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Looking for lettering in New York's outer boroughs is not as
easy as it is in Manhattan, due to varying
patterns of growth, decay and, in some cases, rebirth. The outer
boroughs are more residential and less commercial than Manhattan,
yet they also retain more of the city's dwindling industrial areas.
To a lesser extent they have avoided—cross my fingers—the trend
toward “luxo-condo-ization.” But if any borough promises to be as
rich as Manhattan in lettering it would be Brooklyn, which was
actually a thriving metropolis prior to the 1898 consolidation that
led to present-day greater New York while the other boroughs were
In Brooklyn, commercial and industrial neighborhoods are the
best places to find lettering since the buildings there have names,
mottoes and other inscribed lettering as well as more obvious
signage. In residential areas, walk-ups and tenement buildings from
the end of the 19th century and Art Deco era offer prime examples,
while the abundant brownstones and row houses—not to mention
housing projects of the 1950s and '60s—are not as conducive.
Last spring, in preparation for a talk on lettering at the Coney
Island Museum, I surveyed as many Brooklyn neighborhoods as I
could. During the months of March and April I managed to record
lettering in roughly half of the borough. I walked Greenpoint, Williamsburg,
East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Clinton Hill,
Fort Greene, Downtown
Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens,
Boerum Hill, Prospect
Heights, Park Slope, Flatbush, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Brighton
Beach, Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach,
Dyker Heights, Bay
Ridge, Sunset Park and more. Walk with me
through some of the highlights.
(Clockwise, from top left) Greenpoint: #1, #2, #3, #4 and
1. Kent Street and Union Avenue
Old street signs—those that are integrated into buildings as they
are in Bath, England—are rare in New York. Along with this one I
have seen one in Greenpoint (Franklin and Java Streets), one in
Brooklyn Heights (Willow and Orange Streets) and one in Tribeca
(Beach and Hudson Streets). There are undoubtedly others. What
makes this street sign the most interesting of them all is that
Union Avenue no longer exists. It is now Manhattan Avenue.
2. Manhattan Building's [sic] (1883) / 882–886 Manhattan
Many buildings erected in the late 19th century have their names
displayed in their pediments, but these—the pediment spans two
buildings—are unusual for the diagonal arrangement of the
lettering. Note the apostrophe, which is not only oddly rotated but
also mistakenly placed.
3. Leviton Manufacturing Company (c. 1906) / 236 Greenpoint
At a distance the lettering looks like injection-molded plastic,
but it is actually two colors of terra cotta.
4. Manhattan Furrier (c. 1940s) / 685 Manhattan Avenue
Neon in disrepair always looks great. The faded enamel colors, rust
and missing tubes create an elegiac quality, a reminder of the
years—from the aftermath of World War I to the Sputnik era—when New
York was at its most glamorous. Fortunately, this is not the only
decaying neon sign in Brooklyn.
5. Syrup of Figs (c. 1910) / Greenpoint Avenue and Franklin
Websites devoted to ghost signs seem to be a growth industry. But
most ghost signs are—from an aesthetic perspective—fairly
pedestrian. This one for Syrup of Figs (a laxative) is among the
best not only in Brooklyn, but in the entire city.
(Clockwise, from top center) Williamsburg: #6,# 7, #8, #9 and
6. Brooklyn High School of Automotive Trades (1937) / 50 Bedford
This school, on the border between Greenpoint and Williamsburg's
north side, was one of the first of the city's many specialized
high schools. These severely beautiful, geometric sans serif
capitals with a whiff of Art Deco—note the E and T as well as the
striations in the recessed background—are not unique, as similar
lettering can be found on other Depression-era buildings in New
York City. Over the main entrance there is an inscription that
reads: MANHOOD / SERVICE · LABOR / CITIZENSHIP. Despite this, the
school admits female students today.
7. Roebling Tea Room (2005) / 143 Roebling Street
Ghost signs are not only reminders of past products and services,
but they are examples of sign painting, a once-thriving profession
that is now under assault. For the past thirty years the design and
fabrication of signs has been increasingly computerized. The result
is that standard fonts are replacing hand lettering, and plastic
and vinyl are replacing paint, wood and metal. In this context the
Roebling Tea Room sign is a welcome throwback, its dimensional
letters perfectly in harmony with the work of its namesake. The
colors are those of the City of New York.
