Broadway is easily America’s most famous thoroughfare. Starting in lower Manhattan at Bowling Green and running the entire length of the island, it strings together some nine to fifteen neighborhoods—depending on who you ask—before bleeding over into the Bronx, serving as a cross-sectional study of the City’s diversity in ethnicity, utility and design. As the Main Street of Manhattan, Broadway exhibits a catalogue of lettering—from neon lights to mom-and-pop shop signs, from theater marquees to building names. Join Hopes&Fears as we tour the typography of Broadway.
Click on a letter on the cover to explore,
A to Z
Starting out at Broadway and W 181st St, the team, together with typography expert Ksenya Samarskaya, traveled by bicycle down Broadway to Bowling Green on the lookout for outstanding lettering, documenting around 200 samples. We then worked to identify and classify each specimen. With Samarskaya’s help, we narrowed our choices to 26 images, focusing on exhibiting as diverse a range of type category, classification and method of production as possible, while showcasing a distinct letter or digit for each in the alphabet. While the vast majority of samples we found are one-off designs, we also identified similar or influential typefaces.
While the Transportation Building itself is rather unremarkable (especially when compared to its next door neighbor, the marvelous Woolworth Building), the ornamental lintel at its entrance is worth beholding. York & Sawyer, the architects behind the Renaissance-revival office building, were notably obsessed with Italian Medieval and Renaissance design, and the Lombardic details carved throughout the façade are a testament to that. The engraved name is a mix of Roman type and Lombardic or Medieval-inspired uncial script, the latter of which is especially apparent in the letters “A” and “U”.
Classification: Decorative script
The historic Beacon Theatre has changed hands a few times since it was first built in 1929, with each new owner introducing new marquee signage. Despite its authentic vintage appearance, the current Beacon Theatre sign is less than twenty years old; while its exact date of replacement has been difficult to pinpoint, historic photos suggest the new sign made its appearance sometime between 1998 and 2000. This newest sign uses typeface called Black Chancery, a disjointed script created by Doug Miles and Earl Allen in 1993. The Beacon Theatre is currently owned by The Madison Square Garden Company, who put the marquee back into working order as part of its massive $16 million restoration of the theater’s landmarked interior in 2008.
Upper West Side
A Beaux-Arts building erected in 1905, the Merchants Building has the Classical details associated with its style, including this cartouche and its roman lettering above the entrance to its upper floors. At 16 stories tall, the Merchants Building was apparently “one of the first of its class to be erected on Broadway between Wanamaker's Store at East 9th Street and Duane Street,” so the Duane Reade that now occupies its ground level is an unwitting tribute to the building’s historical significance.
Riverside Park Community
Geometric neo-grotesque sans
Typeface: similar to Rail Alphabet
With its perfectly-round “o” and “d”, the engraved address for the Riverside Park Community seems like a case-study geometric sans; it’s almost the famous Futura, which—considering that the Riverside Park Community was conceived as an affordable housing project—would be a nice homage to Paul Renner’s typographical contribution to the New Frankfurt public housing project (also notable is the fact that both planned communities are exemplary modernist designs, though 45 years apart). But the “a” sticks out like a sore thumb as distinctly not geometric. The “y” appears to be from Rail Alphabet, a font designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert in 1965 for British Railways (another public entity), which required a typeface that train engineers could read from a long distance while traveling at high speeds.
112 La Salle St
Classification: Geometric sans
Typeface: Similar to Neuzeit-Grotesk
Signage: Architectural Signage
Icon Parking Systems has essentially dominated the garage business in NYC, bringing with it a surfeit of generic mixed Helvetica/Arial signage with it. In that respect, the sign above the Morningside Garage entrance is a breath of fresh air. The lettering is inspired by Wilhelm Pischner’s 1928 typeface Neuzeit-Grotesk, a noted rival to Paul Renner’s famous Futura. In 1970, Neuzeit-Grotesk became a standard typeface of German traffic signage, making this particular sign a nice homage to urban transportation planning.
