Nosy Neighbor: When Did the Signage on 49 Chambers Change?

I always though the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank sign on 49 Chambers was done in brick, rather than painted on, but in your recent Then & Now post, the sign seems to have changed between 1936 and 2017. Any idea what the story is? —A.

Indeed, the signage in the 1936 photo by Percy Loomis Speer (above, courtesy the New York Public Library) is quite different from how it looks now, as seen in Ivan Kosnyrev’s 2017 photo (below). The architects working on the conversion of 49 Chambers to residences—more on that project here—directed me to Ward Dennis, partner at Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, LLC. His explanation:

The original signs (one each on the east and west elevations) were done in brick. There are a number of different brick types on both elevations, including for the lettering (white brick or tile) and for the borders and trim (red and purple brick). From the 1930s through the 1980s (including at the time of Landmarks Preservation Commission designation in 1981), the brick signs were covered over by a variety of other signs advertising the bank. I’m not sure if these were painted over the brick directly or on a different material that was then hung off the building, but these signs did fully obscure the original lettering. The City did a renovation in the late 1980s or early 1990s, at which time the non-historic signs were removed and the original brick signage was exposed. So what is there now is original, but was hidden from view for more than half the life of the building.

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  1. The 1985 Landmarks designation report says the advertising signs were painted on the walls. The report includes a contemporary photo.

  2. Here is a pre-construction rendering of the building, published in “Real estate record and builders’ guide: v. 84, no. 2160: August 7, 1909”, showing the signage.

  3. Museum of the City of New York has great photographs showing the signage from the first years of the building (c. 1912-1915):,%20Chambers%20St.-2F3408JK4MN.html,%20Reade%20St.-2F3408JWXH6.html

    Also, a painted sign appears on east facade c. 1935:[Surrogate’s%20Court%20and%20Hall%20of%20Records%20building,%2031%20Chambers%20Street.]-24UAKVPPKKD.html

  4. Painted sign on east facade, in background, c. 1978:[Surrogate’s%20Court,%20originally%20Hall%20of%20Records,%2031%20Chambers%20Street.]-24UAKV59GNI.html