Another Humdinger

Back to my Reading trip momentarily, but first…

Last year I made a trip to Williamsport which yielded a few good ones: the Plankenhorn, the Old Corner, Helmrich’s and a few others. I decided to leave by way of South Williamsport and in so doing stopped past the Humdinger. Jones’ Humdinger, as I showed in a previous post, was my hometown ice cream fixture, so when I mentioned that, Sue Nicholls, an artist who lives in Tennessee but was from Williamsport, asked me if I had gotten this one.

So here it is, Sue!
Humdinger-williamsport
By the way, you can see Sue Nicholls’ artwork at www.fivecentride.com

A Sunday in Reading

Sometimes it’s planning. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Picture two people tooling about in a Hyundai on a Saturday in early spring along New Jersey 29, skirting along the Delaware, escaping the city for a brief and wonderful moment. That should be enough for anybody, really, but stupid me, I have this idea that I might find a sign or two to capture along the way.

Wrong-o.

Oh, we did spot a decent 50s number on the other side of the road that made us go back and forth trying to decide if it was really a good old one or a facsimile, but other than that, not a sausage. No lovely old diners. No old motels. Bupkes.Really, New Jersey? Really?

So even though we had a nice day, I couldn’t help feeling like it was a bit of a washout.

Late in the afternoon we get a call from our friends in Reading, Denise and Lynn. They just had their pastor and their family over to their house, and had grossly over-estimated the amount of food they needed to prepare, so would we mind coming over tomorrow. Lynn was aware of my affliction, and that, for some strange reason, even though we lived only a handful of miles away from that very city for three whole years, I had failed to explore Reading for old signs. We heartily agreed.

pagoda pagoda-below

First off, no trip to Reading is complete without visiting the Pagoda. Reading, sad to say, has very few reasons to visit, but this is a biggie. It was built in 1908 by a man named William Witman who had an eye toward creating a resort on top of Mount Penn. There’s even a temple bell on the top floor. Unfortunately, he failed to get a liquor license, fell on hard times, and had to sell the Pagoda to the city of Reading for the lofty sum of $1. More about it here

“It’s a shame,” my wife said, as we walked out the front door. “What this could have been if he didn’t sell it to the city.”

“Not to be contrary and put down private enterprise,” I replied, “but chances are, if he had continued on with his plans, this place would probably be a distant memory, one of those things you only see in old postcards.”

But on to the signs. In all, we found seven of them.

The first one I knew about. We used to pass by Schell’s, a 50s era restaurant, when we lived in the area. My sign fever had not yet reached its boiling point, but I remembered it well, and hoped that it was still there. Before we got to Denise and Lynn’s, I had passed through on old US 222 to see if Schell’s still had their sign.

schells-straight-up

Yep, not only there, but in great shape. Not only that, but I had forgotten about their ice cream shop next door, and the Schell’s sign on top of the restaurant.

schells-wide

But this was just the tip of the iceberg. There were plenty more signs to be had that afternoon, including one that I had never seen in any research on signs that I had ever done, none of us knew anything about, but it maybe my new favorite!

So planning helps, but improvisation can be your best friend. More from Reading to come…

Road Trip

Last week at about this time I was walking out of Target, looking up at the sky, thinking this would be a good night to get some magic hour shots.

Earlier on, I had done some research and stumbled on to a sign shot someone had taken of Rosencrans’ Bakery on Broad Street in Montoursville. I had somehow skipped over Montoursville during my sign-finding tour I had made through the Williamsport area, and about all I knew about the place was that former Orioles and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina was from there, but when I saw Rosencrans, it immediately found its way on to my “must” list. Their sign is straight out of 1956: a color turquoise I’m convinced they don’t make anymore, red puffy letters spelling out ‘Rosencrans’, and yellow diamonds spelling out ‘Bakery’.

Oh, yeah. Come to Papa.

Not only that, but just down Broad Street was another likely candidate: the Cellini Sub Shop. Probably just as old, with a sign that has a fun bulb-y arrow. Topping all that, both places get rave reviews for the food. I’ve been bad about eating at the places I get sign pictures. It was about time I gave back.

So back to Target. Standing there looking at the sky. 6:00. Montoursville is 30 miles away. I hesitated for about a second and a half, shrugged my shoulders and got in the car.

rosencrans-bakery

Unfortunately, it was closed. But they had me at Sticky Buns.

rosencrans-side

Oh, did I mention the plump cartoon baker? Yeah, that’s how awesome this sign is.

