Cryptic ghost letters that haunt a lower Manhattan building have a fascinating story to tell about the neighborhood’s transition from business to residential

Countless office workers hustle in and out of Hanover Gourmet Deli every day, but well before this was a place for an overpriced lunch, these walls cradled a different sort of commodity exchange. 

This building was once home to the New York Cotton Exchange, and you don’t have to refer to any history books to confirm this as fact. The ghost of its past is imprinted in stone just outside the deli.

One entrance to the deli, above, has the cryptic fragments “YORK” and “EXCHANGE.”  Another entrance, below, fills in the blanks with “NEW Y” on one line, and “COTTON” on the next.

Our urban archaeological dig is complete: We are standing before the former home of the New York Cotton Exchange.

What these ghost letters won’t tell you is that the cotton exchange is Wall Street’s oldest commodities exchange. They also won’t give away that the exchange eventually moved to 4 World Trade Center, and was destroyed on 9/11. Nor will the letters reveal that this building became the first major residential conversion in lower Manhattan, back in the late 1970s.

Today, of course, so much of lower Manhattan’s future is tied to the residential resurgence that took off after 9/11, but had quietly begun decades before, at places like the old Cotton Exchange building at 3 Hanover Square. This building’s history encompasses competing tensions in the life of the Financial District: it reflects the transition from a neighborhood that was largely focused on business, to one that is becoming a residential boomtown.

Those ghost letters are a fascinating window into an important part of the story of lower Manhattan.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol

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Across WTC, ghost signage reminds us that Century 21 department store was once a distinguished 20th century bank

On the side of the Century 21 clothing store building on the corner of Church & Dey Streets, directly across from the WTC site, you can make out the letters spelling out “East River Savings Bank Safe Deposit Vaults”

The building dates to the early 1930’s. There was also a branch in the lower level of the World Trade Center complex.                                                                                               
Text and photo: Jefferson Siegel


Editor’s note: This post is a guest contribution from New York-based photographer Jefferson Siegel, a longtime newspaper colleague of mine who has a sharp eye for uncovering traces of New York’s past. His contributions will appear on The Retrologist from time to time.

Tort lawyer’s dream: Faded Brooklyn ad for ‘The Hottest Coffee Around’

This faded ad on Fulton Street is a bit of a historical curiosity. After all, it seems no promotion today would tout coffee so boldly in this manner in the aftermath of the infamous ‘Hot Coffee’ lawsuit against McDonald’s, which basically, among many more important things, helped lead to the scourge that are cup cozies and the obligatory  ”Caution! Contents May  Be Hot” line emblazoned on your morning cup of Joe. I’m not sure how old this ad is, or what brand it was promoting, though this Flickr user mentions it was for Dunkin’ Donuts.

No matter, it’s impossible not to think about the McDonald’s case when you look at it, so prominently does it lord over Fulton Street.

Below, watch Kramer on “Seinfeld” plot to sue in a ripped-from-the-headlines twist. And click here for a must-see HBO documentary, "Hot Coffee," which could well make you feel foolish for mocking the McDonald’s lawsuit all these years.

Photo and text: Rolando Pujol