Friday, May 24, 2013


I loved this mural outside the psychic's rooms, but the woman herself, considerably older & stouter than the maiden on the wall, was not happy when she saw me outside with a camera.  Despite my assurance that I was only taking pictures of the wall, not her, she continued to shake her head angrily.  I left her alone.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gramercy Quartet

Gramercy Pawnbrokers, Stephen E. Hiller Law Office, Elegant Cleaners & Tailors, American Dream Bed & Breakfast

Those E-Z Pawn ads on the subway, explaining what a pawn shop is, amaze me, but I guess there aren't so many left in the city.  This one looks run-down, but a steady trickle of customers went in and out while I was outside.  Though my English accent has eroded over the years, I still haven't been able to master the subtly different American pronunciations of "pawn" and "porn", and this has caused much merriment at my expense.  The Gramercy sign is a lovely one, with the looping & plain fonts, the absent "r" & the perilous slant of the "k".  Hiller's office, a perfect partner, is a low-key blinds closed kind of a joint.  Elegant - a sweet minor detail, & the American Dream - more a sign of hopes curtailed than anything else.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pizza on 37th

No signs for hippie rolls, alas, but a nice enough sign (especially the hanging one), and a pleasingly unlikely name for a pizzeria.  The small "garden" in between Thomas & Pizza is kind of nice too, especially given the Jackson Heights location.   But what a crazy menu overload.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sunday Afternoon

Yesterday there wasn't even one ray of sunshine.  My plans to get out dwindled down to a damp shuffle along Fifth Avenue, where the fair was suffering the consequences of all the rain.  It seemed like the day was a big washout, but almost back home, as the fair began to wind down, there was the antidote to Sunday blues. These guys were good.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sign Language

At the Black Seed Halal grocery store, at Atlantic & Pacific: NY Croissant Food.  What strange poetry is this?

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Lawyer & Psychic Combo

Unfortunately it seems as though the lawyer now operates from Steinway Street instead of Broadway.  Though he has had some address ambiguities before ...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Two Admirals on Broadway

Admiral Locksmith, around since 1952. I like the painted safe, door-check and lock at the base of the storefront, & those panic locks & Fox police locks signs.   There's a great profile of the owner, Roz Kaplan, in the Huffington Post. This is one in a series of "Astoria Character" pieces written by Nancy Ruhling. And for more on lock inventor Emiel Fox, and Arlene Skratt, who along with her husband Gene ran the Chelsea Fox Police Lock Company until 2002, check out this 2008 NY Times piece:

"I never lived in Manhattan, but people who lived there used to feel more secure with one of those locks. Every once in a while you see the lock in a movie. It was very secure. I don’t think anybody ever broke into an apartment that had one of those police locks. Nobody sued, anyway ...

When Gene died, there was nobody left to run the business. My son wasn’t involved in it that much. His father never really taught him the business. You had to know where to buy your steel, where to buy your cylinders. You had to have your contacts. My son didn’t know much about all that. And my daughter wasn’t interested in manufacturing a lock. My son and daughter have dismantled the shop and are renting it out to a psychic. I guess everybody wants to know what’s going to happen. Until the day they die. They don’t want to know that."

Lavelle's Admirals Club. Closed when I was passing by, at the wrong time of day.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hippie Rolls?

Across from Broadway Wine & Liquors, a trio of businesses that don't seem to have changed their appearance much in recent years. The no-nonsense looking Cronin & Phelan bar & the pizza & Chinese joints - Polito's & Sun Lok. These last two have signs that are surely of the same vintage, & maybe put up by the same sign company. They look companionable. Polito's also advertises Hippie Rolls. Hippie Rolls?  I was completely in the dark about these, but gather they're a calzone like roll, consisting of pizza dough wrapped around sausage, cheese, pepperoni & other fillings. The name may be a derivative of "eppie rolls", and eppie may be short for pepperoni. It's all a little mysterious. The rolls were apparently popular in the 60s & 70s, & maybe that's how the hippie part came in.  I've never seen them on a pizzeria sign before, but maybe they're on signs all over the place and I've just been inattentive.  I'd love to know if other places feature them.  And are they still on the menu at Polito's?  I was in a bit of a hurry when I passed by here last weekend, but I'll go back & find out soon. 


Monday, May 13, 2013

Now Showing

With scaffolding down, a standard four storey plus penthouse is revealed at 491 Fifth, between 11th & 12th.  Until several years ago Tacos Nuevo Mexico was at this address, before it moved next door, and earlier, in the mid 80s there was a store named Get Even at 491. It's quite likely that the 491 & 489 buildings, smaller and shallower than their neighbors, were the original wooden structures built here when this neighborhood was first developed. 491 didn't show obvious signs of its vintage in recent years, but 489 (home to Glasgow Deli when I first moved round here) still has its cornice, and that look of an older building dwarfed by newer arrivals: the row of brownstone apartment houses, and now, our latest architectural wonder.  I don't know the date 491 and 489 went up, but my 1886 Robinson street map shows two wooden buildings here, and lots next to it were vacant.  In 1886 almost the entire block around the corner on 12th  still consisted of frame dwellings.  