On to Cellini’s. Since I’m still in pursuit of the perfect Meatball Sub, I figured I would put them to the test. (So far, my winner and still champion is Pancho’s Pit in Johnson City, NY, in case you were wondering. Maybe it’s my hometown bias). I snap off a few shots and wander in with my K5 hanging around my neck.

cellini

I’ve come to grips with the fact that when you have a camera someplace you shouldn’t, you are immediately the center of attention. Just walk into a room of schoolkids with a big old Panasonic video camera and you’ll see what I mean. People are usually curious why I’m taking a picture of a sign. I walk in and order. The girl behind the counter doesn’t say a word about the camera. Didn’t even glance. Caught me off guard a little bit. Just toddled off and put in my order. So I’m standing alone in the place. So I snap off another few shots inside.

cellini-inside

She comes back in with my meatball sub, which by the way, was one of the best I’ve ever had. But still, the camera and why I have it never gets mentioned.

This bugs me somehow.

Cruiser’s Cafe

cruisers-instagramSo I started my Instagram addiction about a year ago now, and when I looked back over it, the picture to the left has been one of my best received. The subjectivity of art always amazes me, and this picture, in my opinion, is the chief example. I don’t like it.

Well, maybe that’s a bit strong. I think it’s okay. It was a cloudy, half-rainy day when I took it. I had it in my phone for a good three months before I had the courage to post it. I took it with the regular old iPhone camera. I didn’t frame it that well. Blah blah blah, I post the darn thing and everyone raves over it.

Maybe it’s just stubbornness, but I always vowed to go back out to Mount Pleasant Mills, PA and right my (perceived) wrong. I wanted to go back on a sunny day, get a shot from the other side of the sign, and frame it better for a square image, so a week or so ago, I trekked on out PA 35 to Cruiser’s.

And here’s the result, taken with the K5:
cruisers-sign

I’m posting the new shot on Instagram, and I’m really curious to see if you all think the same…

But there’s more. I wanted to post here because the sign is only where it starts. Cruiser’s Cafe appears to have been fashioned out of an old Texaco station (see below) and is enough to make any vintage sign collector go nuts. They have a blogspot site on the cafe which has a history tab, but unfortunately, the history of the place is listed as “Coming Soon.” Oh, well.

So I’m particularly awful for snapping shots and running. I didn’t eat here, which I am terrifically ashamed about. Urbanspoon is overwhelmingly favorable. But I hope to remedy this injustice soon.
cruisers

Off the Beaten Path

On a couple of occasions I’ve been asked how I find the signs I find. There are a number of ways to answer that, but there’s no real good short answer. Some of them are obvious, some of them you have to search for, some of them are complete happy coincidences caused by taking the road less traveled. The best place to look for the signs I’m looking for are the old U.S. highways, especially the ones that used to be major thoroughfares before the days of interstate highways but are now largely untraveled.

I travel a lot. A LOT. One of my regular routes is the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which not only beats up my car, but has the added benefit of shearing me for nearly four bucks every time I use it. Not that I’m bitter.

This portion of the Turnpike was built at a time when Interstate 80 did not exist, so rather than create a new exit, the powers that be decided that what motorists would want to do is get off at the old exit, hit a stop light, continue through the intersection and then get on the new highway. Again, not that I’m bitter. The stop light is at PA 940, which chugs along through the Poconos. Up until a few weeks ago, I looked neither to the right nor the left, preferring to go straight on to I-80 and my destination, but one morning I had some time and figured What the heck? I knew 940 eventually met up with 80 again, so I might as well check out the old road.

Nothing much for a few miles, until the intersection at PA 534. And here’s what I found:

pegasusThis shot was taken a few days later, during magic hour.

I’m not especially sure the age of this Mobil Pegasus, but the research of done seems to suggest that this is older than most. I’m not sure how long this place has been out of commission, either, but I giggled like a schoolgirl when I saw it.

pegasus-close-up

I must have passed by this location a thousand times, and it was just a half-mile off the highway.

Never NEVER stop exploring.

March Madness

 

Last week, I went back to my home town of Binghamton, New York  in the middle of March to see a community play that my parents were part of. It was a cold day, par for the course in Upstate in March, but not outrageous. A call for snow that night: again, nothing unusual. Just after six, my wife and I get off the highway and on to NY 12.

Now, don’t ask me what made me think of it, but as soon as I started up the road, my young man’s fancy turned lightly to thoughts of neon. There’s only one neon sign along that section, and that was at Jones’ Humdinger. Humdinger was the ice cream palace of my youth, the place I went to after Little League games, and it’s still going strong since the 50s.

It’s Mid-March, I thought. They won’t be open.

Then I thought again, don’t they open in March?

And then again, Why would you open an outdoor, wait-in-line-for-ice-cream kind of place in Upstate New York in March.

