09 October 2014

Oyster Bar Neon Sign Found on Delancey

I was walking down Delancey some weeks ago when my eye was caught be this corner restaurant. "I know that sign," I thought to myself. I went in an inquired at Grey Lady, the restaurant in question, and sure enough: it was the classic, double-sided neon sign that hung for more than fifty years over the Famous Oyster Bar at 54th Street and Seventh Avenue, until it went out of business in January 2014. The owners had bought it and salvaged it. I think it actually looks better on the desolate corner of Delancey and Allen.

As some of you have doubtless noticed, I haven't posted much lately. I have been busy working on a couple books and a variety of other activities. So, for the time being, I'm going to let Lost City rest as a sort of permanent document of what New York was, and what New York has lost in the past decade. I will occasionally post when the spirit moves me. I've put too much into the site to let it die completely. In the meantime, thanks to everyone and anyone who visits this blog and loves New York.

07 October 2014

New Photo of Cariero's Restaurant

I have been chronicling the history of Cafiero's Restaurant for five years or so now and accumulated quite a cache was previously unseen, private photographs of the once-legendary Brooklyn restaurant by now.

Here's a new arrival. I was told it was taken in the 1930s, when the restaurant was relatively fresh to President Street. (It would last until the 1970s when owner "Sharkey" Cafiero retired and closed it down for good, breaking the hearts of many.) However, it looks just like one I have on which the date "1949" is written. Whatever. It's still one of the best photos I've seen. For more, click here.

What I still lack is an actual artifact from the place: a napkin, ashtray, menu, advertisement, plate, anything. I know it wasn't the kind of place that printed menus, or advertised, or have dishware with its name on it. But I keep hoping.

03 September 2014

Because They Can't Leave Anything Alone

I was walking up Avenue A about a month ago when I notice a lot of scaffolded over the building that houses the Gracefully deli—apparently the future home of the New York Sports Club. I peered more closely behind the wood and metal and mesh and noticed that, in their refurbishment of the building, the vandals had taken down the distinctive, vertical, block sign that had for decades announced the address as the former home of Burger Klein.

28 August 2014

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Kew Gardens Cinema

I don't think I've ever posted an item regarding Kew Gardens. Well, that changes today, as a kind reader sent me this photo of a wooden phone booth on view inside Kew Gardens Cinema.

27 July 2014

Old Deli Sign Uncovered on Upper Broadway

A reader sent to me this photo of a lovely old Delicatessen sign that was uncovered during construction on a storefront at Broadway and 103rd. Can't make out the first word—that is, the name of the place. Lovely font on the sign.

25 July 2014

ANOTHER Giambelli's Memory

I have to say, Giambelli's must have been some place. I wrote about it's closing, after 50 years on E. 50th Street, five years ago. And the comments and memories keep flowing in. Makes me hurt inside that I never went there. 

This one came the other day. It's from "Peniche" in New Zealand (!). Just read and marvel:
...We used to dine at Giambelli regularly in the mid 1970s. One evening we arrived to find the restaurant gutted for renovation. As we turned to leave a diminutive, but immaculate gentleman on the sidewalk introduced himself. 'I am Francesco Giambell...please!' and indicated a stretch Cadillac, sat beside the driver and took us to Mercurios. He asked my name, led us into the restaurant clapping his hands announcing 'Champagne for Senor Peniche and his party,' saw that we were well seated and returned to Giambelli for more customers. I have thereafter been called 'Peniche' by my friends although the name only vaguely resembles my own.

03 July 2014

The History of the Valley Candle Company

A couple years ago, I posted an item about how the television series "Miami Vice," in 1985, was allowed to blow up up an old business on Columbia Street called the Valley Candle Company.

I didn't know much about the company when I wrote that post. Since then, however, I've been contacted by a descendent of the company's founder. That was Saverio DellaValle, pictured below. (Hence, the name of the business.) Saverio came to Brooklyn from Naples in 1905. He made religious candles and delivered them to the churches in NYC. An open-minded businessman, he also made candles for the religious Jewish holidays. There were family stories that, while he was making candles, Saverio ran a still running in the factory during Prohibition. There's an enterprising gent!

The family sold the business in the '70s.

