21 February 2009

Iconic Neon Gets Its Due in Paper of Record

The New York Times' Christopher Gray delves into the critical topic of the City's landmark neon signs and their preservation on a Feb. 19 piece. The subject is much in the news lately due to the removal of the widely familiar P&G Cafe sign at 73rd and Amsterdam. The sign was landmarked and, while the owners, who are moving their business uptown, had the right to remove the sign, they apparently did not follow exact City protocol in doing so.

Gray, one of my favorite Gray Lady scribblers, talks about many of the signs that Lost City has obsessed over for years, including the Dublin House, Russ & Daughters and Gringer Appliances. And he does some nifty homework.

Gray notes that, "of a sample of a dozen notable neon signs in Manhattan, the earliest appears to be from 1933: that of Dublin House, a bar at 225 West 79th Street. Its sign was commissioned by the lessee, the Dublin-born John P. Carway, for whom E. G. Clarke Inc. designed a great two-sided sign with a green harp, and “BAR” and “TAP ROOM” flashing on and off — a masterpiece in neon."

Finally, someone at the Paper of Record says what we all know: certain neon signs are masterpieces, and should be protected and cherished.

We also learn about Charles Karsch, a Yiddish-speaking immigrant, and a master of neon art. He created the signs for the White Horse Tavern, Gringer Appliances and P&G! That's like saying one architect was responsible for the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Woolworth Building. There should be a statue of him somewhere in the City! How many hundreds of hours of joy has he brought to generations of New Yorkers?

Gray also discovers that the cost of restoring old neon is not an argument against doing it:

Mr. Friedman said that his firm was making more neon signs than ever. And there is plenty of neon innovation out there, like the tumbled letters of BAR that proclaim the Essex Street Alehouse on Essex near Houston Street, and the moody blue script of the Nightingale, a lounge on Second Avenue at 13th Street.

His firm restored both the Gringer and Russ & Daughters signs. Mr. Friedman says the cost of putting vintage neon to rights is not an argument against it. While an entirely new neon sign like Gringer’s would be about $20,000, he says restoring one much like it would cost about $10,000, roughly the same as an entirely new plastic one.

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