Going Away: The Enigmatic Painted Signs on a Tribeca Building Wall

Paintings on the wall of 109 West Broadway may have originated as promotions for outdoor advertising. It is unknown when they were created but it now appears certain that their days are numbered. A sign company wants to cover them with eye-catching contemporary ads. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Posted
Jun. 09, 2024

It’s just a matter of time before the two faded, but locally cherished painted signs that rise above West Broadway, at Reade Street, will be gone. 

At its hearing June 4, the Landmarks Preservation Commission indicated it will not get in the way of a sign company that wants to obliterate the two enigmatic images on the second- and third-floor facade of 109 West Broadway. “Brush Up Business with Paint, Paste, Paper, Push,” says one. Next to it, a hand aims a brush skyward. 

But the commission also was unwilling to go along with the scale and other features of the sign maker’s proposed advertising master plan, to include a “unified advertising campaign” of two 290-square-foot ads on the 1860 building. The commission’s chair, Sarah Carroll, told representatives of the company, New Tradition Media, to reconsider the signs’ “size, relationship to architectural features, and maybe thinking about the style of the paint and some of the other criteria that …would help the sign to read as sort of accretions that don’t overwhelm or detract or subsume the building.”

Vishal Joshi, New Tradition Medias preservation consultant, sought to support the argument for new big signs on the building by showing early photographs of the neighborhood with signs on every floor, signs on all sides of buildings.

We found that the intersection of Reade Street and West Broadway was historically a really important venue for signs,” she said.

But several commissioners rejected the notion of a historical connection between the old days of outdoor advertising and the signage master plan being proposed.

“To me this is a disgrace,” Commissioner Frederick Bland said of the proposed master plan. “It completely annihilates the whole idea of what this building is about, or even the [historic] district.” 

“Someone could propose something with a certain color palette, or not photorealistic, that really has a quality that seems appropriate. But I don’t think this is appropriate,” said Commissioner Diana Chapin. 

Community Board 1 had strongly urged the commission to preserve the existing signs. “All the residents, tourists, office workers, celebrities, etc. in Tribeca would be horrified to see these two signs disappear forever,” the board’s resolution stated.

The board added: “Removing 20th century building signage from a 19th century building in favor of permission to paint over it with 21st century advertising is contrary to any known preservation purpose, inappropriate, and unprecedented (for no reason other than to squeeze every bit of profit out of a property).”

There is scant evidence of when the signs appeared, or who painted them. They were on the building in 1992,  the year that the Tribeca South Historic District was designated. A 1975 photograph was the oldest one that the sign company representatives showed the commission in which the images can be seen. The wall is blank in a 1939 photo, the next earlier image shown. 

Joshi, the preservation consultant, theorized that the signs were painted as part of an early 1950s campaign “that encouraged painting as a way to protect your home from nuclear annihilation.”

A more logical explanation may be one offered by the president of a Canadian outdoor advertising association in a 1994 New York Times letter to the editor. “Brush Up Business With Paint, Paste, Paper, Push is an advertisement for outdoor advertising itself—an ad for ads, if you will,” he wrote. “In other (more modern) words: ‘Improve your business with outdoor billboards’ (which are painted, pasted and papered).

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Comments

Tribeca will lose part of its unique character

I was shocked to read that the Landmarks Preservation Commission could even consider replacing the historic painted advertisement on the 109 West Broadway building—one of several that give Tribeca its unique character.  What is the point of having a “Landmarks Preservation Commission” that sees no value in retaining aspects of a historic district that tell the story of the area. According to the website “Forgotten NY,” that advertisement was for a "long forgotten paint store.” I always thought it had something to do with hanging wall paper (seems fairly obvious). If anything, the original painting should be restored. It’s a treasure that’s actually very nicely done and gives distinctiveness to that particular building. It would be a shame to lose it.  — H. LEE ALEXANDER