02 July 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: Random Sign

Looks like I have some globe-trotting readers. A native of Edinburgh, who was recently traveling in San Francisco, snapped this shot from a taxi on mid-Market Street. "The building was having a complete renovation, and this was briefly exposed in the process," wrote the reader. "I’m assuming that it was formerly a pawn broker."

30 June 2014

Wooden Phone Booth Sighting: Harmonie Club

A reader who has been very good about spying old wooden phone booths in the City and sending me shots of them, has done so again!

This was taken inside the Harmonie Club at 4 E. 60th Street, a club I did not even know existed. The Harmonie Club was founded in 1852 and has been in its handsome McKim Mead and White designed building on 60th since 1904. "Jacket and Tie are Required. Shorts, sneakers or tennis shoes are not permitted at any time." My kind of place.

19 June 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: A Good Sign: Kaye's Footwear

Old Kaye's Footwear, which once sold Florsheim Shoes in San Francisco's Chinatown, doesn't exist anymore, but the handsome sign lives on.

17 June 2014

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: A Good Sign: McKenzie's

An old bit of signage in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. It is currently the home of the Creole Creamery, an ice cream joint. McKenzie's, founded in the 1920s, was a bakery, and a bit of a legend in NOLA.

16 June 2014

The Building With the Curved Cornice

I've long been intrigued by this small trick building on Fulton Mall, largely because of its unusual, curbed cornice, which appears to be original. I've not been able to find out anything about its past life. Anyone out there known anything?

13 June 2014

Lost City: New Orleans Edition; A Perfect Storefront: United Hardware

Hole in the wall, bunker-like hardware store in New Orleans. Hard to believe it's in business. But it obviously is.

11 June 2014

Lost City: New Orleans Edition: A Good Sign: Dixie Bottle Beer

This local juke joint in the Faubourg Marigny section of New Orleans shut down some time ago. But you still have to admire the frontage, with it's huge colorful, hand-painted sign advertising Dixie Bottle Beer and 35-cent highballs. At those prices, it must have been painted in the 1950s. In it's original form, Dixie existed from 1907 to 1989.

10 June 2014

A Perfect Storefront: Franklin Street Laundromat

This is just a laundromat on Franklin Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that I like the look of. Guess what it's called? Franklin Street Laundromat. Old painted sign. Old brick building. Old stick-on letter advertising "Prompt Service," "Drop Off Service" and "Self Service." Every kind of service!

09 June 2014

The Grandure of the 33rd Street Subway Stop

Most subway stations make you feel depressed and oppressed. They are dirty, crowded, filled with fetid air and not particularly attractive. A few raise your spirits.

I've always liked the 33rd Street Station on the 6 line, and am always surprised by its perhaps unintentional grandiosity whenever I climb down into it. It's a very low-sitting station and you have to descend a great flight of stairs to get to it. Nothing unusual there. Many subway stations lie far below the sidewalk. The difference here is that at 33rd Street you don't end up in a low-ceilinged, claustrophobic box, but in a spacious airy chamber with a great sense of flow and line.

06 June 2014

The "L" Club For Women

An old, small building stuck amid newer, larger buildings always captures my attention. It's screams, "Another Era," "Holdover," "Survivor," "Relic" and like notions.

This four-story bit at 229 Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill did the trick with its recessed fourth floor and three stories of windows, indicated it once houses several different businesses. Those modest in proportions, it does stand out as an interesting piece of utilitarian architecture. And it seems to have survived intact.

05 June 2014

Ancient Hardware Store Makes Way for Condo Tower

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Hardware stores are some the sturdiest businesses in New York. In nearly every neighborhood in New York, you'll find at least one longstanding, family-owned hardware store. They give a guy hope.

Vercesi Hardware on E. 23rd Street was one of the oldest in town—and increasingly incongruous on a major thoroughfare that had virtually nothing old about it. Sadly, it finally gave up the ghost last November. Now, it look like the building, and two others next to it, will be torn down and replaces with a 20-story condo tower.

Vercesi Hardware actually wasn't a hardware store for all of its 100-year existence. It began in 1912 as a sheet music store. (Tin Pan Alley was nearby.) Then, it was a radio and television store during the 1930s. It only began to sell hardware and housewares beginning in 1960. There's adaptability for you.

