Boy’s Night Out

“Where are you?” Laura said on the phone, through the car’s speakers.

Busted. So, so busted.

Well, there was no denying it. In these days of Find My iPhone, she really didn’t even need to ask. “Philadelphia,” I said. I was just about to get off on the Broad Street exit of 95. The sun was rapidly declining, and neon magic hour was already in full swing. I was after the Boot and Saddle Bar, which I had photographed previously three years ago:

Boot and Saddle Sign, July 2014

The sign had been restored to its former glory.

Laura laughed. She had spent the day shopping with her sisters all the way up in Williamsport, so she had already guessed what I was up to. “I told everybody, ‘I’ll lay odds he’s driving somewhere to take a picture of a sign, and then he’ll come home and watch Mystery Science Theater.'”

“Wow, that’s spooky. You left out the part about me going to John’s in South Philly for a cheesesteak, but the rest is dead on.”

I got off at the Broad Street exit. It was a gloomy night and it was getting darker. I’ve learned from experience that neon in complete darkness somehow loses its power, so I had to get there before nightfall.

I don’t know if you’ve ever driven up Broad Street in Philadelphia when you’re in a hurry from 95 practically to the middle of the city. I don’t recommend it. Words fly out of your mouth that you don’t even know. I was speaking conversational Bulgarian for a time, and not the nice kind of conversation.

But the night held off, and I was there. Amazingly, I found parking, which was something I found most difficult three years earlier. And there it was:

Boot and Saddle Neon SignQuite the restoration job by Len Davidson, who also restored the Reading Terminal Market sign in 2006. Here’s a before and after from my shots in 2014 and 2017:

Fortunately for me, the night, or rather the daylight, wasn’t quite over. On my way through on Broad Street, I caught a glimpse of the Melrose Diner. I had caught this during the day, but I couldn’t resist a neon diner at night. I worked my way back to Snyder Avenue, just in time.

Melrose Diner SignMelrose Diner at NightAs it so happens, John’s Roast Pork is also on Snyder Avenue, so all I had to do was turn around. This turned out to be one of the more difficult feats of the evening, as the entire city of Philadelphia seemed to choose that moment to drive their respective cars on Snyder Avenue going west. But eventually, the masses went on their way, and I was headed in the direction of cheesesteak goodness.

Mind you, even though I live pretty close to the city, my only experience with a real-live honest-to-goodness Philly cheesesteak was when my father took me to Pat’s…or maybe Geno’s…when I was barely old enough to know what the fuss was all about. John’s came highly recommended, and the day I got my initial shots of the Boot and Saddle, I planned a stop off there, but unlucky me, they just happened to be closed that day.

John’s is a tiny little building wedged into a corner close enough to the docks you can see the SS United States if you look hard enough. It’s a truly no-nonsense place. Order, get out of the way. You’ll be rewarded with tin-foil wrapped loveliness eventually. They called my name, handed me my parcel, I handed them my money. I unwrapped it in the car.

John's Philly Cheesesteak
Last Known Photograph

I only had time to take a quick cell phone picture of it before it magically got devoured by the person driving his car back home. It didn’t make it past Spring Garden Street.

I went home and put on the Rifftrax version of Plan 9 from Outer Space. You can’t beat the classics, I say.

After the Storm

We passed by the Queen City Diner this morning. It was packed to the gills with customers. “I’ve always wanted to get a shot of this place,” I said to Laura. “But not like this. At night. After it rains. I think that would be perfect.”

“Well, you should,” she said.

Again, it was just another one of those things that I haven’t done and I don’t understand why. I just haven’t. Well, I should.

And then I looked at the weather report for the day. Thunderstorms, in the afternoon. In February. The weather in eastern Pennsylvania this year has been strange to say the least. But no matter, and opportunity was presenting itself.

At 4:30, the storm raged through, sending garbage cans and cats and dogs flying, but in twenty minutes it was mostly over. We scrambled together all my camera gear and shot out the door.

It was still raining when we got to the Queen City, but not so much to be a bother. I took my tripod because the light was low and I wanted a shot as still as I could get.

Queen City DinerI’m happy with the result, but I’m happier that we got out and did it.

The Missing Ghost of Pottstown

A couple of years ago I made a trip to Pottstown, Pennsylvania because they had done a unique thing: they hired a local artist to restore some of the old, faded advertising painted on brick walls. These faded ads are commonly known as ghost signs. These shots served as a previous post of mine titled Bringing Back the Ghosts.