8. Ortiz Funeral Home (c.1910) / 201 Havemeyer Street
This building is interesting both for the funeral home's old neon
sign and the terra cotta or stucco letters spelling out Edison
Building below. Judging by the style of the letters—which are
pre-World War I—the building's owner was the Edison Electric
Illuminating Company of New York, which became the New York Edison
Company in 1920, the predecessor of today's Con Ed.
9. Boundless NY (2007) / 143 Roebling Street
The letters forming the name of the Boundless NY store are some of
the most exuberant and amusing in all of New York City. These
escaped convicts are as manic as any Keystone Cops. Signed by
street artist RATE.
10. 132 Havemeyer Street
Perhaps the wildest street address in the city. The cubic numerals
seem inspired by Block-Up, an alphabet in Fantastic Alphabets
(1976) by Jean Larcher. Just to make sure the mail arrives safely,
a dull “132” in red has been added along with words pointing out
the location of the mail slot. Sometimes redundancy is
(From left) East Williamsburg: #11, #12, #13 and #14.
11. 109 South 9th Street (1890)
Nineteenth-century buildings rarely have cornerstones. Instead, the
dates of their completion are usually placed somewhere high up on
the facade. Often the dates are in terra cotta. This one has been
carefully painted gold—evidence of a building owner who respects
architecture and the past.
12. Kings County Savings Bank (now Williamsburg Art and
Historical Society) (c. 1868) / 135 Broadway
The entrance to this former bank building, designed by architects
King and Wilcox, has two wooden doors with interlaced “KC” on the
left and entwined “SB” on the right. The inventive monograms are
the oldest lettering that I have found in New York City (not
including gravestones). The AIA Guide to New York City dates the
building to 1868, but the cornerstone says 1860.
13. Laskas Flower Shop / 270 Broadway
Mosaic lettering in New York City is most commonly found in the
subway system. This flower shop's script lettering, located on the
left side of the entrance, stands out from the more familiar IRT
and BMT signage.
14. Unknown liquor store / Broadway near Rutledge Street
Wooden signs are extremely rare in New York City. One reason is
that wood, while inexpensive, is not as durable as other materials.
But like ghost signs and old neon, examples of weathered wood
lettering are aesthetically fascinating. This deteriorating sans
serif capital Q comes from a liquor store along the J line.
Bushwick: #15 (at left) and #16.
15. RKO Bushwick Theatre (now the Acorn School for Social
Justice) (c. 1910) / 1396 Broadway at Howard Street
During cinema's golden age, both RKO and Paramount were famous for
their rococo movie theatres. This elaborate decoration—with
trumpet-playing putti flanking a cartouche containing a B (for
Bushwick) entwined with a xylophone—is no exception.
16. Ever Ready Furniture (c. 1950s–60s) / Broadway and Quincy
Enameled lettering was common in the mid-20th century but rarely
used today. The best part of this process is how its letters fuse
with the surface material, making it amazingly durable. The Ever
Ready lettering's lack of thick and thin contrast marks this as a
“modern” script, a counterpart to Futura and other sans serif
types. It may have been influenced by Robert Hunter Middleton's
Tempo Italic, which has swash capitals.
Clinton Hill: #17 (at left) and #18.
17. Emmanuel Baptist Church (1886–1887) / 279 Lafayette
The terra cotta letters over the main entrance to architect Francis
Kimball's Emmanuel Baptist Church are versals—medieval manuscript
initials that mix roman (A and L) and uncial forms (E, M, N and U).
The closed counters of the letters (with the exception of the L)
are typical of versals. They grew out of attempts to stretch and
squeeze the letters to fit into equally sized spaces in
manuscripts. Note the engraved monogram lettering on the door
handles to the main entrance.
18. 400 Clinton Avenue
In the late 19th century, lettering that did not fit into standard
historical styles was usually described as “artistic lettering.”
This original design on an apartment building near Pratt mixes
uncial and bâtarde elements while dispensing with the thick and
thin of broad-pen scripts.
Fort Greene: #19.