An Old/New Hot Dog Joint

Here's a bit of downtown Brooklyn that feels likes its remained unchanged since the 1950s. Actually, the business as we see it today, run by Tariq Khan and Anwar “Sha” Shazad, has been here at Fulton Street and Elm Place since 1982. 32 years—nothing to sneeze at.

The reason it looks so old is the owners recently gave the place a makeover that restore some of the signage to the state it was in the 1950s. Hence, the red and white striped awning and huge sign saying "Frankfurters." According to the owners, they have records going back a century of an eatery of some sort existing here. It's a welcome site, as it. Long narrow lunch counters such as this, in which the all-glass exteriors were completely open to street traffic, used to be common sights in New York, especially around Times Square. You go in, grab a dog, pay $1, and you're on your way. Convenience, New York style.

04 June 2014

Death of a Liquor Store

Noticed this gutted liquor store on an oddly shaped plot on Sixth Avenue between Walker and White, in Tribeca. This used to be the Brite Buy Liquor Store. It was a two-story building that stretch from this corner you see to the Tribeca Tavern next door. It wasn't anything to look at. Just a down-scale liquor story. But one of the last vestiges of a non-rarified Tribeca. The owners are turning the site into a restaurant. I guess they'll take the liquor sign down last. Those big neon signs are tough mothers to rip down.

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: A Good Sign: Little City Market

Little City Market is a butcher in the North Beach section of San Francisco. It's been in the Spinali family for three generations. The neon signs inside are just as good as the ones outside.

03 June 2014

Gage & Tollner Building Falling Into Ruin

The Gage & Tollner building was once a thing a beauty—the only thing of beauty, in fact, on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn for decades. Now, it is an eyesore.

02 June 2014

The Saga of Flora Mir

This building on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Caton Avenue made me stop in my tracks. The facade seemed needlessly ornate and rococo. It reminded me of the old, long, one-story buildings you see here and there in the city that used to be the homes of Child's restaurants. For a moment I thought that this address itself might have been a Child's at one point.

A little research proved that theory wrong. Just as it is today, this structure was originally chopped up into various assorted businesses. In 1944, there was a poultry and egg shop here, a florist and a place offering electrolysis. And a few offices on the second floor. But the main operation, occupying the corner space, was a store called Flora Mir.

27 May 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: Molinari Delicatessen

Molinari is a lovely old Italian delicatessen in the North Beach section of San Francisco. It's not much different from the sort of old Italian delis you'll find in Brooklyn or some parts of lower Manhattan. You'll find much the same assortment of Italian imports. The facade and window displays are pulled off with more art, however.

It was founded in 1896 as P.G. Molinari. P.G. was an Italian immigrant who landed as a teenager in San Francisco in 1884. There he learned the trade of dried sausage making as a salume factory. The original store was at 433 Broadway, but the earthquake took care of that. The second store opened in 1913 at 373 Columbus Street and stayed there. The facilities where all the sausage are made are elsewhere in San Francisco at a big facility, but the storefront remains.

They're know for their sandwiches. One nice touch: when you order a sandwich, you have to go and pick out the loaf of bread for the sandwich yourself and hand it over to the deli man.

23 May 2014

The Fighting Fish of Flatbush

Here's a little ladies wear shop on Flatbush Avenue with an awful name and an awful garish awning. Not a place of great interest on the surface of it. Yet, the devil is in the details. Look up on the second floor of the small building and you find a curious stone ornament. The maritime-themed sculpture depicts two fierce-looking fish on either side of a seashell, their tails entwined around the sort of Triton that Neptune typically carried. I know from similar sculptures both here and in Europe, that those fish, despite their angry attitudes, are meant to dolphins.

So what fishy history lies in the past of 876 Flatbush Avenue?

22 May 2014

History in a Matchbook: El Parador

El Parador still stands on far E. 34th Street. It remains the oldest Mexican restaurant in the City. Here's an early reminder from the days when you could smoke inside.

On the inside cover, the restaurant brags about its New York Times review, and let's you know that payment is in cash only! Also: No reservations! That, of course, has all changed.

Here's my "Who Goes There?" column about El Parador from a few years back.