Classification: Joined script
Typeface: similar to ATF Commercial Script
Signage: bas-relief iron
Despite its distinct lettering, Treffurth’s is an easily-missed relic of Broadway-past. Sitting at the very top of its four-story Renaissance-revival location, the sign dates back to around 1900, when Richard L. Treffurth assumed the lease and opened his eponymous restaurant on the ground floor. Not much is known about the business or its owner beyond what’s compiled in the NoHo Historic District Designation Report, but a photograph in the fabulous 1910 photography book Both Sides of Broadway captures the restaurant in all of its original glory. A T-Mobile now resides in its stead.
The lettering itself appears as a bas-relief engraving in the galvanized iron cornice. The joined script is reminiscent of a Morris Fuller Benton script typeface; it most closely resembles ATF Commercial Script, but Treffurth’s predates the inception of Commercial Script by eight years. Notable is the mustache-like “h”, which makes one ponder if the proprietor had a mustache as well. Also evident is the choice to include a period at the end of the name, which according to designer and tech journalist Adam Banks was common at the time. “Typography [during this period] tended to be highly decorative, so any addition that could be made was welcomed as an extra element to work with. See the commas, for example, in this business card,” Banks explains. Banks points out that the “perfection” of the lettering is another element unique to the era, especially visible in the nearly-identical “f’s”. Banks says, The Victorian lettering artist, working mostly by hand, would have taken pride in demonstrating consistency. Today, you’d probably see a signwriter or typeface designer deliberately making them slightly different; now that we mostly use automated tools for type, and favour simplicity, we value hand-finished variation.”
NoHo, East Village
Number One Broadway
Classification: Classic roman with art deco influence
Number One Broadway is more than just a prestigious address; situated on the City’s oldest public space, the building sits on the exact site of the infamous acquisition of Manhattan island by Dutch settlers for $24. As it stands today, Number One Broadway is a Classical Revival design built and completed for the International Marine Mercantile Company in 1921, starting what the Landmarks Preservation Commission calls a “‘canyon’ of neo-classical masonry office towers.” The façade of the building reflects the company it contained, with plates featuring the ports of call occupied by the IMMC, mosaic depictions of sea creatures, and imitation steamship traits (such as entrances being labeled as “First Class” and “Cabin Class” designations).
This bronze tablet presents the history of the site up until its purchase by the IMMC. The typeface is a lightweight condensed roman, but with evolutionary details that demonstrate transition between the old and the new; "Classic, with a Great Gatsby elegance," Samarskaya says. While the “G” has a flourished spur reminiscent of the fading Victorian movement, the extraneously symmetrical “O” predicts the push for the geometric typefaces to come.
Macy’s Herald Square
R. H. Macy & Company Store
Oldstyle roman capital, Victorian
The typeface for the modern Macy’s department store logo is a cautious ITC Avant Garde Gothic ExtraLight, suitable for the mass mainstream appeal that the company depends on. But the Broadway entrance of Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square displays two vintage logos with a bit more character. The first is the massive slab serif gold lettering that fills the five central windows of the building’s third floor. Historically, slab serifs were designed to grab a reader’s attention (e.g. “WANTED” criminal posters), a fairly predictable choice for the famously sensational company.
Less visible but far more unique is the bronze R. H. Macy & Co. sign above the metal awning, that was almost certainly a one-off design for the store. The “R. H.” is a pretty standard Oldstyle Roman. “Macy & Co.” lettering falls out of step with this however—the vertex on the “M” doesn’t meet the baseline and the “C” ends in clean finials, both atypical choices for a Roman typeface. The “A” is especially unique, reminiscent of the Victorian Oxford No. 2 typeface created in 1893 by the Cleveland Type Foundry. The vertically-centered periods and decorative “degree” symbols are also characteristic Victorian flourishes.
Fort Washington Florist
Classification: Geometric sans
By the time we snapped a photo of this neon FORT WASHINGTON sign, evidence of whatever commercial enterprise that had once been there was long gone and half boarded up. Upon doing a little digging into the Department of Buildings records, however, uncovered an illuminated sign permit for the words FORT WASHINGTON FLORIST issued to the address in April of 1998. It turns out that the Fort Washington Florist—which shuttered just this past January—first opened its doors in 1917, operating for nearly a century in the historically immigrant neighborhood.
