I was stumbling around the Columbus Circle area after completing the Hell’s Kitchen Forgotten NY tour on Sunday, May 18th, 2014, when I spotted some semi-familiar words on an 8th Avenue building at West 56th.
It’s the leftmost in this group of ads facing an ultramodern building currently home to a McDonalds.
The term ‘syrup of figs’ refers to a laxative produced with the fruit. It’s still used today, but was more heavily advertised in the late 19th and early 20th Century on building ads like this one. Figs are also used in cooking and as flavoring, but in that context, the juice is referred to as simply “fig syrup.” Painted building ads for Syrup of Figs must have been once as common as the ones for Fletcher’s Castoria once were.
The other painted ads on the building have all faded into obscurity — even the one for McDonalds in the red panel — but the florid lettering for the Syrup of Figs ad is still fairly clear. Before long this may be the most recognizable one in town, since the one in Greenpoint will apparently be covered up.
In fact this stretch of 8th Avenue has, or had, a number of faded ads on buildings. This one says “Auto Hardware & ….” I wonder what the last word is. It ends with “t.”
The most prominent ancient ad on 8th Avenue is between West 46th and 47th Streets. It’s three ads in the same space, likely rendered at different times. Apartments were available, 1, 2, 3 rooms, with steam heat and hot and cold water, which were not universal in the very early 20th Century. There’s something now unintelligible across the top except for the last word, SHOES. The oldest ad in the space (because the apartments ad was painted on top of it) is for Society Smoke Cigars. Perhaps the word “High” was painted over.