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.
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
Lumber Boys is in Murray Hill, and here’s a cool way to figure that out. Look at the old-fashioned phone number just above the door. It conceals the neighborhood name in a code of sorts: MUrray-0410. You’d dial M and U on your phone, or 68, and the rest of the number. #nyc #history #phone #urbanarchaeology
After 40 years of delays, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park at Roosevelt Island will open to the public on Wednesday. Set on the southern tip of FDR’s namesake island, it’s easily one of the most dramatic memorials you’ll see anywhere, and has been called the city’s new “spiritual heart.” Its story — and how it finally got built — is inspiring,
What’s especially amazing is that it’s the work of Louis Kahn, the master brutalist architect who died in 1974 in New York City, in the decade in which his memorial would have been built had it not been for the city’s epic fiscal crisis. That his vision has finally been realized 38 years after his death makes this memorial as much a tribute to Kahn as it is to Roosevelt.
I visited during a sneak preview on Saturday. Here are some of my photos. (You can easily plan an FDR weekend by visiting this memorial, and then heading upstate to Hyde Park. Here’s my post of his legacy in the Dutchess County town, the setting by the way, of an upcoming film, with Bill Murray quite credibly playing FDR himself.)
What do Miles Davis, Joseph Pulitzer, Celia Cruz, Robert Moses and Fiorello La Guardia have in common: Woodlawn, the Bronx’s breathtaking cemetery
New York City has some of the most extraordinary cemeteries in the world. Woodlawn Cemetery in the northern Bronx is one of them. Reachable by the No. 4 train — it is appropriately the last stop — the cemetery is one of the finest you will find anywhere on earth.
Its gentle sloping hills, lawns, trees and wildlife are an urban oasis — you could be dropped here and conclude you’re no where near New York City. The mausoleums and monuments are designed by renowned architects and sculptors, and how they complement the natural setting is breathtaking.
Woodlawn is also home to a grand constellation of amazing interments, people who were influential in a range of fields. The list of notables here is too great for any one blog post, but I have selected a handful of graves that are extraordinary to behold.
The fall is a wonderful time to explore the cemetery, as I did recently with map in hand. Here are some selections from my visit, organized in order of how I encountered them as I strolled from the main gate on Jerome Avenue:
J.C. Penney — yes, THAT J.C. Penney — rests here.
F.W. Woolworth started his legendary, namesake five-and-dime chain, about as simple and all-American as you can get. His grave, however, is anything but a five-and-dime. In fact, building it required a staggering amount of nickels and dimes, just as his skyscraper in lower Manhattan did.
The Cuban flag rests on her crypt, along with photos of the beloved salsa performer. She shares the mausoleum with her husband, Pedro Knight.
“La Guarachera de Cuba:” In Cuba back in the day, they called salsa “guaracha,” so the epitaph appropriately remembers her as “The salsa singer of Cuba.”
This is her tomb’s stained-glass window, as seen from the outside. It depicts the patroness of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity of Cobre (la Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre).
Fiorello La Guardia
Fiorello La Guardia’s tombstone is simple yet elegant, and has a bit of a 1940s air. Fiorello means “little flower,” so it’s only natural that his grave should depict one.
These music legends are in the “jazz neighborhood” of the park.
Roach and Jacquet are across from the grave of Sir Miles Davis. His tomb is dramatic, but the lettering can be somewhat difficult to read.
Of course, the fulcrum of the jazz neighborhood is the grave of Duke Ellington. He and his relatives rest under a large tree, flanked by two stone crosses. It’s a simple but dramatic sight.
The grave and family plot of Irving Berlin, who penned some of the most memorable songs ever. Pay your respects during the Christmas season (“White Christmas”) or Easter (“Easter Parade”) or whenever, really.
Jay Gould, 19th century industrialist and robber baron, rests in this impossibly ostentatious, interpretable (and unmarked) temple set on a vast lawn.
He may not be a household name anymore, but this robber baron’s baby is: The Long Island Rail Road.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, suffragette and pioneer of the women’s rights movement, is buried here. Her tombstone sums up her achievements.
Yellow journalist (and namesake of the considerably less yellow Pulitzer Prize) Joseph Pulitzer contemplates his final deadline here.
This is one of those graves where you just ask, “Wow, HE’S here?” Indeed, Herman Melville, the creator of “Moby Dick,” rests in Woodlawn beside his wife.
He’s hardly a household name, but J.C. Leyendecker is a big deal in the history of American illustration, publishing and advertising. He was the illustrator of the iconic Arrow Collar Shirt Man, and his work graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post before the magazine’s famous association with Norman Rockwell.
Here lies the great political cartoonist and Tammany Hall scourge Thomas Nast, who crafted the popular image of Santa Claus and the Republican Party elephant. This is definitely the time of year to pay your respects.
This was perhaps the most surprising tomb, not so much for its ostentation but rather for its utter lack of it. Here lies Robert Moses, one of the most powerful men in the New York of the 20th century, who ruthlessly transformed Gotham and the region through public work projects that to this day remain both vital and controversial. Yet here he lies, in a mausoleum, surrounded by the fellow New Yorkers his decisions influenced, who are far from powerbrokers. It’s shocking, really.
Text and photos: Rolando Pujol
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This fantastic vintage sticker survives outside an auto-repair shop in Tarrytown, N.Y. There’s a lot going on here for the “retrologically” inclined.
First, it harkens to the days when New York’s phone company was called NYNEX, which dates this to 1984-97. (NOTE: It was marketed as New York Telephone, a NYNEX company, from 1984 to 94, then just as NYNEX for three more years, but the Yellow Pages business was known as NYNEX during all those years.)
Second, it promotes the Yellow Pages! Who uses those anymore, even as booster seats?
Thirdly, it features the iconic “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking” logo.
And, my, that is one intense shade of yellow. (No filter needed.)
Text and photo: Rolando Pujol
#phones #phone #yellowpages #nynex #verizon #telephones #history #branding #tarrytown (Taken with Instagram)
A vintage Optimo Cigars sign in Queens has a little bit of everything, and some of it defunct, like ‘Walkman’ and film
Optimo Cigar signs were a staple of old New York. They existed on countless storefronts around the city, along with their cousin in promoting cigar-chomping among Gothamites, Te Amo. These days, Optimo and Te Amo signs are increasingly rare, so it’s a big deal when you find one, especially an example like this pair. They are an archaeological treasure trove.
The sign, above, touts multiple things that are either obsolete, or have been rendered somewhat taboo in New York — especially during the Bloomberg administration, with its aggressive public-health policies — such as, well, Optimo Cigars itself!
The sign also promotes obsolete goodies such as film and “Walkman.” These are all services, along with “radio,” that you can get these days not in piecemeal purchases at, say, a bodega, but on a smartphone, a point I make in this earlier Retrologist post about a nifty 60s sign in Park Slope.
The one right above is on the side of the building, and is also a retro gem, made all the more charming with its missing “I.”
Text and photos: Rolando Pujol
Here’s a neat real-estate relic in San Francisco’s Mission District. The vintage but well preserved sign on this building advertises “Furnished 2 & 3 Rooms Steam Heat Hot Water” #retro #vintage #sanfrancisco #sf #realestate #rentals #history #california (Taken with Instagram)