Preserving New York Street Typography with The Alphabet City

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Taking to the streets, designer, and photographer Joanne Dugan photographed unique typography from signage around New York, assembling them into the book ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York CityThe root of the project was simple–Dugan wanted to make learning more interesting for her young son–but she discovered that it appealed to all ages. The project’s coasters were recently selected to be included in the MoMA Design Store’s Destination: NYC product collection and Dugan has launched The Alphabet City, a company that creates home products featuring the letter images.

At Untapped Cities, we were curious about the project as a visual catalogue of a disappearing city. Dugan sourced letters from demolished buildings including Times Square’s Howard Johnson Restaurant (1959-2005), the “M. Gordon’s Novelty” facade on 21st and Broadway that disappeared in 2007 (originally built in 1934), and many locations previously on Coney Island. In an interview, Dugan told us that she saw the project as preservation effort, allowing her to “share these little pieces of history with a larger audience.”

As an artist, Dugan was also interested in how the letters change not only over time, but also over the course of a single day. She says,

As a professional photographer, I paid close attention to how the letters looked in various types of light and would often visit the same place many times over to get the shots just right. Plus, I soon realized that there were certain types of letterforms that immediately caught my son’s attention, inspiring him to want to read more, and they tended to be handmade and very colorful.

The title of the project itself pays tribute to Alphabet City where Dugan found many of her original letters. Dugan hopes that The Alphabet City will encourage New Yorkers to view their surroundings more consciously. Dugan donates a portion of the company’s proceeds to institutions that promote learning and literacy, such as The American Montessori Society, First Book, and others. See more in Dugan’s book ABC NYC: A Book About Seeing New York City and the Alphabet City’s website.

In the spirit of preserving signage and letters, also check out our story on Thomas Rinaldi’s New York Neon, a similar book that catalogued New York’s disappearing neon signs and Project Neon, an app that documents New York City’s neon signs.

Get in touch with the author @YiinYangYale.

 design, preservation

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