The Liberace Museum in Las Vegas may have closed in 2007, but you don’t have to go very far — or for that matter travel back in time — to see some gems from Mr. Showmanship’s collection.
As part of a dazzling promotion of HBO’s much-anticipated film, “Behind the Candelabra,” on Liberace and his love affair with the young Scott Thorson, the Time Warner Center is hosting an exhibit of fascinating artifacts from Lee’s amazing career.
Before you check out the film that stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson, check out the exhibit. And before you visit, watch Marvin Scott’s 1985 interview with Liberace and WPIX’s 1987 obituary of Liberace, with Donna Hanover. It was a joy to digitize them for PIX11.com/liberace.
1.) The Liberace slot machine!
This is a replica from the film set of Liberace’s slot machine. The exhibit explains that Liberace is rumored to have had a private gambling license so that his mom could gamble in peace. away from the casino ruckus.
The genius is in the details!
2.) Liberace’s costumes
Several of Liberace’s must-be-seen-to-be-believed suits are on display, including the Purple Ostrich, above, that he wore at Radio City Music Hall.
3.) Lee’s bling
The exhibit features some of Liberace’s baubles. (Check out that Swarovski crystal! THAT I wouldn’t call a bauble.)
4) Liberace ephemera
The exhibit features ephemera from his career. The movie makers did a remarkable job of producing convincing re-creations (with Michael Douglas’ visage) of old Liberace programs. Below, a detail from an original program features the iconic Pan Am logo.
Playing Radio City Music Hall was the culmination of a dream for Liberace.
5.) Lee’s Emmy and rhinestone microphones
Behold Liberace’s 1952 Emmy award for his syndicated TV show …
… his candelabra boots from 1956 „,
… and his rhinestone microphones.
6.) And last …
Liberace’s “famous bejeweled 9 foot Baldwin D-10,” which has been featured in the Smithsonian Piano Tour.
— and the signature candelabra.
7.) But not least ….
Lee’s rhinestone roadster, in which he rolled onto the stage! You have to see it to believe it, so run to the Time Warner Center while you can.
— Rolando Pujol
I’ve longed been intrigued by the New St. Clair Diner, which was at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street in Boerum Hill. The name was slightly evocative of something sophisticated — it had a whiff of old New York — and the fact that the sign said it had been there since 1920 made it all the more intriguing.
But for one reason or another, I never got around to going. And now, it’s too late. The St. Clair closed in early January, and the site has been purchased by developer Joe Sitt of Thor Equities. Its future as a glitzy retail space works in tandem with the increasing chichification of Atlantic Avenue and thereabouts.
You can read a nice ode to St. Clair HERE, and the Brooklyn Paper has more of the nitty gritty on the deal HERE.
The St. Clair, the Brooklyn Paper reports, opened in 1967 and was renovated in 2008 when it switched ownership. Well then, what to make of the “since 1920” business on the now vansished sign? Well, it’s safe to assume this was a restaurant for many decades prior to its incarnation as St. Clair.
The removal of the signage offers proof: Now visible for all the world (or, well, Atlantic Avenue) to see is a very old old sign for “RESTAURANT.” From the color to the font to the simple decision to go with “RESTAURANT,” instead of some glitzier branding, this sign clearly predates the 1960s by several decades.
The sign has not been hidden for decades though. As Lost City points out, it briefly surfaced in 2008 during the restaurant’s renovation.
Take a good look at this relic of another Brooklyn before it’s covered up again.
Or, let’s be honest, see it before it’s destroyed.
— Rolando Pujol
The New York Telephone Company. The name still carries nostalgic heft for New Yorkers of a certain age. The Bell company that served New York has taken on many names in the past couple of decades, including NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, and since 2000, Verizon. But at the end of the day, the DNA of New York Telephone is etched into the network that operates under the Verizon name these days.
Every so often, you’ll find relics of New York Telephone. Here are three I am fond of.
1.) The payphone sticker
Until 1984, New York Telephone did very little branding on public telephones. All you used to see was the 1969 Saul Bass-designed logo next to the word ‘“PHONE.”
When Ma Bell was officially busted up by the feds on Jan. 1, 1984, seven Baby Bells were created, which became holding companies for smaller local Bell companies. In the Northeast, NYNEX became the custodian of New York Telephone and New England Telephone.
The stickers you see here date from multiple generations: There’s “New York Telephone,” a NYNEX company, dating from 1984-1994, NYNEX, dating from 1994 to 1997, Bell Atlantic, dating from 1997 to 2000, and Verizon from 2000 until last year, where Verizon pulled out of the payphone business in New York.
But these stickers survive here and there. This particular specimen is in the Borough Hall subway station in downtown Brooklyn.
2.) The telephone bell
These wonderful little bells were affixed to telephone poles in New York state by New York Telephone. The NYT, of course, stands for New York Telephone.
There are clusters of them here and there. I’ve spotted many upstate, and in New York City, there is a batch in Forest Hills, where these two were photographed.
There are certainly others, and they serve as wonderful relics. But blink and you’ll miss them.
3.) Check cashing joints
Check-cashing joints are a repository of sorts for ancient name brands. I know of a few in New York City that still give you the option of paying your “New York Telephone” bill, free of charge. This one, on Court Street in downtown Brooklyn, preserves the New York Telephone name in neon.
This other sign, which I did an NBC New York segment on back in 2009, also preserves the NYT name, along with a few another defunct brand, Paragon Cable.
— Rolando Pujol
Grand Central Terminal is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. A remarkable exhibit on the station’s history recently closed at the terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. From time to time, I’ll post some photos from the show.