19. Brooklyn Technical High School (1933) / 29 Fort Greene
Brooklyn Tech is one of the city's elite high schools. Along its
DeKalb Avenue facade are a series of bas-relief heads representing
great inventors and engineers. Pictured here are John and
Washington Roebling, the father-and-son pair responsible for the
Brooklyn Bridge (1883). The letters are uncial-esque.
(Clockwise from top left) Downtown Brooklyn: #20 (two images),
#21, #22, #23, #24 and #25.
20. Central Court Building (now Brooklyn Criminal Court) (1932)
/ 120 Schermerhorn Street
The bronze letters on the Brooklyn Criminal Court Building (Collins
& Collins architects) are some of the best classically inspired
roman capitals in the city. The N is notable for its Trajanic form.
In contrast, the inscribed letters of the cornerstone have curved
serifs, marking them as a baroque form of classical roman capitals.
The inscription reads: “THIS STONE WAS SET BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE
BOROUGH OF BROOKLYN MCMXXXI.” Now, there was a politician
unconcerned about posterity!
21. Court Chambers Building (1926) / 66 Court Street
Another example of versal lettering, this time rendered in metal.
The letters are derived not from medieval models but from
19th-century interpretations. Oddly, the E is roman in form. (The
hole in the counter of the second C was probably made in an attempt
to install an electric light in the building's entryway.)
22. Borough Hall station (1908) / IRT 2 and 3 lines
The mosaics in the IRT and BMT subway stations were prepared in the
architectural offices of Heins & LaFarge. Thus, the incorrectly
place crossbar on the right H was probably the fault of a
draughtsman not of a mosaic craftsman—maybe the guide letter was
traced upside down. It is the only mistake of its kind in the
system. (At Pennsylvania Station there is one N with a missing
upper left serif, but that error was most likely a mistake by the
23. Hoyt Street station / IRT 2 and 3 lines
Located between the tracks and facing the Manhattan-bound platform
of the Hoyt Street station, this sign may be the oldest surviving
one in the New York City subway system. Certainly its 19th-century
lettering—a mix derived from visiting card and French Clarendon
types—indicates that it was executed before World War I and
possibly as early as 1908, the year the station was built.
24. Klitgord Center, New York City College of Technology
(formerly New York City Technical College; before that New York
City Community College) (1948) / 285 Jay Street at Tillary
This post-World War II mosaic takes up most of the facade of the
Klitgord Center at New York City College of Technology. There is
some variation in the construction of its simple geometric letters.
Enjoy the mosaic while you can: the Klitgord Center is slated to be
destroyed to make way for another Forest City Ratner Companies
mixed-use facility, to be designed by Renzo Piano.
25. Macy's (formerly Abraham & Strauss) (1929 and 1935) /
420 Fulton Street
“God is in the details,” Mies van der Rohe proclaimed. But this was
not a new Modernist insight. Long before the Bauhaus was founded,
architects paid attention to minor aspects of a building such as
radiator grills, cigar stand signs and directory boards. And they
continued to in the Art Deco era as can be seen by this door handle
on the Hoyt Street side of this Macy's, designed by Starrett &
Van Vleck. Unfortunately, the original handles are missing from the
Fulton Street doors.
(Clockwise from top left) Brooklyn Heights: #26, #27, #28, #29
26. Hotel Montague (1885) / 105 Montague Street
The Montague, by architects the Parfitt Brothers, was one of
Brooklyn's first apartment buildings, along with its neighbors the
Berkeley and the Grosvenor (111–117). All three were erected in the
early 1880s. By 1902 the building had been converted to a hotel,
which provides a rough date for this ghost sign. The lettering is a
form of spurred gothic (sans serif), typical of the 19th century.
Its name was changed in 1971 to the Brookmont when it became a
welfare hotel. A decade later it was converted to co-op apartments.