And then I spotted it, from a distance, the neon ice cream cone on top of the building…jones-humdinger-close Open, yes, but there was no chance that anybody would be outside, waiting in line for ice cream when it’s 32 degrees and a chance for snow…would anyone?jones-humdinger And this is why I love Upstate New York. Ice cream when it’s cold? Dadgummit, yes. Just try and stop me. 32 degrees? Only barely freezing…what are you, some kinda wimp?

Enjoy the soft serve, my friends. You are an inspiration.

Back to the Beginning

For a long time, I thought the first picture of a sign I took when I switched to digital was a the fascinatingly rusty News Agency sign in Quakertown (I’ll share later), but when I went back and looked at the timeline, my first sign shot was taken in the odd little community of Glendon, Pennsylvania. Glendon is an off-shoot of Easton, and it’s entirely possible that you can only find it by accident. It’s a small strip of land wedged in between a hill, the river, and the railroad tracks, and in that little area, there is the old Glendon Hotel with its 60s era Sprite sign.

glendon
I first got a shot in 2009, a couple days after I received my Pentax k20d. It was a decent shot, but the day was pretty cloudy and gloomy, and I was still getting used to the camera, so the results weren’t the greatest. As it so happens, I pass by this location quite a bit these days, and on this day I was armed with my k5. Cloudy and gloomy again, so I wasn’t really tempted to stop. That was, until I spotted what was parked out in front of the old hotel: an Olds that looked more at home wandering the streets of Havana than Eastern Pennsylvania. My Hoopdie-sense was on high alert. But I passed without stopping and went on to get some lunch.

I knew I was going to come back through and that little voice went off in my head: “That Olds isn’t going to be there forever, you know.”

“Might be,” I countered. “I somehow doubt it’s still mobile.”

“You don’t know that,” said the voice.

And I had to admit, the voice was right, so when I came back through, I got out of the car and snapped away.olds-front
No regrets.

So I risked life and limb and crossed the road to get a couple shots from across the road and got this beauty:Olds-side

Red wheels. Irresistible.

So when I came back the next week, sure enough, the Olds was gone. I haven’t seen it since. The moral of the story: every moment is precious, and nothing lasts forever. Listen to that voice and make sure you never miss an opportunity.

The Roxy and the Ford

First off, welcome.

Second, if you’re here, you either know me personally or have seen my sign obsession spilled out for all to see on Instagram. By now you probably know that I’m on a mission to capture signs that may or may not be here a year, a month, or even a week from now.

Third, I love neon and I love the movies. Which means, when in Eastern Pennsylvania, visit the Roxy in Northampton.

The Roxy in Northampton

The Roxy is one of those classic one-screens, originally titled The Lyric Theater when it was built in 1921, it was Art Deco-ed to the hilt in 1933. I hit this one up when I first started taking sign pictures in 2010, and got some great shots during the day. Not only that, but I got a couple of bonus shots: notice to the left of the theater some grand 50’s-60’s lettering on Dave’s Vacuum Cleaners and Laufik’s Jewelers. I got a few shots of these as well.

daves-June10 laufik-June10

One slight regret: I’ve never gotten a good shot of the Roxy at night. In 2011, I made a trip out there specifically to get a shot of it at “neon magic hour,” right at sundown when the signs are first lit, but when I got there, it wasn’t open. So this one has become one of my white whales.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I found ourselves out in the area again. The sun was going down, I was driving down PA 145 in Walnutport, when suddenly, Mr. Hyde came alive in the back of my head and yelled at me to pull off the main road and head for Northampton. Fortunately, my wife is used to these sudden compulsions, and after promises of flowers and back rubs allowed me to continue my quest.

We pulled up in front of a coffee shop two doors down from the Roxy. The sign wasn’t lit yet, but it was still a little early. I got out of the car and snapped off a couple shots to feel productive, but I was a little disappointed already: Dave’s and Laufik’s had gone by the wayside, replaced by a none-too-pretty sign.

Roxy, February 2013
Roxy, February 2013

But fortune favors the foolish: as I waited, I noticed a Ford Fairlane parked in front of us.I love old cars almost as much as old signs, so I couldn’t let this one pass. I snapped off a couple with my phone and with my K-5, and heard the door to the coffee shop open. The kid who owned it stepped out. He was glad to see someone appreciate it and let me see inside; it’s all original paint, extremely well-kept. The kid bought it a few months ago and had grand plans for it.

Ford Northampton

One of my favorite things is finding something in a shot I didn’t see when I took it, and this one provided a great moment. When I processed this in Photoshop, the flock of geese flying over the town came into focus, adding just that much more to the shot. I love it.

But the White Whale is still out there. The Roxy’s sign didn’t light up after the sun went down and I didn’t have time to wait, so the quest will continue…