A few days later someone contacted me to let me know that I had missed one. It haunted me. I knew that I had to go back and find it, but I had no idea where to look. There were four that I saw in plain sight, including a marvelous Coca-Cola ad, but the fifth was hiding. This past weekend we drove around Pottstown and I decided to get a shot of The Very Best, which is a bit of a local legend, while I waited to spot the fifth ghost.

The Very Best, Pottstown, PAIf you look carefully, you can spot another ghost. Namely, me.

In order to get back in the direction I waned to go, I had to make a turn around the block and down another side street. As we turned and looked back across the railroad tracks, the ghost suddenly appeared, visible behind some buildings. I wheeled around the block and dipped into an alley, and on the other side I came face to face with the remaining restored ghost.

Merkley's restoed ghost sign, Pottstown, PA

At last, the complete set. And just to the left of this one was the rear entrance to the old Sears store, an actual un-restored ghost sign!

Sears and Markley's, Pottstown, PA

For more about ghost signs in general and specifically the restored versions in Pottstown (and one in Shenandoah), visit the Bringing Back the Ghosts post.

Drexel Hill Style Pizza

One morning on my way to work, I made a detour off the Blue Route (I-476 around the west side of Philadelphia, to the uninitiated), as one often has to do if one has to get anywhere with any sort of speed. Along PA-3 in Broomall, I came across this seasoned campaigner:

Drexel Hill Style Pizza, Broomall, PA

The Chicago Style Pizza and the New York Style Pizza are well-known variants, and in the upper corners of Pennsylvania, the Old Forge Style Pizza is favored. But Drexel Hill Style was a new one for me. Apparently this is a more Greek style, and a quick internet search yielded this info. Looks pretty good. Sadly, it being the morning, I was unable to partake, and it’s not close enough to work for me to hit it up on my lunch break. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the sign…

Drexel Hill Style Pizza, Broomall, PA

Knowing When to Leave

Overall, I’ve had pretty good success as far as getting shots of old signs and not having anyone complain. I probably have more positive stories than negative, because most people recognize the fact that the more pictures are taken of their sign, the greater the publicity. I’ve been given the raised eyebrow twice, and told to outright leave the premises one other time, and two times total I’ve felt the need to get in my car and get driving immediately. The first time was at the Nor-Pole Drive-In in Orangeburg, during which I’m reasonably sure my license plate number was noted.

Motel Deska, Wernersville, PA

This was the second. I was on my way back from Lebanon County when I spotted this old rusty devil along US 422. I did a U-Turn and pulled off to the side of the road. There’s a hill below, from which I took some shots. The field was open before me, and I couldn’t resist getting some closer shots, including the one above. I took five pictures in all, and suddenly I began to hear this odd snapping noise. I look over at the motel and out of the corner of my eye I see a man bursting out of the motel, his arm raised, his fingers snapping wildly. He didn’t say anything, but he had conveyed his message. I dipped back down the hill, got in my car, and drove off.

Later I discovered perhaps why the reaction. A quick internet search of this place revealed a cadre of bad reviews. Oh, well, such things happen.

Let me know if you have had some similar interesting entanglements!

The Philadelphia Food and Sign Festival

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

First off, in answer to someone’s question when I had four posts entitled “The San Antonio Food and Sign Festival,” this is not actually a thing. But it should be. All I’m sayin’.

Second, there’s also no such thing as the Philadelphia Food and Sign Festival (but there should be), other than the one Laura and I created one morning last week when we had the idea to take full advantage of an extra day off during the Columbus Day weekend. There are two places that spring to mind where food and neon intermingle, the first being the Reading Terminal Market, a foodie paradise unparalleled. Truly, if you cannot find it in the Reading Terminal, it’s probably not worth eating.

Inside the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

It took us a few minutes of wandering before we felt like we could actually settle in anywhere, but eventually we found a place that stopped us dead in our tracks. Being an admitted cheese snob, I gravitated over to a stand in the back owned by the Valley Shepherd Creamery. They had several cheeses on display, but the one that took center stage drew us in like nothing else could:

Ten Eyck CheeseAs it so happens, Laura’s maiden name is Ten Eyck.

So, after the world’s easiest sale and we had procured the cheesy comestibles, we came to find out that this was not one of Valley Shepherd’s cheeses, but from one of their partners, Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia, New York. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tell us why the cheese bears the name Ten Eyck. Nor is the internet a wealth of information on the subject. Needless to say, we’re very curious why they named a sheep’s milk cheese in the family of manchego with a somewhat obscure Dutch name. If anyone knows, please let us know!