The sign itself features ITC Bauhaus, a geometric sans typeface designed by Edward Benguiat and Victor Caruso. The name reflects the designers’ inspiration, the Universal typeface created in 1925 by Bauhausian artist and graphic designer Herbert Bayer. The original typeface reflects the Bauhaus aesthetic of essentialist functional design, with typography serving as “both an empirical means of communication and an artistic expression, with visual clarity stressed above all.” Monotype Imaging, which acquired ITC in 2005, notes that Bauhaus is a popular choice for public signage because of its vintage art deco feel. ITC Bauhaus’ open form lends itself especially well to the neon sign, providing perfect gaps for electrical wiring.
Washinghton Heights, Upper Manhattan
Trinity Church Graveyard
Classification: Hand chiseled, based on handwriting
Though its current iteration was built in 1846, Trinity Church sits on grounds used for worship as early as 1698. Older yet is the church’s graveyard, which served as the town burial ground before any church called that corner of Broadway and Wall Street home. Just past the wrought iron gate around the property stands the grave marker for Robert and Catherine Cranell, a sandstone stele that seems to indicate that both died in 1761. “You hit a rare nerve—and caught the immediate attention of probably the one person with a deep knowledge of stones by the carver who cut the Cranell marker in Trinity," stone carving historian John Zielinksi tells Hopes&Fears. According to Zielinski, the headstone is the work of 18th Century stonecutter Uzal Ward, whose "unique lettering style can also be found on 77 other markers throughout Trinity Churchyard." Ward's work has been attributed to a number of other stonecutters of the time, including William Grant, who is often cited as mimicking Ward's style. "I can tell you for a fact that amongst stonecutters of this period, Ward’s lettering style is totally unique and unparalled in styling and in its beautiful handling," Zielinski confirms.
In simulating handwriting, Ward's hand is undeniably intricate. "The curves that the carver attempts to capture are fairly complex and don't naturally lend themselves to being carved," Samarskaya observes. The long “S” was fairly common during the 18th Century, a relic from when gravestones only used upper-case lettering. “The long form of the letter s came into popular use as the incidence of upper-case lettering and ligatures diminished,” cartography historian David Rumsey writes. Other identifying factors noted by Rumsey are the use of abbreviation (Jan.y instead of January), as well as the use of the opening line “Here lies the body,” which Rumsey says was introduced in the mid-1700s, just in time to acquaint Mr. and Mrs. Cranell with their new surroundings.
Classification: Grotesque sans serif
The sign for Barnard’s Milbank Hall is a case-study example of a grotesque sans serving its intended purpose. Debuting at the turn of the 20th Century, the generally tall, bold, unicase lettering made grotesque sans serifs particularly suitable for newspaper headlines and signage because of their legibility at distance; a quick survey of roadway signage around the world certainly supports this.
The sign for Milbank Hall is also a particularly ideal exhibition of ADA-compliant visual signage. According to the United States Access Board, ADA signs must use all uppercase, sans serif lettering with a high light to dark contrast between characters and their background. Weight of the typeface should be neither too bold nor too thin. While one would assume that ADA standards would require braille or raised characters for the visibly impaired, building addresses and names are excepted.
Henry Sloane Coffin Administration Building, Union Theological Seminary
Signage: Engraved stone
Uncial is an early development of type going back to gothic and medieval scripts, but its influence on type design goes far beyond that. Take this engraving on the Union Theological Building, an Art-Nouveau uncial dedicated to modernist Presbyterian Reverend Henry Sloane Coffin, who served as president of the Union Theological Seminary from 1926-1945. Art-Nouveau design was heavily influenced by the Celtic manuscripts and drawings of William Blake, sharing an ancestry with Celtic script lettering, another type of uncial. Date of this specific engraving is unconfirmed; while the Seminary was built during Art-Nouveau’s prime, it’s hard to imagine they would honor someone who had yet to join its ranks.