21 May 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: A Good Sign: Stella Pastry

Stella Pastry and Cafe is located in the once-heavily Italian neighborhood of North Beach. It was founded in 1942. They brag they are the birthplace of the dessert Sacripantina: "a multilayered cake made with a vanilla sponge cake, zabaione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wine) cream, and rum. We have a patent on the name and the unique dome shape and over the years it has become a San Francisco tradition."

20 May 2014

Cute Cottages in Not-So-Cute Part of The Bronx

While on a recent visit to The Bronx, I noticed this string of adorable, colorful, little cottages. Given their diminutive size, and that they sit on the edge of Port Morris, a former center of industry, I'm assuming they were build as workman's cottages. They reminded me of similar housing on Dennet Place in Carroll Gardens and Verandah Place in Cobble Hill.

These homes are on E. 137th Street. On one side there is an empty lot, on the other an old factory. The buildings have an interesting feature in that they all have staircases leading down to a square yards of considerable dimension. When I was there, some were filled with snow and ice. Others were filled the junk. I'm guessing the bad old days of The Bronx, back in the 1970s, these sunken cement days could have save havens for all sorts of nefarious activities.

18 May 2014

Half-And-Half Store

This building at 866 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn is conducting a double life. On the bottom half, it is Golden Shoes, a going concern. The top half, though, obscured by the windows, is a reminder of the address' former life as Opera Bridal, which had "everything for the"....something. The upper sign is far more charming than the lower.

14 May 2014

History in a Matchbook: Chuan Yuan

128 Montague Street is presently occupied by Vegetarian Ginger. It's one of those lovely upstair joints peculiar to this street, in which you walk up a demi-staircase to get to the restaurant, which is a half-story above the sidewalk.

But one upon a time, this corner building (at Henry Street) was the home of Chuan Yuan, which served "authentic Szechuan cuisine." Just your local Chinese restaurant, as many neighborhoods had back in the day. There was a cheese store on the lower level. Norman Mailer used to eat here when he lived in Brooklyn Heights. (A picture of the building back in the day is below, courtesy of Brooklyn Heights Blog.)

Chuan Yuan closed—along with a lot of other small businesses—in the mid-80s, when genius Montague landlords decided to jack up rents.

13 May 2014

Furs By Novick Isn't Going Anywhere

Back in 2008, I posted about some of the delightful old signage that can be found on Flatbush Avenue, including the stubborn vertical neon sign for Furs By Novick. More than six years later, I'm happy to report that no one's bothered to take down Novick's handiwork.

12 May 2014

First Visit to Sarge's Deli 2.0

It took me shamefully long to get back to Sarge's Deli, which reopened March 6 after a 15-month closure caused by a fire that broke out in November 2012. I should have been there at the door the day they turned out their first sandwich.

11 May 2014

A Perfect Storefront: All Brooklyn Locksmith

How many services can you mention in the signage of an eight-foot-wide storefront? Not as many as All Brooklyn Locksmith does!

09 May 2014

Corner of Cobble Hill History Destroyed

A unique, if unsung, corner of history in what used to be called South Brooklyn (now Cobble Hill) has been wantonly destroyed.

South Brooklyn used to be dotted not only with churches (its the "Borough of Churches," remember), but with numerous accompanying convents. Remnants of these institutions still exist, if you know where to look. (There's a former nun's residence on President Street between Clinton and Court, and another on the corner of Congress and Clinton.)

One of the more prominent former convents stands at the southeast corner of Kane and Henry, opposite P.S. 29. The buildings were part of a convent called the the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor/Congregation of the Infant Jesus, an order which began in France. They devoted their time to caring for the sick, looking after their homes and giving them medicine. The nuns used to hold dances to raise money. According to my records, the buildings were built in 1906.

08 May 2014

History in a Matchbox: Dewey Wong

From the era of fabulous midtown Chinese restaurants, we get this matchbook from the lost Dewey Wong of E. 58th Street, between Second and Third. There were enough restaurants on that block in the 1960s for it to be called a restaurant row in the 1960s It advertised itself as "fine Chinese cuisine in an luxurious atmosphere." It was described as a "new" restaurant by the New York Times in 1969, so it probably opened in the late '60s. It served "conventional" Chinese food.

Mr. Wong is still alive; he has a Facebook page.