The ghost sign remains, a frozen reminder of this building's
27. Brooklyn Historical Society (formerly Long Island Historical
Society) (1881) / 128 Pierrepont Street
One of the most remarkable examples of terra cotta decoration in
New York City is the former Long Island Historical Society building
by George B. Post. Both its Pierrepont and Clinton Street facades
sport busts of luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin and Ludwig van
Beethoven (designed by Olin Levi Warner). The name appears on
Clinton Street, while the Pierrepont Street side bears the motto
“HISTORIA · TESTIS · TEMPORUM.” The letters are in a sober
19th-century grotesque, an excellent foil to the
28. Former St. Ann's Episcopal Church (now part of Packer
Collegiate Institute) (1867–1869) / Clinton and Livingston
The Clinton Street side of the former St. Ann's, built by Renwick
& Sands, has stained glass windows that tell the history of the
congregation. The lettering is a 19th-century form of textura with
a typical Victorian style 8. The inclusion of the day of the week
when the cornerstone was laid was probably done to fill empty
space. Certainly, the lower roundel is better designed than the
29. 69 Pineapple Street
In residential neighborhoods marked by rowhouses and brownstones,
addresses usually provide the only examples of lettering. For
example, this lovely terra cotta cartouche has a perfectly
inscribed house number—it benefits from the symmetry of 6 and
30. The Shenley / 93 Hicks Street
The Shenley is one of the few named residential buildings in
Brooklyn Heights. The bronze letters (now severely oxidized) are
typical of the period from 1890–1920. They are ostensibly classical
in origin but exhibit exaggerations intended to make them original.
Note the high waist on E, H, S and Y as well as the short middle
crossbar of E and the angled stems of the H in THE.
(From left) Cobble Hill: #31, #32 and #33.
31. Home Buildings (1876) / 130–140 Baltic Street and 439–445
William Field & Son's Home Buildings were part of an innovative
complex of low-rent apartments and cottages financed by Alfred
Tredway White, under the slogan “philanthropy plus 5 percent.” Many
of the numbers on the addresses—paint on terra cotta—have chipped
off over time, as shown in this detail from 134 Baltic Street.
32. Stearns / 286 Court Street
The lettering on most 19th-century named buildings was either
grotesque or Egyptian, a surprise given the amazing multitude of
styles practiced by wood type manufacturers and sign painters at
the time. One exception is this Cobble Hill building with
Tuscanesque letters that probably was built in the 1870s or
33. The South Brooklyn Savings Institution (1922) / 130 Court
Street at Atlantic Avenue
The former South Brooklyn Savings Institution building, by
McKenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin, features delicate, classical
lettering (slightly condensed) within a Celtic border and flanked
by gryphons. Above the roundel featuring a bust of Benjamin
Franklin is a beehive, a common banking motif since bees symbolize
industriousness and saving. The bank's name and its year of
founding (1850) encircle Franklin in similarly light roman
(From left) Carroll Gardens: #34, #35 and #36.
34. Sacred Hearts St. Stephen's School (originally St. Stephen's
School) / corner of Summit Street and Hicks Street
Schools, parochial and public, used to have separate entrances for
boys and girls. Many of these markings remain, and the terra cotta
signs at Sacred Hearts St. Stephen's School are among the best to
be found. They are not very legible—proving the rule that one
should not set entire words in black-letter capitals—but they are
marvelous word patterns. St. Stephen's Church was built in 1860 and
merged with Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in 1941, but the
school was erected later. There is an Art Nouveau flavor to the
textura capitals that suggests a date between 1890 and 1910.
35. “No Parkin” sign / Summit Street
In New York City you can find a weird variety of “No Parking”
signs, especially in the Bronx and Brooklyn. A makeshift sign with
the “g” missing creates the visual equivalent of a nasal Brooklyn
accent, reinforced by the lack of word spacing and repetition. Also
note the faded, upside-down presence of a previous “No Parking”
warning (with the g).
36. Marietta Ladies Men's & Children's Wear / 392 Court
The enameled script for Marietta rivals Ever Ready Furniture's—its
letters flow effortlessly, especially the “e.” Department of
Building records indicate that the building was erected in 1951.
Most likely the store and its sign date from that year.
Boerum Hill: #37.
37. Atlantic Avenue station (1908) / IRT 2 and 3 lines
The A tiling by Heins & LaFarge on the outbound platform of the
2 and 3 lines at Atlantic Avenue is possibly the single most
beautiful mosaic lettering in the subway system. (It rivals the
blue terra cotta B in the Bleecker Street station on the IRT 6
line.) On the same platform there is an example of simple sans
serif mosaic lettering (white letters on a maroon ground) that is
unique in its scale.
Prospect Heights: #38 (at left) and #39.
