New York City is constantly changing. Businesses come and go; buildings are bought and razed; long-time residents are pushed out by gentrification’s rising rents. Living here, the idea of the past can seem inaccessible—as if it would be an impossible task to discover what inhabited the metropolis before glass skyscrapers and JPMorgan Chase banks.
But if you pause on any given sidewalk and look up, you might find clues to the city’s former incarnations hidden on the sides of buildings: the faded signs that advertised hats, hotel rooms, church dresses, and department stores. Their brightly painted outlines used to shout to New York pedestrians; now, they’re the haunting reminders of a bygone commercial era.