07 May 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: A Good Sign: Gaspere's

Now, on the website for Gaspere's, a pizzeria in the Richmond section of San Francisco, it says this family restaurant opened in 1985. Does that facade and that sign look like it was put up in 1985? Not to me. Both of the signs light up at night.

06 May 2014

Racine Landmark Totero's to Close After 75 Years

Totero's, a priceless, one-of-a-kind Italian restaurant in Racine, Wisconsin, that I just discovered a couple years ago, is going to shutter on June 26 after 75 years in business.

Totero's was founded by Calabrian immigrants Achille and Mary Totero as a tavern in 1939. It was subsequently run by their son Santo "Sam" Totero and his wife Virginia, and is still run by Sam's children Al and Angela. Al runs the bar, Angela the kitchen. Sam died in February 2011 at the age of 89. The building is a converted schoolhouse. The 36-foot bar was contributed by the Pabst brewery back during The Great Depression.

Albert and Angela Totero have decided to retire. "It’s just been a long, hard road," they told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, "and it’s just time. The place is old, and it needs some work." Their children have their own professions and don't want to take over.

Totero's is one of the most unique places I've ever had the pleasure to visit. As I said in my 2012 post, "There is often a line, for this 72-year-old, family-run restaurant is only open Tuesday through Friday, and even then for just two hours, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The peculiar schedule harkens back to Totero's roots as a lunch place serving the working men in the area. There used to be dinner hours, but they were eliminated a number of years back. Despite—or maybe because of—the limited window of opportunity, Totero's packs them in. People take the time to visit in the middle of the day, queue up and load up on homemade, hearty Italian fare."

05 May 2014

The Last Remnant of the Commodore Hotel

Little Italy Pizzeria on W. 43rd off Fifth Avenue in Midtown doesn't look particularly historical. However, the independent business is actually nearly a half century old and perhaps the last existing link to one of New York's most storied hotels.

02 May 2014

History in a Matchbook: Rum House

New York rips down and disposes of its history with such efficiency that sometimes the only evidence that a business, restaurant, bar ever existed lies it the flotsam and jetsam it produced whilst alive. Matchbooks for instance.

In my years of research, I've spent a good amount of time chasing down the relics of bygone landmarks. But, more often than not, those relics—menus, ashtrays, glassware, plates, flatware, etc.—are gone, and gone for good. For the completely vanished restaurants and bars of Gotham, two types of relic, however, endure: the postcard and the matchbook.

The Rum House bar in the Hotel Edison has not disappeared. The hotel is still there on W. 47th Street, and the Rum House is in it. But the bar was renovated a few years back, and turned into a swanky cocktail bar. I don't dislike the new version. It has a good vibe, offers live music and the drinks are well made. But I still miss the dive it replaced. Here's proof of the old Rum House that stood in its place—and that you once could smoke there. Notice the tiki-esque font used for "Rum House."

01 May 2014

The Soulful Uncoolness of the New York Hobby Shop

Few businesses make me think of how New York used to be, and what it's lost in the last 15 years, than hobby stores. What sane person today would try to open a hobby shop in New York today? Such businesses of minimal profitability and marginal necessity—once an option in the City's economic universe—are virtual impossibilities in the ruthless world of today where the only indy businesses that can possibly survive are high-end bars, restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and other enterprises connected to status-driven immediate gratification. There's no such thing as an artisanal hobby store. Hobby stores are incurably uncool in today's world, even if they feed an important need in humans to find an interest or skill in which they can excel in a small way and take their minds off the infinite cares of the day.

30 April 2014

Lost City: San Francisco Edition: A Perfect Storefront: Paradise Coffee & Donuts

There's nothing so special about this downtown San Francisco shop. There's certainly nothing historic. I just like it's general simplicity, along with the Coca-Cola sponsored signage, the old-style frontage with the indented entrance, the long narrow windows on the door, the thatch of ceramic tiling in front of the door and the rows of transom-like windows at the top. For added value, there's that line of neon-bright "fruit juice" jugs in the window. The liquid inside is sugary poison, but the bottles sure are pretty.

It's on a rough stretch of street—near a lot of big hotels, but also in the middle of area favored by prostitutes, druggies and the homeless. So, given that, you can take the place's name as either ironic or hopeful.