38. Sterling / 361 Sterling Place near Underhill Avenue
This apartment building name uses a funky mixture of classical
roman capitals. The descending leg of the R is a nice touch, but
the G has no thick and thin contrast. The S is too high-waisted,
the middle bar of the E too short and the L too wide. To top it
off, the name is not even properly centered between the flanking
ornaments. Still, it has more personality than if it had been done
in Times New Roman!
39. Teunis G. Bergen School (P.S. 9) / 80 Underhill Avenue
The name of this public school is reminiscent of the lettering on
the Long Island Historical Society building, indicating that its
original building dates from the 1880s.
Park Slope: (top row, from left) #40, #41 and #42; (2nd row)
#43, #44 and #45; (3rd row) #46, #47, #48 and #49.
40. Grace Episcopal Methodist Church (now Grace United Methodist
Church) (1882–1883; parsonage 1887) / 29–35 Seventh Avenue
The frame of the gothic arched window of the parsonage of Grace
Episcopal Methodist Church, another Parfitt Brothers building,
bears the church's name in medieval versals that provide a contrast
to those of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Clinton Hill. Instead of
being cast in relief, these are carved with a flat cut. Each letter
occupies its own individual terra cotta block.
41. St. Augustine's Academy (c.1897) / Sterling Place at Sixth
Another from the Parfitts, St. Augustine's Academy—the parochial
school attached to St. Augustine's Roman Catholic Church—has been
defunct for decades but its lettering remains. It is yet another
example of medieval versals—this time raised—showing the variety
possible within the style. Lettering for the once-separate
entrances, both in stone, also survives: the boys' on Sterling
Place and the girls' on Park Place. Its delicate, decorative frame
is particularly lovely.
42. The Verona / 820 President Street
43. Balmoral / Sixth Avenue
44. Prospect View (1889) / 315 Flatbush Avenue
45. Lenox / Sixth Avenue
46. Annandale / Third Street & Seventh Avenue
Park Slope is particularly rich in named residential buildings.
Among the best aesthetically, in order of preference, are: The
Verona, the Balmoral, the Lenox on Sixth, the Prospect View and the
Annandale. The Verona may be the most exciting example of
residential lettering in the entire city. The letters are freely
interpreted Tuscans, V-cut and currently painted a metallic green
that harmonizes well with the brownstone. (The owners of the
building have replicated the letters in white paint on the entrance
awning.) The Balmoral letters are notable for the A's broken
crossbar and the B and R's doubled-up strokes. The Lenox has
“artistic lettering” with an enlarged N centering the design.
(There is another Lenox apartment building nearby on St. Mark's
Place with its name rendered in rounded and raised sans serif
capitals, a fairly common style.) Similar letters cast in terra
cotta can be found on the Prospect View, which also has a prominent
date above its name. The Annandale's letters are simple grotesque
capitals that have been given a series of inlines to enliven
47. Poultry / Seventh Avenue
This sign from the 1920s or '30s might no longer exist—it was on
the side of a small grocery that was being renovated in summer 2007
to make way for a more upscale business. The letters are unique,
albeit similar to Broadway, Boul Mich and other Art Deco typefaces
that were released between 1927 and 1931.
48. La Taqueria / 72 Seventh Avenue
The lettering on this restaurant window is a combination of
Ronaldson–like letters with Tuscan spurs added. (Ronaldson was the
19th-century model for ITC Tiffany.) Similar but uncurved lettering
is used on the hanging sign. The quality of execution, as well as
the antiquated style and the cuisine of the restaurant, indicate
that the signs were probably made by a Mexican craftsman.
49. Congregation Beth Elohim temple house (1928) / Garfield
Place & Eighth Avenue
The lettering on the temple house for Congregation Beth Elohim
outshines the lettering on its synagogue across the street.
Mortimer Freehof and David Levy's temple house has the quotation
“SHOW ME THY WAYS O LORD TEACH ME THY PATHS GUIDE ME” on its Eighth
Avenue facade and the names of major Old Testament figures on its
Garfield Place facade. The delicate letters are an Art Deco
interpretation of classical roman capitals with a medieval A thrown
in to spice things up. Elsewhere the lettering for the entrance to
the Aaron Levy Memorial Chapel is more consistently medieval. (Also
note the beautiful bas reliefs on the building including Babylonian
charioteers and Jonah being swallowed by the whale.)
