SYRUP OF FIGS, West 56th Street

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.


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5 Responses to SYRUP OF FIGS, West 56th Street

  1. John P. Simonetti says:

    Perhaps: Auto Hardware & Paint?

  2. Joe Brennan says:

    Frank Jump caught the Society Smoke ad in 2009, , maybe a little less faded, I am not sure.

    The lines under 1 2 3 are all right-justified. The last line WATER caught my eye. Maybe it was done to make as much as possible readable from the street. For a moment I was trying to figure what word could be missing before WATER.

  3. Daniel says:

    auto, hardware, and paint. By the way, forgotten NY is the best site ever.

  4. Alan says:

    I remember a Fletcher’s Castoria sign on the side of a building near where I lived in East Flatbush.

  5. Steve Smith says:

    This is one of the oldest McDonald’s in Manhattan. Today, there seem to be golden arches on every other Manhattan street; but I remember when there were NONE. This one opened around ’73, I had my 10th birthday party there in 1974. That may sound cheap now, but believe me that all my friends were THRILLED to be at a McDonald’s since it was quite the novelty. The FIRST Manhattan McDonald’s had opened about a year earlier a bit north of this one. That original location was close to what were then called the Lincoln Towers. I also remember a library extention close to that first location of a Manhattan Mickey D’s.

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