590 W 120th St
Horace Mann Hall, Columbia University
Constructed in 1901, the Horace Mann School Building was a co-educational facility used by the Teachers College as a teaching laboratory where they could test education techniques on students. According to the 1912 Official Guide to Columbia University, the building served as a K-8 school, with students rising upwards from basement to higher floors with age. This Roman serif engraving marks the entrance to the elementary school; the entrance to the high school mirrors it on the north side of the building.
Classification: Decorative inline geometric Art Deco
Typeface: updated version of Broadway Engraved
SIGNAGE: Aluminum architectural signage
Located on the first floor of the Henry Grimm Building, one of the last wood-frame structures left on the Upper West Side, the Architecture Institute of America’s Guide to New York succinctly sums up the Metro Diner location when it says, “Real building, retro memories.” Opened in 1993, Metro Diner uses an updated version of Morris Fuller Benton’s appropriately-named Broadway typeface (or more accurately Sol Hess’ inline version, Broadway Engraved) for its signage, bringing with it nostalgia for the bygone “Roaring” era in which the original typeface made its debut.
Upper West Side
662 W 181st St
Colorina (Broadway entrance)
Classification: Decorative script
SIGNAGE: Aluminum and plastic
Across the street from the Bauhaus-style Fort Washington neon sign is Colorina, a bargain fashion store specializing in clubwear and vibrantly-patterned leggings. The store, which was established in 1983, was named after a popular telenovela by the same name, a testament to the developing hispanic community in Washington Heights at the time.
The sign itself is original, installed 31 years ago along with the opening of the store. The type could best be described as a casual but decorative script, most likely unique to the sign maker’s collection. Roger, Colorina’s owner, confirms that the sign is so old, that he forgot the name of the craftsman long ago and assumes that the business no longer exists. “It was the style back then to have a reflective, aluminum background,” Roger tells Hopes&Fears. “The exterior of the store would be fitted with aluminum, then plastic letters were screwed on to the front, maybe with lights, maybe not.” Colorina’s sign doesn’t light up, but it’s star-dotted eye certainly makes the lettering shine.
Washinghton Heights, Upper Manhattan
Times Square NYPD substation
Geometric sans serif
Similar to Kabel or ITC Eras
Times Square is known for its flashy signage, so it’s only natural that the NYPD substation located right smack in the middle of the “Center of the Universe” did its best to fit in. The station is relatively new in terms of Times Square history; previously a tourist information center, the building was transformed into a police station around 1980, when Mayor Ed Koch was trying to reform the area, affectionately referred to as “the worst block in town.” Tom Rinaldi, author of New York Neon, speculates that the sign went up around the same time. “Until a few years ago, there was only one sign, facing north, with red and white lettering and an animated flashing sequence,” Rinaldi tells Hopes&Fears. The sign was recently replaced by Lettera Sign Company (now the Infinity Signs NYC) located in the Bronx, who managed to replicate the original with one exception; instead of the authoritarian flashing red and white sequence, Rinaldi notes that “the colors were changed to blue and white to match the NYPD standard.” Infinity Signs has been involved in a handful of electric displays in the area, including the New Year’s Eve 2009 signage.
The lettering itself is similar to—though by no means exactly—Kabel, a geometric sans serif designed by German type master Rudolf Koch in 1927 (though conspicuously missing is the type’s slanted terminals). Translating to “cable” in English, typography historians surmise that the name is an homage to technological progress in communication, a thematic expression embraced by the type designers behind the geometric sans movement. Kabel itself most notably appears as the font of the capitalist board game Monopoly, making the NYPD sign somewhat of a prescient symbol of Times Square as it stands today.
Broadway Textile Building
Signage: Handpainted gold foil
One of the few remaining handpainted business signs on Broadway, the lettering on the second floor of 366 Broadway is a true gem. Most apparent is the backwards 'Q', which Samarskaya surmises might have been an accident due to painting the lettering from inside. Also significant is the shadowing, which Samarskaya says is traditionally on the left in sign-painting because "the left side of Latin capitals has more straight edges," making it faster and easier to shadow in. "It works very well in this instance as the building is on the east side of the street, matching where the sun would leave a shadow the larger part of the day," she says.
