ALL’S FAIR in the discovery and exposure of old signage

by Kevin Walsh

It’s time for FNY’s peripatetic MTA employee and former bus driver Gary Fonville to take us on a merry chase showing the signs he has seen while tooling around town, on MTA-sanctioned vehicles or others.

Text and photos by Gary Fonville


Coney Island Avenue & Avenue U is this sign’s location.  The sign reflect changes in this auto retailer’s operation.  Saab is virtually non-existent in the U.S. after GM jettisoned the brand by selling it to Spyker Cars in 2010.  Pontiac, once a brand of General Motors, bit the dust in 2010.  GM suits determined that there was no need for the brand to exist.  Their Buick brand almost suffered the same fate.  Plaza Automall now only sells Hyundai, Honda, and Honda’s luxury line, Acura.  In addition, Plaza dropped Dodge and Mazda.


Could this store have been the inspiration for the Victoria’s Secret stores?  The picture represents another time when I just happened to look in a certain direction, and there it was! Rivington Street in the LES (Lower East Side), Manhattan.

[I hope they never get rid of this stenciled sign. –KW]


I must have driven down Bushwick Avenue hundreds of times.  It wasn’t until I stopped to get gas at a service station across the street from this location at Stanwix Street & Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn  that I saw this gilt lettering.


Name that telephone exchange! Are there any FNY fans who know what “OR” means in  this alphanumeric phone number that’s part of this old school sign at 333 First Avenue, near East 22nd Street in Manhattan.

[I’m wondering what the owner’s name was. Henchman? –KW]


Saturn, as a brand of GM, was started in 1985 as an attempt to compete with cars from Japan.  It lasted until 2010. GM even set up a separate dealer system from the parent company. The brand suffered because their cars were plagued with subpar designs and quality, along with a limited lineup.  And its failure came before the Koreans with their Hyundai brand came on strong into the marketplace. The ad can be seen from the Gowanus (above) or 3rd Avenue (below) around 20th Street in Brooklyn.


Coin operated telephones have suffered greatly since the proliferation of cellphones.  As you are reading this, think of when was the last time you’ve used a payphone.  It’s probably been a long time.  Their numbers are dropping rapidly as it’s almost impossible to find one on NYC’s streets.  Bell Atlantic was the phone company’s name before it was christened Verizon.


Edelstein auto body supplies on Tompkins Avenue, near Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant still sports this brightly colored baked enamel sign.


I have no doubt that this ad at McKeever Place & Sullivan Place, in what was the shadow of Ebbets Field, has been there since the Dodgers played there.


The NE corner of 116th Street & Manhattan Avenue in Harlem is where this tattered fabric sign reveals an old school Coca-Cola sign.  I used to patronize this store when I lived on Morningside Avenue back in the 1960s and early 70s.


This substation for the Manhattan Railway (3rd  Avenue El) still stands on 3rd Avenue, near East 99th Street in Spanish Harlem, Manhattan.  The letters were there up into a few years ago.  What happened?  There a similar looking building close to the Manhattan Bridge, Manhattan side.


These pictures clearly illustrate why FNY is important. Many times buildings are torn down or altered greatly in the name of progress. A FNY camera was able to document this building until they made a huge alteration.  Packard was an American luxury car brand that operated between 1899 up to the time it merged with Studebaker, another independent carmaker. Its weakness was that it didn’t have the resources of the larger carmakers such as GM, Chrysler or Ford. As a merged company, by now known as the  Studebaker-Packard Corporation,  it struggled along until 1958.  Packard had this facility at Atlantic & Classon Avenues in Brooklyn.  Fortunately it left its trace to be recorded by a  FNY camera –it’s since been greatly altered.


Here’s the same building as it currently looks.


You know this sign is old when it’s supposed to be a dark blue and now it’s almost gray.  This public telephone sign is right off Utica Avenue near Bergen Street, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

[All telephones are public now, which is a problem. –KW]


Drugs, er, pharmaceuticals are and have been sold here for many years on 3rd Avenue, near Alexander Avenue, the Bronx.


