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The Illuminated Village

Block Drug sign

As recent news about the painting over of the sign for the Fat Black Pussy Cat on Minetta Street can attest, historic signs add an important dimension to how we view our built environment, advertising our beloved owner-operated businesses and reminding us of some long lost, but well-remembered icons from the past. Illuminated signs seem to increase the nostalgia wattage.

So we thought we’d spend a little time exploring some of the Village’s most illustrious neon signs.

The illuminated neon sign that graces the façade of Block Drug, on Second Avenue and 6th Street, is a gem. Thanks to Jeramiah’s Vanishing New York, you can see images of the sign during the day and in full neon at night.  The sign proudly proclaims that the store has been there since 1895—no small feat in an ever-changing city. The orange and

C.O. Bigelow at night

pink colors and the curved lettering makes the Block Drug sign a standout.

Heading west, the illuminated sign of C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries on Sixth Avenue and 9th Street announces clearly that the store is below: just follow the bright blue arrow. Bigelow is even older than Block—it has been in business since 1838! They even have a page devoted to the store’s history on their website. C.O. Bigelow was awarded a Village Award by GVSHP in 2002.

The original Fedora sign (left) and a new recreation (right)

The recent change in ownership of the classic restaurant Fedora’s on West 4th Street between West 10th and Charles Streets (namesake Fedora Dorato is a 2009 Village Award winner) also brought a change to its illuminated sign. In desperate need of repair, the sign was taken down and now hangs on an interior wall. Thanks to the building’s landmark status, the new sign is a faithful recreation of the shape and lettering, although purists will point out that they couldn’t quite recreate the classic pink and green, kerning, and patina of the original.

The sign for the former Village Gate lives on

The iconic nightclub The Village Gate stood on Bleecker Street between Thompson and Sullivan Streets from 1958 to 1993. Owned by Art D’Lugoff, the famed club featured such musicians as John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, and Dizzy Gillespie, and enjoyed a thriving Latin music and comedy scene as well.  The space is now Le Poisson Rouge, and the owners, who collaborated with D’Lugoff on the club’s opening, adopted the old sign as well. Kudos!

Illuminated signs of bars like the White Horse Tavern (Hudson and West 11th Streets) and the Ear Inn (Spring Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets)

White Horse Tavern sign by day

are also standouts. Perhaps the oldest bar in New York City (catch the debate), The Ear Inn’s homemade adjustments to the “B” to make the sign read “Ear” are a fun addition to the Village’s illuminated sign line-up. The story goes that in the 1977 new owners changed the name from the Green Door to the Ear Inn “to avoid the Landmark Commission’s lengthy review of any new sign. The neon’ BAR sign was painted to read EAR, after the musical Ear Magazine published upstairs.”

A creative "Bar" sign at the Ear Inn

For more neon sign love, visit the blog Project Neon, which is documenting neon signs across the City.

And please let us know about other illuminated Village signs on your favorites list.


2 responses to “The Illuminated Village

  1. LOVE the historic, neon, illuminated signs and respect/appreciate that the effort has been to preserve them . . . evokes another era (colorful, nostalgic AND yes, historic) . . . an intrinsic part of our neighborhoods’ history that was permitted to vanish and taken too lightly . . . wonderful that these still remain intact . . .

    1. Yes, they are quite important to our history. A big thank you to the business owners who maintain them!

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