It was a perfect October evening for SCA members to explore Manhattan’s Upper East Side for neon signs, historic parking garage architecture, and egg creams. Our journey was part of a “Pop-Up” tour inspired by SCA President Michael Hirsch’s “Six Faves” article about his New York neighborhood from the Summer 2017 SCA News. Our group hiked an area between four avenues and 30 blocks in search of the past in a fast-changing city.
Fittingly, the tour was led by Hirsch, who has lived in the area for almost three decades. “I loved sharing my neighborhood,” Hirsch says. “On a scouting tour, I smelled the Papaya King dogs. I couldn’t wait to go back!”
Thomas Rinaldi, the author of New York Neon, also helped plan the outing and provided background information and photos, though he was unable to attend. Still, his expertise with architecture and typography enhanced the tour.
Hirsch was also assisted by Hilary Grossman, a parking garage expert overflowing with transportation insights. A curious waitress at our meeting place, the Lexington Candy Shop, asked why we had a car rental outlet on our tour map. But to a commercial archaeologist, a historic garage that offers car rentals reveals the inner-workings of the city’s past.
A highlight was comparing the buildings on tour to images taken by the city in 1940 for tax purposes. Two visually striking examples, within a block from each other, were our first two stops. Lexington Candy Shop looks unchanged after 80 years, except for the signage and words. The former Lascoff’s Drugs is now a Warby Parker store but retains the grandfathered sign with its new name.
Other stops included J. Braun Liquors with an unchanged sign but a new name, Windsor Garage, the night’s most vibrant sign, and the Roosevelt Island tram. The tour had many culinary stops, starting with egg creams at Lexington Candy, hot dogs at the original Papaya King, and wings at the Subway Inn.
Thanks, both to the tour guides and attendees, who explored the city for three hours, enjoying its quirky corners and historical curiosities.
– Mike Carsten