PLEASE DO NOT PULL IN AT
TIME FOR MINOR REPAIRS
PLEASE PUT BADGE NO.
TRIPCARD BY PD
In the kitchen of Picture Ray Studio at 245 West 18th Street, you’ll find a chipped wall of concrete between the refrigerator and emergency exit. What appear to be leftover markings from a previous tenant, though, belie something extraordinary: bits of body shop jargon. Sure, Picture Ray has the genuine feel and layout of an old garage, but was its building ever used as one? Could this sign be an artifact from that bygone era?
Well, if you were here back in the day–back in the day as in 1815–you’d be peering east. But be careful! According to the Sackersdorff Blue Book, you’d be standing in the middle of Fitz-Roy Road. Fitz-Roy was a major highway that originated between 7th and 8th Avenues at 243-245 West 14th Street. It ferried traffic northwest through Picture Ray toward its terminus between 8th and 9th Avenues at 328-340 West 42nd Street. Actually, from where you’re positioned, you’d notice it separating George Rapelje’s 20-arce farm to your west from Abraham Brinkerhoff’s 8-acre plot to your east. After 1811, though, once the street grid was imposed on Manhattan, most non-conforming paths were jettisoned from the map. By the 1830s, Fitz-Roy Road had all but disappeared.
This, of course, spurred new development. As the Perris Maps of 1852 and 1857 reveal, this spot became two distinct lots: 245 and 247 West 18th Street. Both contained “brick or stone dwellings” that mostly housed people from the working class. Peter Shand, for example, who lived at 247, was a mason. He was also involved with politics. In the November 6th, 1860 edition of the New-York Daily Tribune, Shand and over 50 other citizens declared their support for a “fellow builder” to be voted in as a City Supervisor. It was election day. Curiously, the Tribune posted a poem entitled “Vive La Republique” just above their pledge. Perhaps projecting the sentiment of Shand and his cohorts, its first stanza read
Fling out the broad banner! make ready each hand,
For the cry of Disunion is heard in the land;
Each day may behold the fierce warfare begun,
And hard may the fight be, ere victory be won.
Then loud let the challenge ring out to the South!
“Republicans have but one heart and one mouth
For the freedom we love–for the land we adore!
For the Union and ABRAHAM LINCOLN–hurra!”
Later tenants of 245 and 247 included shoemakers, tailors, upholsterers, and clerks–then two distinct laborers. On October 6, 1901, one of them placed this request in the “Help Wanted” section of the New York Herald:
Young man, 28, single, wishes position in country place; understands horses, cows, and handy at anything. T. M. 245 W 18th St.
The other added this on July 17, 1905:
A young Danish woman to work by the day. Mrs. L. Knutson. 245 West 18th St.
But, more importantly, with the 1904 publication of the Sanborn Map, the buildings themselves were more accurately described. Each was a 3-story, residential dwelling with a frame cornice, topped by either a metal, tile, or slate roof. They had different basements but shared a party wall. They were also, quite suddenly, hubs of activity.
On September 19, 1914, the New-York Evening Post noted that the “Duross Company” was leasing 245 to “Thomas Hinto for a term of years at $1,000 per annum.” Then, the Department of Buildings approved two alteration permits for the properties. It also signed off on an application to install an electric sign and begin plumbing work on the grounds. Finally, in July 1915, both the Herald and The New York Times reported that the collective deed for 245 and 247 changed hands. Each released this blurb in its “Real Estate Transfers” section:
Interior lot, begins 93.8 ft S of 19th St and 204 ft E of 8th Av, runs E 43.3 to Cetre Line of old Fitzroy Road x S. 21.4 x W. 43.11 x N. 24.4 to beginning; Florence Eisenneher, Rutherford, N.J. to Rehcansie Realty Co, 245 West 18th St, correction deed, July 1, atty New York Title Insurance Co, 176 Broadway, $1
A few months later, in September 1915, the New York Sun, Times, Tribune, Evening Telegram, and Brooklyn Daily Eagle all ran the same full-page ad for Socony Motor Gasoline–“Socony” as in the powerful “Standard Oil Company of New York.” And there, highlighted on a single line among the hundreds of places a motorist could buy Standard’s brand, was the
Empire Garage, 245 West 18th St.