My first stop is these trains schedules. They’re sure trippy — pun intended! They are for two of the three lines that would become Metro-North in 1983, and already had the colors still associated with the Hudson (green) and Harlem (blue) divisions.
But look at the psychedelic design work, in particular the Harlem
division schedule, reminding you to “swing into summer” — and that summer was the most amazing one of 1968.
No doubt that many Harlem commuters had that very schedule on their person when they got the news that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot. (It is, by the way, the schedule that would be effective during the current episodes of “Mad Men.”)
Check out the cute little owl conductor character on the schedule on the far left, advertising something called Night Owl Service.
Hey, MTA, time to bring this wise guy back!
— Rolando Pujol
Longtime readers of The Retrologist know I have undertaken a years-long effort to document surviving depictions in signage of the pre-9/11 skyline.
Delivery trucks are a reliable source for these tributes of sorts to the Twin Towers. I found this one Friday morning, parked outside another New York icon that is thankfully very much still with us: The Chrysler Building.
READ MORE of my WTC coverage, including other depictions of the twins.
— Rolando Pujol
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental, paved highway that was dedicated in 1913, The Retrologist will be posting occasional posts inspired by my travels along and near this pioneering road.
Last weekend, some friends and I set off from Times Square, where the Lincoln Highway begins, and explored as much of the road as we could until we reached Hellam Township, Pa, home of the famous Haines Shoe House of 1948.
Along the way, we found many retro treats that I’ll share in the days and weeks ahead. (One year, we plan to drive the highway coast-to-coast, as many are doing on this milestone year. Its western terminus is Lincoln Park in San Francisco.)
This past Saturday, as we drove through Lancaster, we spotted this classic McDonald’s arch. I immediately made a (justified) big fuss and we pulled over, because I knew right off this sign was special.
We all call McDonald’s “The Golden Arches” these days, but once upon a time, the fast-food chain deployed only a single arch. This signage, which dates to the early 1960s, has been described as transitional, between the classic “Speedee” signs of the 1950s (like the unique specimen in Downey, Calif., the world’s oldest-operating McDonald’s) and the Golden Arches (two arches) logo concept we know today.
To me, stumbling upon this “Jetsons”-era midcentury modern-gem made the entire day trip worthwhile. There’s so much going on here, even beyond the rare “single arch.”
First off, there’s the McDonald’s name, set in an earlier font than the one used in the late 1960s and beyond. It’s not just the lettering, though — check out the all-cap emphasis on HAMBURGERS in the signage.
It harkens to the “hamburger stand” origins of the chain, and the fact that back in the day, the Golden Arches (or in this case, arch) weren’t an instant tip-off that this was a place to feast on fast food.
The “drive-thru” sign is a more recent addition, with a different font and vibe, that was perhaps installed in the later 1970s or 1980s. (The first McDonald’s drive-thru is said to have opened in 1975, long after this sign was in place.)
But the best part of this sign is the McDonald’s family crest, which flanks the sign. It’s a wonderful link to the McDonald’s brothers, who founded what would become an international chain in San Bernadino, Calif.
Ray Kroc, who used to sell “multimixer” milk-shake mixers to the McDonald brothers, saw the genius and potential of what the brothers were doing, and the rest is fast-food history. It’s pretty amazing to see the founding family’s crest as a distinctive part of the corporate iconography.
There are only a handful of these single-arch signs left, and not many were built in the first place, as the “Golden Arches” we know today were introduced shortly thereafter. A notable one that has been named a national historic landmark survives in Pine Bluff, Ark., and dates to 1962.
How wonderful that the sign in Lancaster survives along the Lincoln Highway, home to an amazing assortment of roadside Americana.
Check back in the next few days for more highlights from my Lincoln Highway drive.
— Rolando Pujol
On Elizabeth Street in Nolita, on a block that is filled with nouveau chi-chi shops, bars and boutiques, sits the 90-year-old Albanese Meats & Poultry.
Opened by Vincenzo Albanese in 1923, the store, originally located directly across the street, is a slice of old New York in the gentrified neighborhood.
— Jefferson Siegel
Jefferson Siegel is a New York-based photographer and a contributor to The Retrologist. Explore his website HERE.
I’m certainly a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but hadn’t been terribly excited about the new A&E series “Bates Motel.”
That is, until I saw this sign a few months back on Houston Street.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I’m entranced by
the glow of neon. The older the better, but anyone making a smart use
of the tubing wins my admiration.
Well, imagine my excitement one night in March when, from a distance, I
spotted this massive neon sign for BATES Motel on Houston Street. A
friend was driving me east, and I was so transfixed I asked to jump
off so I can snap these pics.
The series is a prequel to the original movie, with young Norman
working at the hotel with Mother Bates still very much alive. It’s
also set in the present, not the 1950s. (The movie was released in
Anyway, back to the sign.
Ain’t it cool? Not sure whether it’s still there, but if it still is, this fantastic foray into advertising is well worth a look.
— Rolando Pujol
At 155 Rivington St. on the Lower East Side, an “underwear” sign is still visible behind a roll-down gate.
Records show the building was built in 1910. According to a comment posted on the Forgotten NY web site, a man named Sam Berlin, along with his two brothers, once sold fancy underwear at this location.
Most recently the space was home to a bar called St. Jerome’s, which closed last year.
— Jefferson Siegel
Jefferson Siegel is a New York-based freelance photographer. Visit his website HERE.
Our #lincolnhighway trip ends with the Haines Shoe House. #Roadtrip pics soon on the #Retrologist #americana