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Exhibit Lifts the Curtain On Legendary Rock Promoter Bill Graham

Costume worn by Bill Graham at the Grateful Dead’s New Year’s Eve 1988 show at the Oakland Coliseum. (Photos: Frank Mastropolo)

Concert promoter Bill Graham brought rock royalty to the East Village in 1968 when he opened Fillmore East. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Who, Elton John, the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton all performed at the former movie theater at 105 Second Avenue. Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution explores the impresario’s life and career in an exhibition that opens today at the New-York Historical Society. More →

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Can Political Buttons Tell Us Who’s Going to Win the Election?

(Photos by Frank Mastropolo)

Iowa may be overrun with presidential candidates before tonight’s caucuses but campaign junkies gathered Sunday at Seward Park High School for the annual Political Memorabilia Show. The school’s alumni association and the Big Apple Chapter of the American Political Items Collectors presented a dizzying array of posters, buttons and banners dating to the 1800s. More →

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New Book Reveals Downtown Ghost Signs Hiding in Plain Sight

(From The New York Public Library)

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.

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Hate Trump? There’s a Button For That

Even Super Bowl Sunday could not keep Donald Trump from dominating the discussion at the Political Memorabilia Show at Seward Park High School. The school’s alumni association partnered with the Big Apple Chapter of the American Political Items Collectors to feature buttons and posters that championed political heroes and hacks, pop culture icons and social causes of the past.

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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.


The Fillmore East, ‘Church of Rock N Roll,’ Recalled By Those Who Helped Open It 50 Years Ago

During 1967’s Summer of Love, the Village Theater at 105 Second Ave. was New York’s premier rock music venue. The Anderson Theater, two blocks south, competed with rock acts in early 1968. But the landscape changed later that year when San Francisco promoter Bill Graham converted the Village Theater into the Fillmore East. Most of Graham’s technical staff defected from the Anderson, which soon closed. Graham’s “Church of Rock ‘n’ Roll” presented stars that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Elton John.

The Fillmore East’s March 8, 1968 debut show featured Big Brother & the Holding Company with Janis Joplin a month after the band rocked the Anderson. The show also featured blues great Albert King and folk rocker Tim Buckley. Graham’s eclectic lineups exposed rock fans to the best of jazz, folk, blues, Latin and Eastern music and made the East Village the center of the rock universe. Competition from arenas like Madison Square Garden and increased salary demands from bands convinced Graham to close the Fillmore East on June 27, 1971. Graham died in a helicopter crash in 1991.

The 50th anniversary of the Fillmore East will be celebrated tonight, March 8, at Theatre 80 in the East Village, and next month the Who will release a live album recorded at the Fillmore East in 1968. For an inside look at its history, we talked with some of the people who worked backstage and on stage at the storied venue.

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The Anderson Theater, Forgotten Forerunner of the Fillmore East

Unlike the former Fillmore East two blocks north, there is no plaque at 66 Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets to honor the Anderson Theater. The forgotten Anderson kicked off with a series of rock concerts sponsored by Crawdaddy magazine on February 2, 1968 with Country Joe and the Fish, Jim Kweskin and Soft White Underbelly, predecessor to Blue Oyster Cult. Notable bands followed in the months ahead: the Yardbirds, Traffic, Procol Harum, Moby Grape and Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin. Big Brother’s Feb. 17 show introduced Joplin to many New York rock fans.

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Scorsese Continues Little Italying LES For Irishman Shoot

Work continues apace as Orchard and Broome Streets turn into 1970s Little Italy for the upcoming filming of The Irishman. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the Netflix film stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci.

Yesterday we showed you the replica of the original Umberto’s Clam House. The mob favorite, at 129 Mulberry Street, at Hester Street, was where gangster Joey Gallo met his fate. Era-correct yellow street signs that will be used for the film show the attention to detail Scorsese is famous for.

Many of the other faux storefronts also depict real businesses. Forzano Italian Imports and E. Rossi Italy Music & Book, from Friday’s story, were Mulberry Street mainstays back in the day.

Click through our slideshow to see the latest reveals.