by Kevin Walsh

A walk in the neighborhoods of any of the five boroughs reveals the practical and pragmatic philosophy…’if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ You’ll see some signs that have been in place for fifty years or more, serving generations of customers, or some that still serve their now-deceased concerns…

College Bakery, Court Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. There are plenty in the area including my alma mater, St, Francis College…for which the bakery was named. SFC relocated to Remsen Street from its original location on nearby Baltic Street in 1960. (Kudos to Forgotten Fan Tom Kennedy for the info)

Nathan’s Food-O-Rama, presumably no relation to Nathan’s Famous, or Judi Nathan, Avenue H near the Brighton line station, Midwood, Brooklyn.

Neon, and its remains, are a persistent feature.

Unfortunately, this old-time neon sign and its parent tavern on Hillside Avenue and 164th Street bit the dust in early 2001.

Grabstein’s Deli, Rockaway Parkway, Canarsie, Brooklyn, deceased for 5 years

Broadway and Isham Street, Inwood

Ancient ‘lunch soda candy’ sign, Jamaica Avenue near 211th Street, Queens Village

Photo: Gary Fonville

Bedford Avenue near Madison Street, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Is tSmith Brothers Ice Cream was purchased many years ago by Dolly Madison.

There’s going to be a Brooklyn Theatres page sometime in the future, but last year, the venerable Kenmore Theatre on Church Avenue and Flatbush Avenue closed down, along with its old fashioned white-on-black marquee (like the similarly vanished Albee Theatre in downtown Brooklyn). The Keanu Reeves cyberpunk classic The Matrix closed down the Kenmore, it seems.

2004: the marquee is now gone; a Modell’s sign is in its place.

C. O. Bigelow’s Pharmacy has been a Greenwich Village fixture since the mid 1800s and this neon sign may have been there almost as long; 6th Avenue and 8th Street.

Neon sign, Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

Red stripes in barber poles are reminders of the bloodletting that used to go on there: barbers used to triple as surgeons and leechers. The blue stripes, of course, stand for the bandages. Leeching is coming back. You never know when you might want to lose some bad blood. This pole resides next to decades-old neon bar sign at Jimmy Mac’s on Depot Road and Northern Blvd. in Flushing, and blood may have been let there too.

Used to be a camera shop right here, on Park Avenue South near Madison Square. 7 hour service too!

Standard-issue green billboards on cigar and candy shops in Corona, Queens, left, and Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, right. Hundreds of these green signs and gold letters marked neighborhood soda/candy/cigar shops all over the city, perhaps from the 40s and 50s on. I know they were there when your webmaster was a kid.

Fall 2002: RIP

Livingston Street, Brooklyn, which, at one time, if you believe all the old signs scattered there, used to be a real hotbed for surgical supplies and medical aids. Leech-wielding barbers (see above) of the middle ages would have been comfortable on the Livingston Street of the Forties.

Lipton Drugs, Newkirk Plaza. No relation, we think, to either tea or the Mod Squad.

Although: there used to be a Walken’s Bakery in Astoria that was, indeed, owned by the parents of the preternaturally spooky actor.

East 34th Street and 3rd Avenue

Yet another greatest hit near Flatbush, this grand old hardware sign is on Avenue N way down in Flatlands. RIP 2004.

Your webmaster couldn’t believe his eyes...when I saw this neon beauty on Union Turnpike out in Glen Oaks, Queens. I’d thought this area had seen no development till the 1950s postwar era, but Elbee’s was no doubt an early pioneer.

As a rule, ‘chemist’ is a term used more widely in Great Britain.

RIP summer 2002.

Now, this is how Your Webmaster likes ’em. Plain, simple, black, white, to the point. The triangle shape of this plot in Elmhurst offered the signmaker a chance to slip in the “Rx” sign.

By the way, the ‘x’ in “Rx” isn’t an ‘x’. “Rx” stands for recipe and the ‘x’ most likely came from printers misunderstanding a flourish or swash in the doctors’ handwriting. But doctors never could write legibly on prescriptions!

2004: new sign has been erected here.

Old neon garage sign on State Street in Brooklyn Heights.

Montero’s has been on Atlantic Avenue near Hicks Street for decades as has its neon sign.

Even though it’s now a dress shop where Halston would never dream of setting foot in, it’s still got its moldie oldie restaurant sign of a previous tenant. MacDonald Avenue in Gravesend.

It’s in Astoria, Gloria.

The Long Island Restaurant, across the street from Montero’s, is about as far west in Long Island as you can get.

Avenue U in Marine Park. Gone now (2004)

Morstatts Deli, under the el on Westchester Avenue.

What a clash of styles, but it works on Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx.

2004: covered under an ugly red awning.

Chelsea. One of those theme hospitals we guess. RIP spring 2002.

Fort Greene.

Classic orange and blue T&A, er, Transit Authority sign on 4th Avenue and Garfield Place in Park Slope. This sign, reeking of the go-go Sixties, had a lot more verve than either of the boring blue signs the MTA has used since.

This was shot in November 2001, the last day this classic Velvet Cup sign was visible on 162nd Street. It was one of Flushing’s last classic old-man bars.

Changing demographics doomed the Velvet Cup.

2004: this has changed twice since I shot it.

The venerable (1883) Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street has a collection of vintage signs on its ground floor including this one fro Manhattan Comics and Cards. The comics store is gone (2004).

West 181st Street in Washington Heights.

East 50s in Flatlands near Avenue M. There must have been a boot store here once, ya think?

This is on 5th Avenue near 74th Street in Bay Ridge. I moved into the area in 1982, stayed for 8 years, and this storefront with its “Grocery-Fruits” sign was locked up behind that steel fence seen in the picture and stayed closed as I visited my father in Bay Ridge for the next 13 years after that. In 2003 a dance studio opened in the space and keeps a hip cachet by retaining the ancient sign! Maybe because hey can’t be bothered to remove it.

Katz & Tauber cosmetics and shaving supplies, Avenue N in Flatlands

A Thirties classic on Avenue N. Why are happy pigs always shown in pork store ads? On 86th Street in Brooklyn a pork store is labelled King of the Sausage, and there’s this pig wearing a crown holding a string of sausages. He’s a king and he’s a cannibal too!

A pair of classics on Northern Blvd and Marathon Parkway in Little Neck. Both stores are for sale, so these old signs will come down soon. (2004)

Molloy’s Lounge, 5th Avenue and 62nd Street in Sunset park. Looks closed; probably gone or going (2003).

I forget where this one is.

Smiths Bar, 8th Avenue

I have a feeling Vasikauskas hasn’t been here for awhile. Grand Stret, Williamsburg near Havemeyer.

Chelsea. 2008: removed during a renovation.

Gorgeous brass sign at the New Yorker Hotel, 8th Avenue and 34th Street. Manufacturers merged with Hanover, then MHT was swallowed by Chemical, which was ingested by Chase.

Subway Inn, Lexington Avenue and 60th Street