Bushwick / East Williamsburg and Tribeca Lettering Walks

This spring I organized two custom urban lettering tours in New York City. On March 4, at the behest of Troy Leinster, I led alumni of the summer (short-term) CooperType program on walk through Bushwick and East Williamsburg. Two days later I was supposed to lead a group of students from the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota on a walk in Tribeca. Due to some confusion they were unable to make it, but several of the CooperType alumni eagerly took their place.

The Bushwick / East Williamsburg tour was, as expected, full of an amazing array of lettering, including some things I had not seen before. These two adjoining neighborhoods are some of the richest lettering-wise remaining in New York since they still have a large number of industrial businesses and have not been heavily gentrified yet. Here are two examples of lettering, one institutional (from Bushwick) and the other vernacular (from East Williamsburg) that we encountered during the tour.

New York Public School 116 (Bushwick)

Public School 116 is now the Elizabeth Farrell School. The original lettering is a wonderful mix of slab serif and tuscan serif while the new lettering is a crabbed, barely visible and undistinguished typeface. Setting it in an arc to mirror the lunette over the front door does nothing to improve it.

No Parking (East Williamsburg)

I have been documenting No Parking signs for several years ago, spurred on originally by Liz DeLuna. Given their amazing variety, I intend to make a book of such signs. This one on a construction fence is among the best and most inventive of them. Ben Shahn would have loved it. I assume that it was made using masking tape. The presence of the dull store-bought No Parking sign above it adds to its beauty.

The Tribeca walk was supposed to be a repeat since two past TDC walks included Tribeca. But in the end, the walk deviated from the initial plan and we discovered things that I had missed during my wanderings in the neighborhood. (This is a common occurrence on the lettering tours since New York is not only rich in environmental lettering, but it is also constantly evolving. It is easy to overlook some lettering. And, while old signs continually vanish—much to our dismay—there are often new ones worthy of attention.) Here are two examples of signs in Tribeca that I was previously aware of, but had not included in the preliminary tour itinerary. They are both typical of this former warehouse district.

Port Warehouses (Tribeca)

The Port Warehouses apparently contained canned goods and dry goods. See the Tribeca North Historic District report (1992) for more on the warehouse buildings in the neighborhood and the background of the American Express Co. building as well. The latter was a stable, a reminder that the credit card company got its start as an express mail and shipping goods company.

American Express Co. (Tribeca)