Tommy DiNic's, Philadelphia, PA

It was ten in the morning, we already had breakfast, and yet we still found ourselves in front of Tommy DiNic’s. There was a cloud of people already there for lunch. Cheesesteaks, you say? Well, even though that is the most famous export of Philadelphia, the Roast Pork sandwich is gaining steam as the sandwich of choice, and DiNic’s is one the best. Roast pork, provolone and broccoli rabe. We had to indulge, even though we weren’t terrifically hungry.

Roast Pork Sandwich at DiNic'sI regret nothing.

Termini Brothers has a location in the Reading Terminal, and if you remember this previous post, I had a debt to settle with my lovely wife. I went to the main location on 8th Street a few months ago, had a tea biscuit and got an unexpected tour, but unfortunately I was by myself. For that reason, I had held off on the specialty of the house, the cannoli. I wasn’t about to leave Philadelphia without going by the main location for a pair of his-and-hers cannoli.

Now I Know Why He Left the Gun

Termini Brothers, Philadelphia, PA

First off, the sign was lit this time around, God bless them, so I went to town with a whole series of new shots. Then we went inside, and quite possibly the most delicious smell that exists returned to my life with a vengeance. Now unconcerned with leaving anyone behind, I could graze with confidence. A cannoli each, certainly. Then a container of pizzelles which looked impossibly good.

And then the girl who was serving us said “While you’re waiting for your cannoli,” she said, “would you like a tour?” Well, I had already had a tour previously, but Laura hadn’t, so we went through and looked in on where the magic happens.

Cannoli, cannoli, cannoli

Laura is smarter than me. When she is new to a place, she does what I never think to do, which is ask the person serving you what their favorite thing is. So she directed us to her favorite: a biscotti topped by a banana and raspberry, then the whole darn shootin’ match covered in chocolate. You’ll see that off to the right.

termini-tray

In order of deliciousness, and there aren’t any losers on this list, mind you:

  1. The chocolate-banana-raspberry thing, which I’m convinced is used as currency in certain developing countries.
  2. The cannoli, which would win most normal contests. Had I not had the chocolate-banana loveliness, I may have considered this the most delicious thing I had ever thought to eat.
  3. The pizzelles, which are outrageously wonderful in their own right.

We ate these later, of course, because there was plenty more to do and plenty more day ahead.

A pity we were full, because it was time to cross another place off my to-do list. I had missed out on the Melrose Diner on Snyder in my previous trip, but I couldn’t pass up

  1. A neon diner sign
  2. with a clock in it
  3. and the clock is shaped like a coffee cup

So off we went.

Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PABy the way, in case you’re wondering, it was about 11:30. I think the Melrose has been stuck at 8:14 for a while…

Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PA

But this was not all for this day. My word, no. For that, there will come another day and another post. Or two.

Farewell to the Port Motel

Port Motel, Port Trevorton, PA

The news hit me last week that the Port Motel sign has officially disappeared. Built in 1952, the Port was part of a bygone era, before interstate highways, when US routes were the main mode of transportation. This motel was along US 11 and 15 along the Susquehanna in the town of Port Trevorton, PA, and its original design contained an Esso station and the Port Diner. The motel closed a number of years ago and it had been turned into storage units, all the while the motel sign remaining.

From old post cards of the motel, I discovered that the star was added later, perhaps as late as the seventies. If you’ll notice on the wireframe below the sign and to the left, that once housed a bit of neon as well, proudly announcing that they had “TV.”

Port Motel, Port Trevorton, PA

This sign was the subject of at least three photo shoots of mine. This last grouping was from August of last year, and as far as anyone can tell, the sign disappeared over the winter. I had previously shot the sign in the morning, and these were from magic hour, as you can tell from the shadows of me and my Elantra above.

Port Motel sign, Port Trevorton, PA

If anyone has any news about the whereabouts of this sign, it would be greatly appreciated. I would hate to think it’s lying about in a junkyard somewhere.

Farewell, old friend. Visit this and many other lost treasures in my Vanishing America section.

Philadelphia Freedoms, Part 2

For part 1, click here

I continued down Broad Street in the hopes of finding two more landmarks from my to-do list. For some reason, I thought both of them were in North Broad Street, but as I pulled up the information in Google Maps, I discovered that they were both on South Broad Street. The first, the Boot and Saddle Bar, was easier to find, since it is still in existence; the second, Philip’s Restaurant, closed a while ago. Little did I know, these two were less than a block away from each other!