50. Young Israel of Flatbush (c.1912) / 1012 Avenue I at Coney
The terra cotta lettering over the entrance to Young Israel of
Flatbush is an exotic and idiosyncratic interpretation of versals.
Note the U-inspired Y, uncialesque G, moorish A, Sarasenic B and
scroll-like S. The mix is reminiscent of Jonathan Barnbrook's
Ma(n)son and Exocet typefaces.
Midwood: #51 (at left) and #52.
51. Nathan's Food-o-Rama / 1506 Avenue H
These letters are the kind that inspired Gotham, Tobias
Frere-Jones's vernacular modernist sans serif typeface. How can you
resist anything with O-RAMA in its name?
52. American Vitagraph Company (now Yeshiva University High
School) (1907) / Avenue M and East 14th Street
In winter the letters on the brick chimney of the now-defunct
American Vitagraph Co. can be seen clearly from the D train—but not
easily photographed. Even from nearby streets it is virtually
impossible to get a direct shot of them since the elevated tracks
are in the way. The nearby trees complicate the task, especially
after the leaves appear. Chimney lettering is common throughout the
United States but less so in the city. This is the only example I
Sheepshead Bay: #53 (at left) and #54.
53. F.W.I.L. Lundy Bros. (1934) / 1901 Emmons Avenue
Lundy's restaurant, built by Bloch & Hesse, is synonymous with
Sheepshead Bay. The poorly made versal letters have been cut out of
54. St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church (1928–1931) / Ocean Avenue
and Avenue Z
These V-cut letters do not match the iconic ones of the Trajan
Column inscription, but nonetheless they are excellent example of
early 20th-century classical roman capitals. Note the serifs at the
top of M and N, the Caslonesque apex of the A and the jaunty leg of
the R. The C's were probably constructed using a compass.
Brighton Beach: #55.
55. Mother Jones (1931) / 3102–3116 Brighton 1st Place
This is one of the most puzzling apartment names in the city. Mary
Harris Jones—better known as Mother Jones—was one of the founders
of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) and a labor
organizer for the United Mine Workers and the Socialist Party of
America. In 1902 she was labeled “the most dangerous woman in
America” by a West Virginia District Attorney due to her efforts on
behalf of striking coal miners. So, how did an apartment building
in Brighton Beach come to bear her name? The building may have been
a cooperative financed by unions for its members such as those the
Amalgamated Clothing Workers built near Van Cortlandt Park in the
Bronx between 1927 and 1970.
Coney Island: (first row, l to r) #56 and #57; (2nd row) #58,
#59 and #60; (3rd row) #61, #62 and #63; (4th row) #64.
56. Cyclone (1927) / 834 Surf Avenue
57. Eldorado Auto Skooter / 1216 Surf Avenue
58. Wonder Wheel (1918–1920) / West 12th Street and the
59. Faber's Fascination / 1232 Surf Avenue
The glamour of Coney Island may be long gone, but there are still a
few reminders of the area's glory days. Amusement park lettering
usually involves illumination, either neon or light bulbs. The
Cyclone, invented by Harry C. Baker, has two neon signs: one on the
roller coaster itself and a vertical one along Surf Avenue. There
are also two for the Wonder Wheel (by Charles Herman): one on the
wheel and the other lower down directing people, via a large arrow
labeled THRILLS, to the attraction. Bulb-style lettering can be
found on the Eldorado Auto Skooter facade, the Zipper ride and the
front of Faber's Fascination. The latter used to have a twin called
Faber's Sports on its right. The sign can still be seen if one
peeks under the awning of the current tenant.
60. Nathan's Famous / Surf and Stillwell Avenues
The quintessential New York food might be a Nathan's hot dog,
established in 1916. The original building is a monument to neon
and painted lettering. The famous (and distinctly weird) upright
script—how do you describe those curves?—still outshines the newer
lettering, especially the computer-generated examples on the
61. (Ice Cream) To Go
62. Cheez Burger, Hot Dog
63. Sideshows by the Seashore
Steve “ESPO” Powers has a sign-painting shop on the ground floor of
the building housing the Coney Island Museum. He and his
collaborators in the
Dreamland Artist Club (2004, 2005) are responsible for much of
the semi-nostalgic, pseudo-vernacular hand painted signs that
advertise for games and food vendors at Coney Island. My favorites
are the Cheez Burger and Hot Dog signs rendered in a '70s space-age
style. Be on the lookout for amusing verbal and visual gags hidden
in these signs. Also note Marie Robert's circus-freak banners for
Sideshows by the Seashore, painted between 2004 and 2007.
