I conceived of Forgotten NY in 1998 out of the floating images of rusted lampposts, hidden alleys, bricked streets, ancient business signs, NYC neighborhoods that the guidebooks don’t acknowledge such as Georgetown, Eastchester, Throgs Neck, Winfield and Eltingville, as well as the ghost ads advertising long-deceased businesses that can still be found on walls all over the city.
In 1996, I had become acquainted with a couple of websites authored by Jeff Saltzman (Streetlite Nuts, depicting and describing NYC lampposts) and Steve Anderson (NYC Roads, a summary of the history, current conditions, and proposals for the future concerning NYC’s major expressways and parkways). Jeff has since abdicated his role as NYC lamppost maven, having moved to North Carolina, while Steve’s NYCRoads has been a great success and he has expanded the concept to other cities.
In early July 1998 I was seated in my office at a well-known direct marketer in Long Island when someone, I forget who, left the New York Times article you see at left, on my desk. I was enraptured as I read about a man who was just as interested in the fading remnants of a forgotten NY as I was, and had followed Jeff and Steve into documenting on the World Wide Web, as it was known in those days, his discoveries. His name was Frank Jump and he ran, and still runs, a website dedicated to the “faded ads” that dot NYC’s landscape.
1998 was still the wild west days of the internet but the Web was beginning to assert itself as the #1 disseminator of information; where previously, amateur chroniclers had to finance and print up periodicals known as “zines” to get across their obsessions and desires, here was a golden opportunity for a cheap means of getting across what you wanted to say. The word “blog” hadn’t been invented yet, but thousands of mavens were beginning to poke their heads above the muck and make their thoughts known worldwide. Today, “bloggers” influence elections, elect players to All-Star Games, influence the entertainment industry and everything else in every corner of life you can name, but in the late 1990s, it was mainly a hobbyists’ forum.
It was this incredible Frank Jump photograph as much as any other that prompted me to sketch out on scrap paper what I wanted for my own website, which I called Forgotten NY that first day in the well-known direct marketing office. This is a circa 1890 ad for a cleaning solution produced by Reckitt’s known simply as ‘Blue’ and was hidden for many years behind a building on Washington Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn; when the building was torn down, lo and behold: there it was. (My favorite shade of blue, by the way; I suppose someone can figure out how to capture the CMYK value from this on-screen image but I don’t.)
ForgottenFan Michael Puzanskas writes to say: C-67.45%, M-34.9%, Y-7.84%, K-1.57%. The original color, considering fade, may have been closer to C-74.51%, M-48.63%, Y-23.92, K-10.59%. These percentages were taken from RGB montior samples.
Anyway, after sketching out what components would make up Forgotten NY I grabbed a camera (one I hadn’t used for years) and set out snapping everything I remembered in my head that fit the Forgotten NY format. If you know what my older FNY pages are from those years ago, you also know that I was a pretty crappy photographer in those days. I have since become a better one; I merely shoot on the sunny side now.
Of course, I contacted Frank and he has become a staunch Forgotten Ally over the years. The day I met him for the first time, ForgottenTour #1 on June 1, 1999, he related the story of how he walked the el tracks on the J line in Bedford-Stuyvesant to better get a picture. I have met many other people who will do even more daring feats to acquire just the right shot.
Frank Jump’s photos have appeared in “legitimate” press over the years; at left is a July 1999 spread in the Times, and at right is a May 2005 page I collaborated with him on in the Daily News, edited by my friend, author Dawn Eden, who was with the paper then.
Frank continues to limn ancient ads on his site, Fading Ad Blog. Frank, a NYC teacher, has beaten cancer, is beating the HIV virus, and married his partner, Vincenzo Aiosa, in 2004. He is also the uncle of Rosario Dawson — we’ll have to have her on a Forgotten Tour sometime.
Frank Jump’s first book, Fading Ads of New York City, is out on History Press in November 2011.