'Ghost signs' tell the history of NYC's businesses

Wander Greenwich Village on a clear, sunny day and you might just find a glimpse of old New York hidden in plain sight.

“The oldest signs are going to be the ones that have been painted on the walls. It was painted with lead paint and it bleached into the brick, so that’s why it’s survived in this case 70 to 80 years of rain snow and sleet,” said Frank Mastropolo. 

Mastropolo, a lifelong New Yorker, is out with his first book: “Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past.” He spent two years discovering and researching clues scrawled across the city.

“Ghost signs are signs that survived even though the businesses they advertised disappeared years ago, decades ago go sometimes.”

The book highlights more than a hundred different ghost signs in Manhattan below 14th Street.

“Avignone Pharmacy in its day was one of the oldest pharmacies in the United States. It started off in 1823.”

“The High Grade Frankfurters that’s next to it probably dates from about the same time. Samuel Slotnick was a Russian immigrant who started High Grade.“

“Cherry Lane Theatre was opened in 1924 by a playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay. You can see the sign is peeling very badly but thankfully they haven’t covered it up with something.”

“Carbone is one of the high-end Italian restaurants In New York City, but it wasn’t always such. Back in 1922 Rocco Stanziono opened Rocco Restaurant here. Happily Carbone retained the Rocco sign. If you see closely, you’ll see Rocco Restaurant which used to be in its own neon.”

So the next time you walk the streets of lower Manhattan, maybe now you’ll pay extra attention to the writing that’s on the wall!


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