
Craig’s Shoes in Tribeca opened in 1949. Before it closed in 2006, the New York Times noted some of its famous customers. “Senator Charles E. Schumer has picked up Rockport Dressports for $100. And the actor Robert De Niro once sent an autographed picture after an assistant bought shoes for him there.” Renovations in 2019 revealed Craig’s ghost sign.
The Yipster Times, 9 Bleecker Street
The Yipster Times was the house organ of the Yippies, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s anti-war protest group. Founded by Dana Beal in 1972, the newspaper was published sporadically from 1972 to 1979, when its name was changed to Overthrow. Its small staff wrote and edited the paper in a three-story building that served as newsroom, office, dormitory and meeting hall for East Village activists.
Whalebone, 161 Duane Street
While this Whalebone ghost sign in Tribeca has been repainted, it is authentic. The Tribeca Citizen explains that in the second half of the 20th century, the bones of whales were used in corsets, hoop skirts and buggy whips. George Messmann opened the Pacific Whale Company here in 1890. He later told a reporter, “I had that sign painted large and white because I learned as a mere lad that advertising pays.”
As the whale population was decimated and fashions changed, the whale bone industry collapsed. Messmann closed his store in 1920.
Photos by Frank Mastropolo unless noted.