Then, the next month, the Herald, Tribune, and Brooklyn Standard Union all disseminated the same ad again with its referral to the
Empire Garage, 245 West 18th St.
Wow! A garage! And Bromley concurred. When his city atlas was issued in 1916, the word “GARAGE” was clearly typed across the new 2-story brick building on the lots at 245 and 247. They were also merged into one address: “245 West 18th Street.”
Now all this suggests the “Night Service” sign is a legitimate. But who was the owner that nascent body shop?
Well, on April 22, 1916, when the Post announced that the “Duross Company” was leasing 245 to “Henry Mundt,” it just added to the confusion. But, if the surviving records are true, they’d make Rehcansie Realty the title owner, Duross Company the lessor, and Henry Mundt the lessee. Regardless, the Empire Garage was off and running. In August 1917, it touted its wares in the Telegram:
Ford touring, A1, any demonstration, $200. Empire Garage, 245 West 18th St.
And also this:
TAXI. Ford: demountable rims, special body; passed inspection. HUGHIE, Empire Garage, 245 West 18th St.
But, by 1921, ole Hughie may have been fixing things elsewhere. That year, the “Reliable Garage and Repair Company” acquired the Empire and gave it a fresh name. Now christened the “West 18th St. Garage,” the 245 property became part of a chain. On February 23rd, the Tribune printed another bulletin for Socony Motor Gasoline that directed potential customers to Reliable’s outlets at
W. 18th St, 130, Reliable Garage and Repair Co.
157, Chelsea Garage.
245, West 18th St. Garage.
515, Morania Commercial Garage.
And, as 1921 wore on, the Socony ads made more appearances in the pages of the Times, Telegram, Daily Eagle, and Standard Union. The West 18th St. Garage also branched out on its own by broadcasting messages like this
AUTOS WANTED–SPOT CASH READY; also loans, Chelsea.
[March 10, 1921. Telegram.]
Packard 3-38 limousine, fully equipped, perfect condition, any demonstration. See Mr. Bauman’s chauffeur. 245 W. 18th St.
[April 22, 1921. Telegram.]
BUSINESS CHANCE. AUTO mechanic, shop space to let, going garage. 245 W. 18th St.
[December 14, 1921. Telegram.]
In 1923, it expanded even further when it held once-a-week auctions
Buick touring, late model, and other makes will be sold at auction tomorrow at 245 W. 18th St.
[April 4, 1923. Telegram.]
that became regularly scheduled affairs:
Buicks, Dodge, Hudsons, and many popular makes are sold at public auction every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, from 12 to 3:30. Chelsea, 245 W 18th St. Tel. Chelsea 6449.
[May 16, 1923. Telegram.]
Then, suddenly, the West 18th St. Garage was gone. After 1923, none of the New York papers ever mentioned it again. When Bromley distributed his atlas in 1930, his previous designation of “GARAGE” for the 2-story building was also removed. In 1934, property’s Certificate of Occupancy (CO) labeled the 1st story as a “garage,” but it’s unclear if the author meant a “residential” or “commercial” one. According to the document, the Rechansie Realty Company still owned 245 West 18th Street–it apparently had its offices there–but would never be associated with the address again.
Given the evidence, the “Night Service” notice in today’s Picture Ray Studio is probably between 83 and 103 years old. More likely, though, it’s actually between 95 and 103 years old–dating to the period when those ads prove a body shop existed.
(Previously, on Great New York Ephemera (4), explore the flyer for a show that took place at the Rock Hotel in 1987. It featured Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Vernon Reid’s Living Colour, and Leeway….)