A quick business search identifies Izquierdo & Vila as having incorporated in 1973, but their signage seems much, much older than that—especially given that the building was redeveloped into co-operative residencies only six years later. Still, the rest of the signage refers to a synthetic textile that weren’t available to the public until the 1950s (Dacron hit the market as a wrinkle-free suit material in 1951), indicating that the export company may have just had a nostalgia for antique lettering design. In any case, the signage is the last remaining vestige of the building’s past, which began housing textile suppliers around World War I. It's also a spectacular peek into historic Broadway, when signage like this covered windows and storefronts along the entire the boulevard.
Subway Entrance, Trinity Building
Soon after New York’s first skyscrapers ascended around Battery Park and Bowling Green, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company formally opened its gates at City Hall on October 27, 1904, introducing Gotham to its first subway. One of the original Subway entrances sits on the ground level of the Trinity Building, which was completed just one year later. In fact, the entrance led to an underground “arcade lined with stores and kiosks,” presumably meant to lead to the Wall Street subway station. “Here a man can buy his evening newspapers, tickets to theaters, flowers and candy for home or girl, and hundreds of other necessities or luxuries,” writes John T. Hertrick in a 1904 article for The Independent, “The builders expect that many new business enterprises will take advantage of the enormous traffic through the Subway to make of this station in the Trinity Building one of the most important centers of activity in the down-town district.”
Naturally, Hopes&Fears turned to NYC subway typography historian Paul Shaw to discuss this relic in subway history. “The letters are what I call quasi-classical,” Shaw explains, “that is, they want to be classical—note the dots which stand in for Roman interpoints—but are not entirely successful.” His assessment, he says, “is based on the short, curved leg on the ‘R’, the very short mid stroke of ‘E’, the clumsy ‘S’ and the too small upper bowl of ‘B’.”
The Landmarks Preservation Commission report indicates that the entrance is original, but Shaw suspects that it may have been added after the completion of the building, as its design clashes with with gothic style of the building. While that station has long since closed, the original façade still serves as an entrance... to a different type of Subway.
Classification: Formal script + sans-serif
Typeface: Commercial script variant + similar to Eurostile LT Pro Condensed
Neon + backlit molded plastic
Just a few blocks north of Zabar’s sits Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, another culinary fixture and favorite stop for locals and tourists alike. New York Neon author Tom Rinaldi calls the shop’s sign one of his favorites, and for good reason—with its yellow-on-red neon and upwards angle, Murray’s presents a peek into a bygone era when neon signs dominated the City. First introduced to New York in 1924 when neon sign inventor Georges Claude opened up shop in the City, neon quickly swelled in popularity. According to the American Sign Museum, the neon sign industry was bringing in about $18 million in business by 1929, sustaining demand throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s. “The high point of all neon signs probably was reached just prior to 1948,” the Museum speculates.
Murray’s sign, however, comes at the very tail end of neon’s popularity. Though the store has been around since 1946, Ira Goller, proprietor of the shop since 1990, tells Hopes&Fears that the iconic sign came later. “Everything inside is original from when the store was first built, but I don’t think the sign has been here since the store was first built,” Goller says, “but I think it’s been here since at least the early 60s.” Rinaldi came to a similar conclusion. “For many signs, it's possible to pinpoint an installation date by way of Department of Building records—but for this sign unfortunately I was not able to do that,” Rinaldi explains. He suspects the sign was installed somewhere between 1950-55, just as neon’s reputation was starting to get sullied by its association with Sin City and seedy motel signs.
Upper West Side
Classification: Upright script, reverse contrast slab serif, neo-grotesque sans
Signage: Backlit plastic
One look at the Broadway Restaurant will make you nostalgic for a time when you could smoke cigarettes over coffee and a shared plate of french fries. Owner Angelo Arsenis told Hopes&Fears that he has been running the diner for 35 years, during which time the classic greasy spoon has made appearances in films such as Meet Joe Black and Michael Clayton. The sign however predates his tenure, with Arsenis believing that it was most likely installed with the opening of the restaurant circa 1970.
