The Mystery of the Hell’s Kitchen Ghost Sign

For the longest time, I’ve wondered about a mysterious ghost sign at the corner of 51st & Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen:

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If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a ghost sign is a sign left from a business that no longer exists. This one is for “Network – The Entertainment Company,” and it’s in such good shape, you might think it’s actually still around (I love that little ladder up the side):

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Many people have written about it over the years, but no one seems to know what it was. I’ve always imagined it to be an old-timey talent agency – aspiring actors rubbing elbows with amateur singers and vaudeville-esque performers in a cramped waiting room, all hoping to become part of The Network, the greatest collection of stars in the world!

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Alas, the truth is somewhat less exciting. After trying in vain to track down the frustratingly generic Network name, it finally occurred to me to pair the name with the address (754 Ninth Ave). And so, from the December 10, 1979 issue of New York Magazine

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So it was a theater, most likely in the space Vynl is in today. Apparently, it was short-lived – the last listing I was able to find was an August 23rd, 1982 ad for a show called The Passion of Frankenstein (which, incidentally, sounds awesome). After that, it vanished, leaving only this sign as proof it ever existed.

But one mystery still remains! If you look closely, you’ll see that one side of the sign has peeled off, revealing a wooden sign underneath – and the letter G.

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So what was being advertised here before Network showed up? I would LOVE to see what’s underneath.

-SCOUT

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22 comments

  1. City records show it owner by the Geller family.

    • I was born (1962) and raised in the building that the ladderwas attached to (370 w. 51st St.) before it became a theater it was a furniture store…GROSSMAN Furnitre Store.

  2. I too have been perplexed by this for years. I looked up the 1940 tax photo for the building, and the sign says…. FURNITURE. Can’t tell what the “G” stood for though. Could be “Geller” as suggested by rar.

  3. I live in the neighborhood in question where this sign is and been here 49 years and if my memory is correct Grossman’s furniture was at that location, I remember my parents buying furniture there. (I am hoping I am correct, fuzzy memory from when I was a kid)

  4. Ah! I lived in the orner apartment right below that sign for several years and always wondered. If I were still there I’d surreptitiously peel back the paint for you.

  5. The June 1 1957 NYTimes lists sale of 754 9th Ave from “754 9th Ave Corp (William Cohen, pres) to G G G Holding Corp”

    For whatever that’s worth.

  6. thanks for this….I walk out of my building on the corner of 49th and 9th and invariably take note of the sign while waiting to cross the street…

  7. That was Grossmans furniture store. Most ppl in the neighborhood bought from them; you could pay the furniture off if he knew you & knew he’d get paid. I furnished my first apartment with his stuff back in 1974. His stuff wasn’t top of the line but good enough. In fact I still have night tables, a tall chest and a wooden rocker that I bought from him (the rocker was a gift from my grandmother).

    • My first thought was that “Grossman’s” would be too long for the available space, unless the other letters were in a smaller font than the G. After doing a bit of measuring, however, it looks as if the name would have been just the right size, filling the horizontal space right to the sign’s right margin.
      If “Furniture”appeared below “Grossman’s” it would have been in a smaller font. While the word, excluding the apostrophe, is the same number of letters, the F must have begun further to the right of the G, lessening the available horizontal space. It also looks as if there wouldn’t be enough vertical space.

  8. i love that in the listing you found, it’s listed right below an ad for a show at PS1, which i believe only opened a few years prior!

  9. I love this ghost sign on my block: http://i62.tinypic.com/2vc70op.jpg

  10. Network Entertainment was a partnership of the arts. It was for dancers, singers and actors. I took ballet there for a few years with Dolores Kehr. It was a pretty cool place with a small theatre on the ground floor, dance studio on the second and offices and such on the third. Eartha Kitt , Jack Jones Jr and others had some stake in it as we would see them there now and again. It’s amazing to me that the sign is still there!

  11. I designed costumes for a show there in 1980–my first show in NYC. I bielive that the Network cCmpany also sent out school tours in the late 80s of classic shows. A friend designed a few. I believe this was the same company.