Eva Deli/Grocery on Wilson Avenue, near DeKalb Avenue, in Bushwick, Brooklyn was preceded by Iavarone Brothers, a shop that catered to its largely Italian clientele a generation or two back.

At  Jerome Street & Atlantic Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn is one of the largest street designations seen on a building. Usually they’re in a cornerstone with small writing.


These businesses are on Myrtle Avenue near Cypress Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.  Look carefully between the awnings.  You’ll see a small portion of a baked enamel sign.  Are there any FNY fans who can identify what business the sign was for?

[Well, that “K” looks suspiciously like…. –KW]

Karl Ehmer, once a large German business with 50 stores from Florida to New York.  It was well known for its knockwurst, frankfurters and bratwurst. Due to changes in demographics and slumping sales, it had to scale back greatly.  This location at Myrtle Avenue & 62nd Street in Ridgewood, Queens sports a pristine Karl Ehmer sign.

The wurst of times [NY Daily News]
Karl Ehmer leaves New York [Lost City]


Fresh Pond Road, near Catalpa Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens.


Waverly Avenue, in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.  Was this place affiliated with THE Borden’s, as in dairy products?

[Yes, that’s the old Borden’s logo. Borden has had its finger in many pies over the decades. -KW]


Name that telephone exchange! Does anyone know what the “AS” in this alphanumeric telephone number stands for  on Astoria Boulevard in Astoria, Queens?


The sun has almost made these signs disappear around 158th Street & Riverside Drive in Manhattan.


I couldn’t tell if this business is still active. But if they are, they need to display more current technology in their sign.   Since voice mail has been entrenched in the market, pagers have been made obsolete. Knickerbocker Avenue, in Bushwick, Brooklyn is this location.

[Mike Epstein of Satanslaundromat fame wrote that downtown Baltimore still has a lot of businesses advertising beepers. –KW]


Fifth Avenue & Carroll Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn


There no doubt that this almost forgotten sign was also intended for passengers on the now defunct Fulton Street el.  The only discernible word is Loew’s.  Which Loew’s theater is it referring to? Location: Fulton Street, near Rockaway Avenue, Brooklyn.


Right off the West Side Highway, near West 20th Street, I saw this sign that was exposed after a recent demolition.  However, that day it was still dark when I passed it in the AM.  However, I  returned later that day to record this under better lighting conditions.  Vault lighting, I believe is where thick glass was put into sidewalks to allow light to filter below to a basement area.  (If I am wrong, I need some FNY fans to correct me.) As for fireproofing, as they did it, probably involved the use of asbestos. However, during that time, asbestos was seen as a “wonder” material. Because of its resistance to heat, chemical damage and fire, its use was ubiquitous. Also it was cheap! As time passed, asbestos was found to cause numerous health issues in humans.


When I first saw this sign I was traveling on a southbound 1 train. I thought I would need to take this shot from a moving train, because it’s difficult to see from Broadway.  But I then discovered I could get a great shot from the shopping mall’s parking lot at West 233rd Street to get a great shot.


It’s a good thing FNY exists to capture stuff like this. This sign will fade completely in a few years. At Astoria Boulevard &  22nd Street in Astoria, you can only read “4-6 Weil Place”.

[Weil Place is 22nd Street’s old name. –KW]


Looks like this sign says “Madray” at Newton Avenue, near 22nd Street in Astoria, Queens.  Was it the name of a moving company?  Who knows?  Or maybe some FNY fans know.


It seems that  liquor store signs are the most common neon signs around functioning or non functioning. Broadway, near MacDougal Street in Brooklyn.


This one has seen better days at Eastern Parkway, near Pacific Street in Brooklyn.


This is on an old school laundromat. So is the sign. More laundromats are now using  a card system, which works in the same manner as a Metrocard. You put value on a card by inserting cash and the card in  a wall mounted computer. After adding value, then insert the card into the dryer or washer you’re going to use. This system prevents people with sticky fingers from doing their thing with quarters.  Utica Avenue, near Montgomery Street.