You can see 80s tax photos of Glasgow & Get Even here. The adjacent Jo, Brian & Joseph's Key Food Market (formerly the OTB) opened a year ago, but is still celebrating its grand opening! The faded ad overlooking 489 is a bit harder to see with the new apartment building nearby, but happily it's still possible (for now) to make out at least part of J.J. Friel Loans. 

Update: If you want to know more about J.J. Friel, there's a fascinating piece about the business and the family behind it over at Frank H. Jump's Fading Ad Blog.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Another One for the Collection

Broadway Wine & Liquors, between 38th & Steinway.  Almost a dream of a liquor store.  The neon.  The tri-color painted wall.  And of course, those yellow signs!

A walk (south)east along Broadway, beyond 31st Street, yields many pleasures.   More to follow.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

On & Off the Train

At least it's light when I get up now. This pushes me out of the house earlier than in winter hours. I like to be able to take my time over the trip to work, often breaking my journey by getting off the train at different points along the way, grabbing a coffee, and breathing in a piece of the morning. It's a ridiculous way to treat a commute, but then, the commute itself is pretty absurd and I like to defeat its numbing routine. I usually get off the F somewhere in Manhattan, but have now started getting on the first train - F or G - that arrives at the station. While the F can often be crowded even by 6:45, and stay that way as far as midtown, the G has not yet hit rush hour mode. I like the old orange, two person seats, because you can sit next to a window, and I like listening to a real voice announcing the stops. The G train choice involves switching to the E and then the F, but it runs about the same time as the three borough ride.  I've been getting off at Court Square or 21st (easy for the G switch), but I guess I should get more ambitious.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Encounter Link

The Donnell Library replacement (NY Times)
The library, which is expected to cost $20 million and was designed for the digital age by the architect Enrique Norten and his firm TEN Arquitectos, emphasizes places to congregate more than shelves for books. And it is a library that will be about one third of its former size.
“It has become more like a cultural space, which is about gathering people, giving people the opportunity to encounter each other,” Mr. Norten said. “It’s not really about just being a repository of books.”


In a stretch of frame rowhouses on Prospect Avenue, two have their cornices intact, but only one
- the faded, asphalt-shingled 385 - has its narrow, matching doorway.  With a small waterproofing ad tacked up top.


Monday, May 6, 2013

At the Front Door

There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of
the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years...

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the
esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms, and the fruit afterward,
and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road ...

And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Coming Soon on 8th

Behind Sunshine Chinese Bodywork & Star Nail, & adjacent to the Van Brunt P.O., a new building is set to rise, courtesy of H Holding Group.  You can see a Portfolio of its work here, and real estate listings (under the business name of Honorable Homes) here:

A brownstone look here, albeit a rather beige brownstone. And what's our frustrated real estate artist up to? There are shades of de Chirico here, with those harsh, unforgiving shadows & the sorry plain of grey surrounding the building.  And as an extra, surrealist twist, that shadow to the right of the stoop (behind the knot of smart-casuals, consulting floorplans) looks strangely like a large head, garlanded with newly planted tree.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Chance Encounter on Fourth

Back in March I paid a visit to McDonald between Avenues I & J, home to Silk City ("Floral Artistry in Silks"), Nick & Tony's Sandwich Shop, & the Starlite Lounge. The business next door to Silk City is Dominick's Distributors, & yesterday there was a Dominick's truck almost at my doorstep, displaying a cavalier disdain for the spelling of fancy food.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Sunny Balzano, & getting the bar re-opened (Daily News)
Petition to stop the city from leasing park space to developers at senior public housing residence Max Meltzer Tower, 94 East First Street (via EV Grieve)

"The proposed NYCHA infill plan will create luxury housing on existing properties throughout New York City intended for residents with limited incomes, depriving them of much needed air, light, space, and recreational facilities. In the case of Meltzer Tower, a residence for low-income seniors, NYCHA is planning to destroy a local park adjacent to the building containing a stand of over two-dozen fully mature trees."

A Study in Yellow

The other day I was taking a picture of yet another liquor store (a worrying obsession, perhaps) when I realized that most of the older liquor store photographs I already had featured yellow signs.  Yellow with red or black.  Certainly there are other plenty of other color choices for a liquor store, & I have examples of them, but yellow seems to be a go-to hue.  Not as consistently as old-school bodega yellow/red/blue, but still.  I suppose (too bad) it's just a matter of visual immediacy, with no unofficial alcohol color code behind the choice.  There are, after all, a ton of yellow shout-out store signs in the city, & maybe that's why I was drawn to notice more readily the ones I photographed.  And maybe I'm not even noticing some of the liquor stores with subtler colored signs ...

And now I think it's time to stop thinking about this kind of thing. But if there are any liquor store historians out there...

And just before we drop the topic, here are a few yellow examples.  I like them.



Park Slope

Bay Ridge

Jamaica once more

Upper East Side



Sheepshead Bay (well, part yellow & I like the sign too much to leave it out)