64. Zia Dora Inc. / 2913 West 15th Street
Look carefully and you will see that the sign for Zia Dora, Inc., a
grocer, is composed of metal or wood frames that have been cut up
and reassembled. Note the chamfered corners of D and O achieved by
the use of black paint.
Bensonshurst: #65 (at left) and #66.
65. The Benson-Bay (1930) / 86–96 Bay 29 Street
The decoration is Art Deco but the flat-cut sans serif capitals are
only partially so. The mix of wide and narrow forms (see the E) is
typical of Art Deco but the structure of the B with the overlapping
counters is pure Art Nouveau. The O looks uncomfortable.
66. Talmud Torah Sons of Israel (1928) / 2115 Benson
Not all Art Deco lettering is sans serif or geometric. The
classical roman capitals on the facade of Talmud Torah Sons of
Israel can be recognized as Art Deco because of their lightness as
well as their exaggerated proportions. See the very short middle
bar of E and the high waists of H, R and S. The lettering is
elegant and well-spaced but is completely overwhelmed by the
pedestrian yellow and blue banners.
Bath Beach: #67 (at left) and #68.
67. Saint Finbar School (1946) / 1825 Bath Avenue
The yellow lettering over the entrance to the Saint Finbar School
is inset into the green marble. It is probably stone and not bronze
since it shows no sign of tarnishing. This is a very durable
method. Some of the letters have angled terminals like those of
Rudolf Koch's Kabel.
68. Sta-Brite Upholstery / 1709 Bath Avenue
There are two Sta-Brite businesses on Bath Avenue located
side-by-side: one specializing in upholstery (pictured), the other
in decorations. Both signs have Sta-Brite in white, bursting out of
a black oval, but the lettering is not identical. Also, the
building was erected in 1947, but the presence of Helvetica
numerals in the street address indicates that the sign was put up
in the late 1960s or early '70s.
Dyker Heights: #69.
69. Saint Bernadette School / 1313 83rd Street / 1953
The letters have been cast in concrete, the surface of which has
subsequently been painted. They are flat-cut but the crosses
flanking SCHOOL have been V-cut. Although there is an Art Deco
quality to the letters and the decoration, the inscription dates
from 1953, when the school was founded.
Bay Ridge: #70 (at left) and #71.
70. Lindbergh Meat Market (now Yore Meat Market) / 7115 Fort
The meat market has changed ownership but the original enameled
sign is, thankfully, still intact. Or almost. The panels have
shifted splitting the E in MEAT in half. The sign is memorable for
the odd serifs on the L and N and the kicky leg of the R. Was the
sign painter bored?
71. St. Anthony's Bakery / 6819 Fort Hamilton Parkway
A block away from the Lindbergh Meat Market is St. Anthony's
Bakery. Its sign is in two parts: St. Anthony's in a white
condensed monotone script on a green trapezoid, both seemingly made
of plastic; and BAKERY in widely spaced white brush script capitals
(reminiscent of Dom Diagonal) on a dark green background. The
script is what caught my eye first, but on closer inspection the
brush capitals are more interesting. They seem to be cut out of
thin plastic (or maybe metal?) and then nailed to the surface.
Behind them one can barely discern the outline of other letters
(probably enamel) that have been painted over.
Sunset Park: #72.
72. Brooklyn Fire Department Hook & Ladder No. 18 (now
Ladder Company 114) (1897) / 5209 Fifth Avenue
Old fire houses are always worth investigating for fascinating
examples of lettering. This one in Sunset Park has raised sans
serif capitals that are slightly out of the ordinary. Note the
long-legged R, the raised diagonal of the N and the pregnant
ampersand. Periods at the ends of titles and names were common
prior to the 20th century.
Can a religious icon be redesigned? In this reprise from a 1985 AIGA Journal Heller reports on how Rhode Island designer Malcolm Grear took the challenge and modernized the cross.
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