Domino Sugar sign
Photo by Wes Tarca

Every city has its signature items. Aside from its jaw-dropping skyline, New York is associated with yellow taxi cabs, dirty water dogs, and hordes of disgruntled commuters. But beyond the obvious, there are plenty of lesser-known fixtures that have also become synonymous with the city. Over the years, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing select New York City signs — some more flashy than others, but all equally as spectacular — that decorate the top of buildings, hang off the side of walls and advertise businesses. Here’s a look at the most iconic former and existing New York City signs:

13. Coney Island Signs

coney island wonder wheel

Coney Island is full of flashy signs that advertise its many attractions, including one of its oldest and most beloved rides, the 150-foot Wonder Wheel (built between 1918 and 1920). Another historic ride at the amusement park is the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster that opened in 1927.

Like the Wonder Wheel, the Cyclone also boasts an iconic red sign that proclaims its name. The Cyclone is nearly 100 years old, but it wasn’t the very first roller coaster at Coney Island. That distinction goes to the now lost switchback railway ride that opened on June 16, 1884. It travelled at just six miles per hour! As you can imagine, many of the amusement park’s signs have been lost to time as attractions have rotated out. Check out other interesting secrets of Coney Island here.

12. Domino Sugar Factory

Domino Sugar sign
Photo by Wes Tarca

Brooklyn’s famous Domino Sugar Factory is currently in the midst of a transformation. The former refinery, which shuttered in 2014, is the heart of a 6.6-acre waterfront park, Domino Park. Further development by Two Trees Management will create a mixed-use neighborhood around it. The original Domino Sugar sign which was installed on one of the now demolished structures was luckily saved during the renovations, but that’s not the sign you see glowing above Brooklyn today.

The sign, which has been a fixture of the factory since the 1920s, was removed in 2014. Looking to the original sign for design elements and working with signage specialists, Two Trees had a replica sign built that is more energy efficient, brighter, and long-lasting. The sign’s yellow letters stretch 43 feet 6.5 inches tall and 65 feet 8 inches wide.

11. Apollo Theater

Apollo Theater signs

They say the legendary Apollo Theater is where stars are born and legends are made. James Brown considered it so much a second home that his body was brought to the Apollo before his funeral. Through the years, it also served as the springboard for music legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and so many more.

In 2005, the Apollo Theater unveiled its fully refurbished terracotta facade, a stainless steel and glass storefront and a digital marquee, which utilizes programmable LED visuals. In the renovation, the 1940s neon blade sign was replaced with a replica that stays true to the vintage style. Learn about the secrets of the theater here.

10. Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall

When John D. Rockefeller, Jr. decided to finance the construction of Rockefeller Center in the 1930s, he intended his music hall to be the pinnacle of showbiz. He envisioned lavish stage productions, not unlike the wildly successful Ziegfeld Follies of the day. It’s safe to say that Radio City Music Hall, the Showplace of the Nation as it was once hailed by the papers, has lived up to the hype.

Tour the Secrets of Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Through years as a concert hall, movie theater, and a venue for awards shows like the Grammys and the Tonys, Radio City was and still is one of the city’s busiest tourist destinations. Its unique Art Deco design, uncommon for a theater of its time, and its iconic neon facade have become a symbol of New York to rival the Empire State Building or Times Square. The sign itself was installed in 1932, although it was later refurbished to make the neon brighter. Make sure to check out some of Radio City’s many secrets here.

9. Empire Hotel

Hotel Empire sign

Empire Hotel, New York City’s historic Upper West Side boutique hotel, is located in the heart of Lincoln Center. The building opened in 1923 with its iconic red neon sign displayed on its rooftop. Today, it’s one of the city’s oldest, and most well-known hotels — thanks, in part, to its role in CW’s show, Gossip Girl. 

According to Curbed NY, a copy of the original sign was made in the 1960s, and that’s what is on view today. You can enjoy a cocktail in the glow of the sign by visiting the hotel’s rooftop bar.

8. Silvercup Studios

Silvercup Studios

Silvercup Studios, one of the largest film and television production facilities in New York City, has two locations in Long Island City and one in the Bronx. Its iconic sign, however, sits on top of the main Long Island City outpost, which occupies the former Silvercup Bakery building.

The New York City sign was originally built for the bakery around 1961. It initially read “Silvertop Bread” but has since been adapted for the studio which took over the space in 1983. Many popular films and television series have been filmed at Silvercup, including Only Murders in the Building, Succession, The Deuce, Mr. Robot and more.