Typography expert Steve Heller says, “The Broadway Restaurant sign is from that horrible period when neon gave way to backlit plastic,” which started around the 1950s and swelled in popularity during the 1960s. The American Sign Museum notes that this rapid increase represented a cultural shift to “promote the disposable” alongside a very successful promotional campaign by the plastic industry. The lettering itself is amateur, and at least partially handpainted. “The word ‘Restaurant’ is actually pretty well done,” Heller says, “a hybrid slab serif with rounded letters” with a Western flair. And the offerings of steaks, chops and seafood? “From a [font family] called Hunger,” Heller explains, “which for a restaurant is somewhat ironic.”
Upper West Side
Jewish Theological Seminary
Classification: Roman square capital
Situated above the building entrance, this engraving features the official motto of the Jewish Theological Seminary, “And the bush was not consumed.” The line clearly comes from the Mount Horeb narrative during which Yahweh reveals himself to Moses in the form of a burning bush, which is depicted in bas-relief above the engraved passage. Inconsistent character sizes and spacing suggests an amateur’s hand—a strange contradiction to the skillfully produced bas-relief it subtitles. "The widths, with the narrow D and extra wide 'M' and 'W' are inconsistent, and other details odd like the long horizontal bar of the 'E' shows this as not the most professional of lettering jobs, but that’s sometimes what brings new energy and ideas to the conversation of type design," Samarskaya observes. "The unique shape of the 'U' and how it nests together with the 'S' in 'BUSH' is a lovely touch that then breaks apart when the chisler tries to keep the same shapes for the letters later in the phrase."
24 Union Sq E
Union Square Savings Bank
Classification: Latin serif, Beaux-Arts
Typeface: Similar to the contemporary Grand Central
Signage: Incised gilded/gold foil, hand-lettered
Completed in 1907, the Union Square Savings Bank was designed by the same architect who created the Lincoln Memorial. With its massive Corinthian columns and troy white granite façade, the building is a prime example of the Greek Revival architecture made popular by École des Beaux-Arts throughout the 19th century.
Suitingly, the gilded lettering at the entrance of the bank is reminiscent of a Latin typeface also inspired by Classical design, a lettering style embraced by the Beaux-Arts. The style was recently revisited by type master Tobias Frere-Jones, who in 1998 created a font called Grand Central inspired by the hand-painted lettering on the walls of Grand Central Terminal (another prime example of Beaux-Arts architecture and completed in 1905, two years before Union Square Savings Bank). Coincidentally, the Union Square Savings Bank sits at the very base of Park Avenue, which runs directly into Grand Central.
Union Sq / Gramercy
Bowling Green Offices
Classification: Geometric rectilinear sans serif
Typeface: Similar to Antique Geometric
Signage: Carved raised letters
Architecturally speaking, the Bowling Green Offices have a lot going on. Completed in 1898, the building was designed by brothers George Ashdown and James Audsley, who had a collective obsession with the ancient decorative arts. This affinity is certainly displayed at Bowling Green Offices, which is described as a mix of Hellenic Renaissance and neo-Egyptian with a touch of the Victorian contemporary to the time of construction. Architectural historian Barry Lewis tells Hopes&Fears, “I believe [Bowling Green Offices] had to look very impressive; that building was the first skyscraper to go up on Bowling Green,” New York City’s oldest public space.
Lewis says that the title is quite fitting of the neo-Egyptian architectural imagery. However, the lettering is actually similar to a very American typeface called Antique Geometric, created by the Baltimore Type Foundry in 1883. There are not many examples of the lettering in use, but De Stijl co-founder Theo van Doesburg created a very similar typeface in 1919, adhering to the rectangularity of the art movement. In any case, this was not the first time the brothers Audsley used a geometric rectilinear sans; in 1870, the designers came out with a book called Cottage, Lodge & Villa Architecture, which uses a similarly styled typeface for the title page. Strangely, this comes 13 years before the first Antique Geometric was introduced; the book was also published by London’s William Mackenzie publishing house, suggesting a little creative cross-pollination from across the pond.
