Author Thomas Rinaldi, who wrote the book New York Neon, is our tour guide for our upcoming tour of Greenwich Village’s Disappearing Neon Signs on October 19th. Here, he shares about the origins of the famous neon sign at the White Horse Tavern.
Greenwich Village has seen a number of great old signs disappear in recent years to make way for facsimiles. Fedora, the Village Vanguard, the Waverly Restaurant… some of the replacement signs are better than others. But the lovely old swing sign at Casa Oliveira Liquors, at 98 Seventh Avenue South, seems likely to be with us for some time to come, thanks to a new coat of paint applied over its old sheet metal work a few years back.
The sign appeared here in 1935, just two years after the repeal of prohibition, to mark the spot of a liquor store run by one A. Rossano. (It never ceases to amaze how many New York liquor stores can trace their roots to the 21st Amendment.) The store’s porcelain enamel fascia sign came later, probably around 1950, when the business was taken over by a certain Mr. Oliveira. The shop later changed hands again, but the new owners retained its old name, and, thankfully, its great pair of neon signs, which have been Greenwich Village landmarks for generations. (Check out Project Neon to admire the flashing fascia sign in action.)
The swing sign’s new paint job glossed over the white border around the perimeter, which is too bad. And of course, we can no longer admire the beautiful weathered patina the sign had with its old coat of paint faded and peeling.
But left unpainted, the sign’s delicate sheet metal would have gone the way of all flesh, hastening its demise. And, because the sign has been freshened up using the same materials and methods that went into its original fabrication, we can rest easy knowing it may one day don the handsome patina it had before the paintjob. The painted border detail can always come back the next time around.
Join us for a tour of Greenwich Village’s Disappearing Neon Signs led by Thomas Rinaldi, where the Casa Oliveira Liquors will be one of the numerous stops:
Next, read about the Secrets of Greenwich Village and trace the history of the White Horse Tavern neon sign.