The day I saw the Kentile Floors sign being taken down, I cried on the F train. Growing up in Park Slope, I saw that sign every morning on my commute into the city. Every morning I’d look up to smile at it at Smith–Ninth Streets, craning my neck to see it out a window if the car was crowded. Like an old friend looming on the horizon, lording over the brownstone belt, the Kentile Floors sign was a little reminder of my father’s Brooklyn and my grandfather’s Brooklyn, from a time I was nostalgic for despite never having lived.
Ghost signs are a time trip, advertisements that have outlived their businesses in a bizarre twist of capitalism, turning PR into art. Their numbers are dwindling – there’s Red Hook’s dot R, the now landmarked Pepsi-Cola sign, numerous old school storefronts – stalwart holdouts from a time gone by. They come from a past generation of marketing, and they embody the kind of Brooklyn authenticity which has become ever scarcer just as it becomes ever more sought after.
In Dumbo, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ 15-foot-tall Watchtower sign’s days are numbered. The Witnesses, who sold the property the sign stands on to Kushner Companies, plan on removing the letters and leaving the lattice framework, thus taking away a 50-year veteran of the Brooklyn skyline, The Real Deal reported. To fill the void, Philadelphia-born artist Susanna Briselli has proposed erecting a Hollywood-style sign reading “Brooklyn!” in the blue color and font style of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Watchtower sign’s place. Briselli originally thought of the sign in the ’80s, when she was living on the Upper West Side with a studio in South Street Seaport, and often observed tourists pointing at the Brooklyn Bridge and asking “Where exactly is Brooklyn?” according to DNAinfo.
In a column she wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle, she compares her proposed Brooklyn! sign to the London Ferris Wheel, the Eiffel Tower and the St. Louis Arch. She speaks of the sign as an attraction to, “entice more visitors across the river,” and, in so many words, benefit Brooklyn’s tourism industry. The sign would help by “increasing revenue and raising the borough’s profile and identity.”
Non-corporate affiliated public borough art at its best pays homage to Brooklyn while brightening locals’ days. It’s always nice to see our tax dollars come to fruition in the form of something pleasant and accessible, but using a bygone baseball team to advertise Brooklyn to tourists across the river, across the world, is sad. The Statue of Liberty stands for much more than simply existing, and even the Fuhgeddaboutit sign is made more meaningful by its placement at the borough border. The Dodgers abandoned here for LA decades ago – Brooklyn has more going for it than its past.
If Briselli is so in love with advertising Brooklyn to tourists, my vote is she installs this sign on top of Ebbetts Apartments, the housing development built on top of the Dodgers’ former playing grounds. That way Prospect Lefferts Gardens could get some public art (something it has much less of than Dumbo), and it could pay homage to something in addition to simply existing. A Brooklyn! sign in Dumbo seems to me to speak to some kind of verging of cultures, Brooklyn creeping towards LA’s stereotypical narcism, advertising its self with itself. Brooklyn stands for more than being Brooklyn, and this sign doesn’t make that clear at all.