I have been featuring Bay Ridge quite a bit this year — a ForgottenTour visited on 8/17/13 — and since my dentist is still there, I find myself going back to my old hometown quite often. Despite his having caused me a lot of pain and expense there last 30 years, my dentist, Mark deBock, is the reason I can speak and eat, and I gifted him with a ForgottenBook several years ago.
I had just been turned out from the House of Pain for another plate fitting on 75th Street and 4th Avenue in April 2013 when I decided to wander down 5th Avenue, the goal being Nathan’s on 86th Street and 7th Avenue for lunch. I was surprised, and intrigued, by the wealth of business awning signs, some at least 70 years old and some brand new, that I spotted along the way.
I lived on 73rd Street and 7th Avenue from 1982-1988 and this was my cleaners of choice. That vinyl sign was damned old then. It has a 1940s look about it. But simplicity was king then, and it still gets the job done.
Double neon. The ‘Bay Ridge’ is neon and so is the vertical ‘pastisserie’ sign above it.
In the Swinging 60s in Bay Ridge, Irish, Italians, and some Norwegians/Swedes/Danes/Finns were hanging in, and there was also a substantial Syrian population. Bay Ridge is completely polyglot these days and you’ll see any language on 5th Avenue. Some Greek appears on the awning. It was still before Easter and there were some goats and lambs available for roasting.
Russian drugstores can always be recognized by signs saying “aπteka;” the word is similar in many Eastern European languages. The wares are piled high in the picture window.
Halal meat in the Muslim tradition is prepared according to religious strictures, similar to kosher in Jewish traditions. Yet another awning language…
The recently reopened Leske’s is a throwback to other bakeries featuring Scandinavian baked goods. Our family patronized Lund’s, which is long gone. (We did visit the 86th Street Ebinger’s, however; you always had a wealth of choices.)
The last gasp of The Catholic Shop, on 79th Street off 5th. It used to have a larger 5th Avenue store when Bay Ridge was heavily Catholic. Parish priests could get their albs and chausubles there. I bought prayer books… yes, prayer books…
I was the kind of kid who was an altar boy not because I was particularly religious, but because I enjoyed doing it. It imbued a sense of responsibility to haul out of bed at 5:30 on those icy mornings to serve at the 6:30 daily mass at which the 80-year old monsignor would be barely awake himself and there were 5 people in church. Every Saturday the altar boys’ schedule would be posted at the rectory and it was a total crapshoot who would serve and when, no rhyme and reason whatsoever.
I also collected prayer books like other kids collected baseball cards. (I never collected the baseball cards, but I did collect Batman cards.) I rarely prayed, but I enjoyed the prayerbooks. The type fonts. The layouts. The little colored tassels used to mark your place. There were those odd words heard nowhere else…like lavabo and quinquagesima. If you loved words and print, these were, and are, real treasures.
Allow me one more boyhood reminiscence. This was where we got my glasses as a kid and this is the exact same sign. It gets the job done, why change it?
I think the Royal arrived in the 1970s and in any case, it was a bit far down the avenue for us. We’d go to the Green Tea Room on 86th Street, which either had green tea or a green room, I forget which, or the Tiffany Diner, a bus ride away on 4th and 99th. There was also the Surprise Restaurant near the Woolworths on 5th and 87th. (You never knew what you would get with your order, I suppose.) Mindy’s, a kosher deli, held down the corner of the building on 5th Avenue and 85th where my father moonlighted as a custodian, and I’d help him by emptying the dumbwaiter in the basement and hauling out the garbage. (Yes there was still a working dumbwaiter as late as the 1970s. I used heavy workmen’s gloves to protect my hands from the rough ropes.)
The Alpine Real Estate wood sign is finally the worse for wear after about 50 years. I used an agent to find an apartment here in 1990 when the owner of the 73rd Street place was ousting me (for which, it turned out, was a lame story). I found a place on 10th Avenue and 71st in Dyker Heights that was big as an airplane hangar — it was a whole floor of a 2-family house — but I was paying too much, suffered a break-in, and moved after a year. Soon I was in Queens to live near a job with a direct mailer in Port Washington.
There were some new signs that caught my eye. Painted awning ads are a craft and this one was well done.
Then there’s this, at the place that replaced Peggy O’Neil’s. Not a whole lot of thought went in it.
This has been there as long as I’ve been alive on 86th Street and Battery Avenue. The patrons know it’s a laundromat, and so the letters have just fallen off over the years and nobody really cares. Has Pat Sajak been by here?