Classification: Roman semi-serif
Signage: Amateur hand chiseled
A residential walkup building constructed in 1905, Brexton Hall was presumably built during the Morningside Heights residential development boom that resulted from the IRT subway expansion to the neighborhood in 1904. According to the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee, the area “emerged as New York City’s first middle-class apartment house neighborhood” by WWI. Lettering on the lintel is notably amateur, especially indicated by the mix of the overly-symmetrical “B”, the very-asymmetrical “X”, and the uneven spacing throughout. Samarskaya notes that the serifs are "random and occaisional," making this an accidental example of an early semi-serif design.
Broadway Temple Methodist Church
Classification: Textura blackletter
Typeface: Similar to Engravers Old English or Wedding Script
For all intents and purposes, the Broadway Temple Methodist Church looks exactly as how you’d expect it to look: like a church. And the lettering, like the lettering on many Christian places of worship is a traditional textura blackletter. It’s a causal relationship; medieval manuscript culture was dominated by the church, coinciding with blackletter’s spread across Europe. Textura is also the oldest form of moveable type, invented by Johannes Gutenberg when he started the printing revolution with the Gutenberg Bible.
What you might not expect, however, is that the temple is actually the sad manifestation of one man’s broken dreams. According to a 1925 article in the Brooklyn Eagle, when Reverend Christian Reisner first conceived the Temple he imagined a great soaring tower that would rival the skyscrapers (which he called “temples of commerce”) that Reisner said were drowning out houses of worship. His plan called for an auditorium that would seat over 2,000 worshippers, and enough housing for 500 people above the church itself. Topping it off would be a “great flaming cross” that could be seen across the City. His idea was so well-received, that even John D. Rockefeller invested in the Temple.
Apparently the allegory of the Tower of Babel flew right over Reisner’s head. Construction of the church, which started in 1927, was immediately halted only two years later when the stock market crashed, before a single brick for the cathedral itself could be laid. Construction resumed in 1947, seven years after the Reverend passed away. Reisner was also virulently xenophobic, so the fact that his church now serves a mostly-hispanic population is a nice bit of post-mortem schadenfreude.
Washington Heights, Upper Manhattan
Zabar's gourmet food store
tuscan, bifurcated reverse contrast
Typeface: Similar to K-Type's Zabars
signage: Molded plastic
Zabar’s celebrated its 80th anniversary in August of 2014, making it a mom-and-pop (or pop-and-sons, really) stronghold along the ever-evolving face of Broadway. Its world-renowned logo, however, does not date back as far; photos of the original storefront, which was a fraction of the size of the now 20,000 square foot food-and-housewares emporium, expose a modest sans serif that reflects the Upper West Side institution’s humble beginnings.
Its current bright orange bifurcated Tuscan is what Steve Heller calls “classic but anachronistic.” Noted for its popularity in Victorian printed matter such as circus posters and theatre bills, the first typographic Tuscan was created by Vincent Figgins in 1817. The Zabar’s logo, however, is closer to the woodcut Antique Tuscan introduced by Darius Webb and E.R. Wells in their 1949 type catalogue, Specimens of Wood Type. “What it says about deli food is a mystery,” Heller quips, “but since they’ve owned it for so long, the question is irrelevant.” And he’s right; the type is so well-ingrained in the mind of New Yorkers as “the Zabar’s logo,” that K-Type type foundry created a font based on—and named after—the famous deli.
Upper West Side
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Anton Repponen (Anton & Irene), Thomas Rinaldi (New York Neon), Steven Heller (Heller Books), Keith Bates (K-Type), Paul Shaw (Paul Shaw Letter Design), James & Karla Murray (Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York), architectural historian Barry Lewis, and Ryan Haley, librarian at the NYPL Art & Architecture collection.