7. The New Yorker Hotel

New Yorker Hotel sign

The New Yorker Hotel at 34th Street and 8th Avenue is one of Manhattan’s storied icons and has one of the most visible New York City signs. The Art Deco building, completed in 1930, is renowned for its setback architectural style and famous sign, which was installed on the top floors of the building in 1941.

In 1967, however, the sign “went dark,” and remained so for nearly 40 years as the hotel underwent various changes in management. Due to competition from other Midtown hotels, and a decline in popularity, it shuttered temporarily in 1972, but would reopen in 1994. In 2005, its famous sign was rebuilt with new 20-foot letters, where were fitted with LED lights.

6. Pepsi-Cola

Pepsi-Cola sign

The cursive Pepsi-Cola sign, a remnant of a Pepsi bottling plant that shuttered in 1999, has called Long Island City home since 1936. In 2009, it was lowered from its original location and placed in its current waterfront position at Gantry Plaza State Park.

In 2016, the 60-foot-sign — a vestige of a time when the neighorbor was covered in factories and warehouses — was officially designated a New York City landmark. Believe it or not, the “P” and “C” each measure 44-feet-tall (or roughly four stories)!

5. Watchtower Sign

Welcome Sign on Panorama, former Watchtower Building
Photo by Will Femia

On the Brooklyn waterfront for the past 70 years, the iconic Watchtower sign has stood on top of the former Jehovah’s Witnesses building in Brooklyn Heights. When the owners of the former Witness HQ moved upstate to Warwick, New York, in 2017 they took the Watchtower sign with them.

Installed 40 years ago by the Witnesses, the sign, stood 15 feet tall. The building was sold to Columbia Heights Associates in 2016, a group of developers who will be converting the building into a massive, multi-building office and retail space called Panorama. In 2019, a new sign went up that says “WELCOME.” The new WELCOME sign was designed by Morris Adjmi Architects. It measures 80 feet wide and 15 feet tall. The size and color were inspired by the original WATCHTOWER sign. The sign is accompanied by a rotating time and temperature display. The new sign can be seen by drivers on the Brooklyn Bridge.

4. Essex House

Essex House sign

The JW Marriott Essex House, a 44-story luxury hotel at 160 Central Park South, opened in 1931. It is easily recognized by its six-story neon sign. This New York City sign was erected in 1932, the same year the U.S. Government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation took the hotel from its original owners, who had become bankrupt following the Great Depression.

Like The New Yorker Hotel, the Essex House fell under the management of several owners before officially becoming the JW Marriott Essex House. To this day, its sign is frequently featured in popular culture, including in photographs, movies and television shows. For the final few New York City signs, we take a look back at those that have been lost:

3. Cup Noodles

Cup of Noodles Sign
Image via Wikimedia: Karan J

For a decade (1996 to 2006), a 60-foot Nissin Cup of Noodles decorated the top of the One Times Square building, the site of the annual New Year’s Eve Ball drop. In Times Square, advertisements notoriously compete for attention and need to do something unique in order to stand out.

Similar to the famous Camel cigarettes billboard (see next), this sign utilized steam, which would emanate from the top of the cup. According to the New York Times, the first Times Square sign to utilize steam was a New York City sign from 1992 that featured a steaming cup of A.& P.’s Eight O’Clock Coffee at West 46th Street.

2. Camel Cigarettes

Camel Cigarette sign
Photo by John Vachon, from Library of Congress

Times Square is covered in flashy signs, but few are as memorable as the Camel cigarettes billboard, which was installed in 1941. To create the illusion of a man blowing smoke rings, a machine was placed behind the sign that pushed steam out of a hole every four seconds.

Installed on the exterior of the Claridge Hotel, the 30-foot by 100-foot billboard was a signature fixture of Times Square from 1941 to 1966. During WWII, the featured man was depicted as a soldier, sailor and airman.

1. Kentile Floors

Kentile floor sign against NYC skyline
Image via Wikipedia, by MusikAnimal

The Kentile Floors sign is so famous that it has its very own Facebook page. Although it was taken down in 2014, the 50-year-old New York City sign was fortunately saved and donated to the Gowanus Alliance, which will reinstall it in a nearby location.

Used to advertise a now-defunct flooring company founded by Arthur Kennedy in 1898, the sign paid homage to Brooklyn’s industrial heritage and long served as a symbol of Gowanus. According to Curbed NY, the alliance plans to erect the sign at Gowanus’ Under the Tracks playground, located on 10th Street between Second and Third avenues.

Next, check out more New York City signs in the blinged out New York City signs of Times Square and discover the vintage neon signs of the West Village

This article was originally written by Susan Xu and updated in January 2023 by Nicole Saraniero.