Palimpsest

by Don Friedman on January 11, 2016

A few blocks from our office is a small industrial building from the 1800s which is being renovated for new use after several years of standing empty. Part of the work was the removal of the old signage and storefront finish that encased the original stone storefront. This process exposed the oldest signage, which was painted directly on the stone of the storefront lintels. That signage is, however, illegible because it was overpainted several times:

IMG_0958

[Click on the picture for a much larger – 15 MB – version if you want to see the details.]

Some of the sign is clear, including the 102 at the far left and the 104 at the far right (the address), the letters “BOW” at the beginning, and what appears to be “HOUSING CO.” at the end. A little research turned up a few interesting facts.

First, and this is true in general, a lot of sources can’t be trusted for the construction dates of older buildings. Several give the construction date as circa 1875 (possible, but late for a building with stone lintels and posts in its storefront), at least one gives the date as 1926 (which is obviously wrong), and the city’s catchall map site, OASISNYC, says 1921 (which is still obviously wrong). A fast look at the old maps shows that the current building is clearly visible in 1897, and definitely not there in 1857. So the 1875 date is possible, and could be confirmed with real research.

A number of companies were present at different times at 102-104 Washington Street.  For example, the Mill Remnants Company was there in 1910, advertising remnant cloth for use in polishing, the Electric Manufacturing Company of San Fransisco had a branch office there in the 1910s, selling electric driers, and the Tropics Company was also there in the 1910s. In 1917, D. J. Faour & Brothers, the building owners, received a variance to not extend the interior stair to the roof (as was required by code) because the existing conditions included an exterior fire escape and an interior masonry wall subdividing the building.

And, finally, the research turned up the source of at least part of the sign: in 1906 the building wa s bonded warehouse called the Bowling Green Warehousing Company. BOW…HOUSING CO.

This research was a lark, triggered by me walking by an interesting-looking building. For projects, we look a little deeper and at topics of more enduring concern than exterior signs.

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