  12. I currently live in this building! There is a gentleman that also lives here by the name of Stanley. He told me he used to be the landlord from 1979-1984. He performed in the theatre downstairs and produced some shows with Eartha Kitt. From what he told me, there were actually TWO theaters, one was a 65 seat theatre, and then there was a tiny little 25 seat theatre…Maybe that was the dance studio? Or something next door? I will have to confirm with him. I LOVE this sign… and this neighborhood! Thanks for posting!

  13. Erik, “Beepers” and things that people used to use to communicate before cell phones. You wore in on your belt.

  14. I live in the neighborhood and have wondered about that sign. Thanks for solving the mystery.

  15. The “G” is for gentrification.

  16. @Tempus Fugit

    I was going to say something about your ignorant comment, such as: would you like Hell’s Kitchen to be the sewer it was for many MANY years… But of course idiots like you are not worth the time.

    • and while it’s certainly better than it was (maybe a few too many slightly more upscale stores/restaurants – thought that’s relative too I guess), one of the great things about HK is the fact that it’s still a nice little neighborhood – especially as you go further west. most of the tourists don’t traipse too much further than 8th Ave still, which is a bonus.

  17. A brief history of 754 Ninth Ave, according to ads in the NYTimes:

    Harris Cohen, purveyor of the Crescent phonograph (1918), which later became Harris Cohen & Sons (mazel tov, Harry!), purveyor of the Philco Triumph phonograph (1947), and then the Philco Golden Grid television (1953)

    In June 1957, as David noted above, William Cohen sold the property to G G G Holding (no doubt over Harris’ dead body–literally)

    By March 1958, the space was Grossman’s Furniture, but its electronics past lived on in an ad for a Motorola hi-fi. By September 1969, though, the focus for Grossman’s had moved to Restonic OrthoTonic mattresses, and in November 1969 as well.

    The history moves from ads to the Arts & Leisure section in March 1980, listing the play “Sadim” in performance at N.E.T.W.O.R.K. [sic], which had normalized to Network in January 1981, for “The Gingham Dog,” and made its final appearance with a performance of “Liliom” (the play on which the musical “Carousel” is based) in November 1982.

    By August 1983, broker P.J. Feldstein Inc was listing the space in the retail classifieds, as 2,500 sq. ft at $2500/month (those were the days, eh?), which had dropped in October to $2000/month. In December 1984, Helmsley-Spear took out a display ad for the entire building, 4 floors at approximately 11,000 square feet for $8000/month. By March 1986, 754 9th Ave was back in the retail classifieds, with Helmsley-Spear trying to lease the 23×100 retail space (“was theatre and furniture Store”) and basement for $6250/month, and the second floor for $1500/month. Getting a little desperate, Helmsley-Spear returned to a fancy display ad in January 1987, listing the store, basement, and 2nd floor, with square footage but no price, under the heading “Dynamic Location.”

    There must have Champagne corks popping at Helmsley-Spear within a year or so, “the newest Italian restaurant on the West Side,” Pasta Bella, was touting “The Grandest Live Lobster Summer Festival” in a display ad in June 1986, but it must not have been limited to summer, as they were still touting their $24.95 3-lb lobster dinner in January 1989. By May 1989, the restaurant was now Sorrentino’s, and the lobster dinner was up to $29.95–which must have been a mistake, since it was down to $27.95 in January 1990.

    You know what it means when a restaurant drops its prices, though: in June 1990, 754 9th Ave is back in the retail display ads–“Just north of World Wide Plaza”–with 2 floors, 2500 square feet each, going for $6.40 to $8.30 per square foot ($16,000-20,750 per floor, which is quite a rise from four years earlier). Something weird must have been going on, though, because in November 1990, the square footage of each floor was down to $2250, and the rent to 41200-1556/month.

    The final NYTimes appearance is in one last Helmsley-Spear ad from May 1991, with the two 2250sq. ft floors going for $1000/month each.

    I don’t think VYNL’s been there since the early ’90s, though, so advertising must have been moved from the Paper of Record to some more successful venue.

  18. That was the site of Grossman’s furniture store, most of the neighborhood bought their furniture there. (Old time Hell’s Kitchen resident)

  19. My family has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for generations and my family lived across the street from Grossman’s Furniture. I even have an old photo that clearly spell’s out the name “Grossman’s ” on the sign.

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