I did a feature a few months back highlighting IND substations around the city. I shot some in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.   FNY received a lot of response from fans. I thought I did them all, until I discovered this one on Cliff Street, near Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan. Here it is. Better late than never!   The Art Deco design on this structure is exquisite and timeless. Are there any Art Deco  IND substations in Queens? To my knowledge, there are none.  If there are any, I stand to be corrected.


These two signs at Canal Street & the West Side Highway are probably some of the last advertisements for Radio Row businesses.  Radio Row was located on the lower west side of Manhattan.  It was a place where electronics stores were congregated.  It lasted from the mid 1920s until the mid 1960s.  Cortlandt Street was the main street while it existed.    The beginning of the end of Radio Row was the implementation of eminent domain by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  The Port Authority had plans to construct the World Trade Center.  After plans were revealed, there was a large outcry from local businesses.  It was pointed out that close to 30,000 people were employed by businesses in the affected area.  As compensation, the PA offered $3000 to each business regardless to its size how long they had done business there.

[There was also an S. Birnbach hardware store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the 1960s into the 1970s. –KW]


Myrtle Avenue, near Seneca Avenue is where this sign can be found.


How long could this sign for fountain services, stationery, etc. stay hidden from a FNY camera? Actually, I saw this sign while sitting in traffic along Grand Street, near Henry Street in the Lower East Side, Manhattan.


A well preserved baked enamel gem ion Astoria Blvd in Elmhurst, Queens.


FNY Correspondent Gary Fonville began working for the NYCTA in October, 1982 as a Bus Operator and worked in that capacity until October, 2003 when health issues forced him to be reclassified to the position  as a TPPA (Transit Property Protection Agent). His new hobby, photography, came about by being a contributor to FNY and snapping many photos in the process.




Doug Douglass October 6, 2013 - 11:20 am

When exchanges had names AS was AStoria and OR was ORegon.

Doug Douglass October 6, 2013 - 11:24 am

Fair Food’s was HIckory 6.

Andrew Borromey October 6, 2013 - 11:44 am

The OR exchange in this case stood for ORegon, which was not to be confused with the nearby ORchard exchange, which covered the lower east side, and part of the east village and alphabet city. The AS exchange, of course, stands for AStoria, which covered most of northwestern Queens along with the STeinway and RAvenswood exchanges.

My prized resource: a website with a list of every telephone exchange ever used in New York City:

happyupstater October 7, 2013 - 1:25 pm

I think the ORchard exchange preceded the ORegon exchange. There is an urban legend from the days of “number, please” telephony–before dial phones, you picked up the receiver, the operator said “number, please?” and you gave her (it was always a woman) the number you wanted–that the change came about because the immigrant denizens of the Lower East Side pronounced “orchard” with an initial “H” sound and a final “T” instead of a “D!”

mike in fla via bklyn October 6, 2013 - 3:28 pm

Thanks for the pics!
Try ORegon for the phone exchange?

Lisanne! October 6, 2013 - 3:32 pm

The name on the moving and storage company on Newton Avenue appears to be McCray. The third letter seems to be a C.

I can’t find any information about such a company, but I am still looking.

Tom October 6, 2013 - 4:48 pm

macray movers was a small outfit, maybe a dozen trucks or so ( their lot was around the corner on 21st street ), no tractor trailers that i can recall. i remember them from the 70’s. In fact, on one side of them was another mover, named Milani movers, and if my old mind is correct, a 3rd moving company was on the block also, name unknown to me.

Fred Glazer October 6, 2013 - 4:00 pm

OR 4 telephone exchange was Oregon

Linkage: Restoring Rail Links in Queens; De Blasio Backtracks – October 6, 2013 - 5:31 pm

[…] service in Central Queens? [NYDN] · Bronx residents fearful of vet housing plan [TRD] · Admiring the hidden antique signage of New York [Forgotten NY] · Is this Banksy’s latest? [VV] · De Blasio is “fiscally […]

Manny October 6, 2013 - 5:43 pm

The Fair Food Market is located on the western corner of 91st and Astoria BLVD across the street from Burger King. We lived at 26-11 92nd street behind the gas station and Burger King’s current location was an open lot. When I was very young (mid 70s) my mother would send me to the Fair Market every morning to buy bread, milk, and a newspaper. I can still remember walking over the sand dunes that at the time appeared to me as mountains. It was a glorious time in East Elmhurst with the presumed bad elements staying on the eastside of 94th street.

