Workers Expose a Memory of a Bygone Times Square
John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times
Eighth Avenue slipped 60 years into the past this week, as a sign was revealed
that once identified the Dixon Cafeteria, which opened in 1946.
By DAVID W. DUNLAP
November 22, 2006
The veneer of modern New York peeled away this week from a building at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street to reveal a tasty slice of the 1940s.
More precisely: “Dixon Cafe er .” Some letters are missing — Dixon’s itself is long gone — but the exuberant red sign, with an X like outstretched arms and legs, has re-emerged to recall a Times Square that exists now only as simulacrum; of Horn & Hardarts and chow mein palaces; of Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, at the Paramount Theater and “Oklahoma!” at the St. James; of neon, neon and more neon.
“It was a little elegant, in that Toffenetti kind of way,” said Lorraine B. Diehl, summoning another streamlined restaurant nearby. Ms. Diehl, co-author of “The Automat” (2002), grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and spent time as a girl with her grandmother, Elizabeth Carroll, who lived at 317 West 42nd Street.
“She never cooked, so whenever I visited her, we’d go across the street to the Automat, downstairs to Kiley’s Bar and Grill or around the corner to Dixon’s,” Ms. Diehl said. “I remember thinking that Dixon’s was more ‘dressed up’ than the others because there were these large bouquets of artificial flowers in the window. I can’t say I remember the food, only the very cheerful atmosphere.”
Dixon’s opened in 1946. It was known in the 1960s for homemade bread and yogurt. On a postcard showing its snazzy red-and-yellow food bar, it invited patrons to “enjoy a leisurely meal and the finest liquors” and promised to offer fare “as economically as quality permits.”
The last tenant in its space was a blue jeans store, and its sign obscured Dixon’s until three days ago, when it was removed. Now, workers are turning it into the Eighth Avenue Pavilion, a mini-mall of vendors.
The new sign is being made by Sign Media International of Woodside, Queens. On Sunday, workers salvaged the neon tubing from the D and the O and took the letters back to the shop. There, when connected to a transformer, the neon lit up anew.
“I got goosebumps,” said Mustafa Arshad, the president of the sign company. “I said to my workers: ‘Look at this. This is a piece of history you’re touching.’ ”
Hot pink history. In neon.
Robert Stolarik for The New York TimesMustafa Arshad, the president of Sign Media International of Woodside, Queens,
with the neon tubing from the O and D of the Dixon sign.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Some more shots of this great old sign from late today ...