Parking was a challenge, considering the nearby bus station and a few diners nearby. I went around and around blocks and got to know some of the peculiar inner workings of Philadelphia’s one-way streets a little more than I would have preferred. Eventually I came upon a spot on the block where Philip’s was. This spot was no bigger than my fist, but I somehow managed to jam my Elantra into it. IN so doing, I tapped the van behind me, and when I got out of the car, the driver yelled out the window at me, “Whiplash! Whiplash!” As soon as I looked at him and wide grin on his face, I knew he was just yanking my chain. He laughed and I laughed and I went to the task at hand.

Philip's Restaurant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philip’s was one of the first places in the city to get air conditioning, thus its placement on the sign. This thing is massive, probably ten to twelve feet tall, which really must have gotten people’s attention back in the day. Notice just below the T in Restaurant? That’s the top of the Boot and Saddle sign!

Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

And here’s that sign! This is semi-restored, and as I understand it, actually lights up again. The rest of it could probably use some painting, or not; the bare metal is a bit charming in its own way. So an interesting thing about this sign is that it says “saddle” vertically and “Boot” horizontally, whereas on the other side:

Boot and Saddle, Philadelphia, PA

the opposite is true!

So, what you won’t see in this post is another Philadelphia landmark that is on South Broad Street, the Dolphin Tavern. The reason for this is simple: I didn’t realize it was there until after I got home. But, as these things usually go, it gives me another opportunity to go back!

When I returned to the car, the man in the van was still in the driver’s seat, reclined and dozing. I did my best to extricate my car without disturbing him and moved on to my next sign…


Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PATo finish off a bit of history from the last post, the Divine Lorraine has been vacant for more than a decade. It was originally the Lorraine Apartments when it first opened its doors in 1894, the design of renowned architect Willis G. Hale. In 1900, it was made into a hotel and almost a half-century later, it was purchased by Father Divine, head of the Universal Peace Mission Movement, who renamed it the Divine Lorraine. Bear in mind that Father Divine, although a maverick in the field of racial integration, also claimed to be himself God. This latter seems to have been disproven by his death in 1965.

Philadelphia Freedoms

Melino's, PhiladelphiaMelino’s Hoagies, Philadelphia, PA

A co-worker of mine, who grew up in Chattanooga, used to speak of an alternate childhood life he had lived. During periods of time, he would stay with his aunt, who lived in Philadelphia, and he told me many stories of how he was made fun of because of his accent, and how if he went down the wrong street (as he did occasionally) people would attempt to recruit him into a gang, and a host of other stories like that. Invariably, whatever Philadelphia story he told would end with him saying, with a huge grin and without a trace of irony, “I love Philly.”

And he truly did. Somehow, even though he really hadn’t said anything particularly positive about it, he loved Philly.

Tap most anyone who lives in Pennsylvania who has not lived in Philadelphia and environs, and the very mention of the city’s name elicits an overwhelmingly negative response. Part of this I can relate to, since I grew up in New York but not New York City, so whenever I told someone I was from New York, people made assumptions. For this completely unfair reason I came to dislike New York City, and only age and experience have reversed this attitude.

Be that as it may, my attitude toward Philadelphia was not right. I knew there were several Philadelphia signs on my to do list, and despite the fact that it’s relatively easy access for me to cross them off my list, I still wasn’t doing it. A couple weeks back, I had a free day and I made it up to myself to remedy this situation, so I hopped in the car bright and early and headed south.

I decided to avoid the Schuylkill Expressway, since it blocks up at all hours of the day and night, and headed in from PA 309, hoping to hook up with Broad Street on the north end. There was construction, so I ended whirling through back streets until I reached Broad at the Olney Street Bus Station, where approximately half a million people were waiting for the bus. I turned south on Broad, ready to scoop up some of the treasures. Almost immediately, I came upon my first. And second.

Etkin's and Dairy Maid, Philadelphia, PA

One of the more interesting aspects of these kind of shoots is that on occasion you run into one or two that you had no idea existed. I was after the Boot and Saddle and others I had researched and I had no idea Etkin’s Dairy Maid existed, much less back-to-back like this. I had to maneuver through the one-way side streets before I could turn around and get these, but once I got into position, I got parked and fired away.

Etkin's 1 Hour Cleaners, Philadelphia, PA

Dairy Maid, Philadelphia, PA

Some research on Dairy Maid: they were a Confectionary company owned by a family named Glaser. They bought a number of different companies, including many that sell salt-water taffy. The company still exists, but operates out of Gladwyne, PA. Etkin’s appears to still be open.

Still buzzing from the discovery, I headed on down Broad Street to my main quarry: the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Now a graffiti magnet, the Divine Lorraine was truly a high-class place in its day.

Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PAI went a little nuts with the Photoshop…

This was a considerably more difficult shot. I had to park across the street and tried to hit it up with my long zoom lens. But, and testament to my new friend the 35mm 2.8 Pentax Limited, I still managed to get the above shot (this is cropped, of course). Still, the 75-300 zoom came in handy when it came to getting just the sign.

Divine Lorraine Hotel, Philadelphia, PA

And I hadn’t even gotten to City Hall!

So, back to the idea that I started with: the Divine Lorraine, due to it being very, very closed, does not appear on Google Maps, Mapquest, etc. If you type it into your GPS, you will not find it. Granted, it’s on North Broad Street, and you literally can’t miss it, but this is a special case. There are plenty of others out there that you can’t find unless you have a map, and since it has been removed from the map, there’s no way to find it. So, to help out my fellow sign geeks, in cases like this, I’ll try to include a map of it’s exact position.

More to come!

Won’t you take me to (Quakertown)

News Agency, Quakertown, PANews Agency, Quakertown, PA 2009

In 2009, I had just started my journey. After years of film, I had moved on to digital, which provided me (at least in my own mind)  brand new opportunity to take pictures of any and all things that existed. I’ve said before that the above picture was the first I ever took of an old sign. I didn’t even get out of the car. I was coming back from the Quakertown Farmers’ Market when I saw this, pondered its significance and its age, and most importantly, the chances that it would still be standing in the future. I pulled over. This was the only picture I took that day. Despite the fact that I was pretty sure this sign would be gone in a few months, here it is five years later and it’s still there.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, too: this sign is on the back side of PA 313 and doesn’t often get direct sunlight, so as a result, even though I love this original shot, I have been trying in vain to get another shot of this with better lighting conditions. Last week, the late afternoon sun was shining, I was within striking distance of Quakertown, and I had some time to kill, so I figured, why not?

To get to the News Agency, you have to pass the building and hook around it in one of those lovely maneuvers that you only have to do in the Northeastern United States (see: New Jersey, turning right to make a left). As I made the u-turn I could see that my trip was not in vain; at last, the sun was shining bright on the side of the sign that faces northwest. I parked in the same spot I had parked in five years ago, fixed my new lens to the K-5, and stepped out.

News Agency, 35mm, Quakertown, PA

While I’m happily taking some new shots, I can see a face in the window of the actual News Agency. Now, bear in mind, I was not especially sure that it was still open after all these years, but it was. A man walked out, and he was one of those sorts of people that you instantly know that you’re going to like. He knew what I was taking pictures of and immediately introduced himself. His name is Phil, he has an impressive mustache, and from what I could gather, is constantly smiling. Much more, as we started talking about this sign, he told me that he was going to be restoring this very sign!

Moyer's Shoes

Above the door to the News Agency is a rapidly-reappearing clue to the building’s past. This was a shoe store in a previous life, and not only that, but Phil tells me that the business is still owned by a family named Moyer. This, of course, is no surprise, because every third person in this part of Pennsylvania seems to have the last name Moyer. (And yes, in case you were wondering, former major league pitcher Jamie Moyer is from nearby Souderton.)

Phil also tells me that the former Dimmig Electric across the street is slated to become a bakery. There were plans for a Brew Pub to move in to the building, but this fell through. The Dimmig Building used to be the Palace Theater, he tells me, and even though I had been by several times, I hadn’t noticed the entryway, which really pointed it to being an old theater. Another thing strikes me: at the word “Dimmig,” it occurs to me that I had spotted another sign here months ago, at the back of the building. I hadn’t taken a picture of it because the sun was against me (once again), so as I left I figured it was a good idea to see if it was still there.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PADimmig Electric, with the News Agency visible to the side, 2014

The back door was open and there was a guy working on the reconstruction. The sign was, as you can see, still in place. I asked him if he didn’t mind me getting a few shots and he basically told me to get them while I could, because chances were these letters would come down soon.

Dimmig Electric, Quakertown, PA

I drove back home feeling good. It’s not often that you get to document a small piece of history, or have a good conversation out on the street. And now, I’ll have to go back to see how the News Agency sign looks when it’s finished!


On my way back, I had to stop in at The Inside Scoop, which is a few miles north of Quakertown on PA 309 in the town of Coopersburg. Although not an old sign, it has pretty much everything one could hope for in a new sign. Since I’ve been revisiting old favorites with my new lens, I figured I would squeeze off a few shots!

The INside Scoop, Coopersburg, PA