The Cheese October 6, 2013 - 11:55 pm

Don’t ask where it was that I’ve seen it, but I know that the TV/air aonditioner repair place is “Frenchman’s”

Uh, this guy has a picture before they lost the “F” and with the looterscreen open.

Tim October 7, 2013 - 12:41 am

Regarding “Vault lights” …check out . Good reference on the types used in the old days/current restorations.

Bill October 7, 2013 - 5:54 am

The name of the store was (it’s been closed for a year or two) The Frenchman. The owner’s name was William Koniuk, better known as Bill.

The store was in operation for at least 50 years, but the business now operates out of a Brooklyn location.

My wife, who was born and raised in this neighborhood, has no idea how Mr. Koniuk came to be known as The Frenchman.

John P. Simonetti October 7, 2013 - 9:49 am

To Manny (10/6/13):

I lived at 31-35 97th Street in East Elmhurst for many years, so I guess I am one of those bad elements you refered to… LOL

I then moved to 31-22 93rd Street in Jackson Heights, and remember that 94th Street (Junction Blvd) was the dividing line between neighborhoods….

Astoria Blvd was the main shopping drag then, as it still is now, and I too remember this store among many others; do you remember the small kiddie carnival (rides) on Astoria Blvd and 90th? Steet. I believe it was taken over by Bruno’s On The Boulevard….

Nice to hear from someone from the old neighborhood !

Manny October 9, 2013 - 10:36 pm


I cannot remember the carnival rides on the Brunos’ site which is next to the McDonald’s. However, I remember the country club that was up the street heading towards the Academy of Aeronautics from Astoria Blvd. I believe there is Korean christian church on the site of the country club. Do you remember the candy store on 91st street and 31st avenue. Currently it is a Chinese restaurant and has been one for many years.

ken mac October 7, 2013 - 7:58 pm

Excellent. I will now head out and photograph these for my site!

Bill Mehlman October 7, 2013 - 10:29 pm

The appliance store on First Avenue (between 19th and 20th Streets) was known as The Frenchman, although the owner’s last name was Koniuk. I’ve never known why he was known as the Frenchman, despite having lived in this neighborhood for almost 50 years (and having bought air conditioners from him.)

Bill Tweeddale October 8, 2013 - 6:52 am

Back in 50’s Brooklyn, we had a little TV (Philco or RCA I think) which would go “on the blink” frequently. My father would put the tubes in a bag and we’d take the subway to this place he called Radio Row to test and buy new ones. I never knew where “Radio Row” was until now. Thanks.

Warren Westbo October 8, 2013 - 8:03 am

Re: Vault Lighting.You are correct, Gary.

Dave October 9, 2013 - 10:15 am

Above ‘4-6 Weil Place’ it reads “Storage Warehouse.”

Bob Conner October 12, 2013 - 7:10 pm

The pic of the building at 68th Ave. & Fresh Pond Rd. marks the site of the old Nagengast Hardware Store. It started as a hardware store and morphed into quite a hobby store. It had many sets of the old Standard Gauge trains displayed and could repair those old ones. They had a Lionel dealership also. It was fully stocked with all kinds of models, airplanes, airplane engines, ships, tools for model making etc. As a little boy, in the 1940’s, I lived around the corner and spent much time looking at all the cool models and wishing I had the money to buy them. I lusted after the Xacto Modeling Knife big set though never had the coins to by it. The store was an icon in Ridgewood and brings back so many memories of those halcyon days. Like Madonna’s song, “This used to be my playground”!

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Michael Macchio December 7, 2015 - 9:26 pm

The sign on the building that you thought says “Madray” on Newtown Ave., says “MACRAY” That was our family business. I worked there for 3 years.


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