History’s Mysteries: Ghost Sign on East 6th Street
Talk about 6 degrees of separation! A half- painted over, fading ghost sign (old hand painted advertisement) on a wall of a tenement building at 620 East 6th Street has more random connections than Kevin Bacon.
If you’re curious to find out how an old ad on a wall on East 6th Street is connected to “The Office,” Clint Eastwood, Italian immigrants in the South Village and nuns in Cincinnati, Ohio keep reading.
Let’s start off with the essentials. What is left of the sign today – a signature of Emilio Parodi, a seal that says “Parodi: Seal of Perfection,” and the words Parodi Factory – doesn’t immediately revel what it was meant to sell. We did a little digging around and this is what we found out.
“The fickle jet set will seize any new fad – and I tried to get it to take up Italian stogies which I claim are chic. You know those eight inch long, thin, black cigars which look sligtly meancing? My wife got me into it….”
– Earl Wilson, gossip columnist, Oct. 21, 1968
Parodi is a brand of Italian cigars. The Parodi Cigar Manufacturing Company was started in 1913 in New York City in a building in the Village at 504 West Broadway (in the GVSHP proposed South Village Historic District) by three Italian immigrants – Itala E. Castello of West Hoboken, New Jersey and Quirino V. Parodi and Giovanni Luzzatto of Manhattan. (If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of West Hoboken that’s because it was merged with Union Hill in 1925 to form Union City, New Jersey.)
The sign stating, “Parodi Factory,” would suggest that the cigars may have been made in a nearby tenement but that was not the case. First, laws were passed in the 1880s barring cigar-making in tenements. Second, the Parodi Company built a factory in Jersey City in 1916, pictureed at left. And third…well, we’ll explain that point a bit later on in this post.
The “Parodi: Seal of Perfection” was registered as a trademark by the company in 1917. In 1925 the Jersey City factory was purchased by a competitor, the Suraci State Leaf Company. The Suracis bought the Parodi Cigar Manufacturing Company outright and relocated all manufacturing to a new factory in 1930. That’s where we get to the connection with “The Office.”
The new factory was built in Scranton, Pennsylvania less than a mile and a half from the iconic Pennsylvania Paper & Supply Company that many of us know from the opening of “The Office.”
Now known as the Avanti Cigar Company and still owned by members of the Suraci family, Parodi Cigars are among teh company’s most popular brands.
Looking at the wall with the Parodi ad you can see the outline of a gabled roof that reveals something about the history of the block. The sign cuts through the apex of the gable which means it must have painted after whatever structure was there came down. Which of course makes us wonder what was there and when did it come down. At GVSHP we have spent a great deal of time researching the history of every site in the East Village and here’s what we have come up with.
Next door to the tenement is P.S. 64 Robert Simon School (not to be confused with its predecessor the old P.S. 64, Charas/El Bohio Cultural Center at 605 East 9th Street) which was built between 1951 and 1954 as J.H.S. 71. Dozens of tenements, business and institutions were demolished on East 6th East 5th and East 4th Streets and Avenue A between 1938 and 1952, to make way for the school. (That’s how we know the cigars could not have been manufactured here – the sign must have been painted after the gabled building came down, post-1938)
The gabled building (likley built before 1850) was one of many buildings that came to be owned by the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis. The Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis is an order of nuns founded in Germany in the 1840s who administered to the poor and the sick. Their first house in America was established in 1858 in Cincinnati, Ohio and the order expanded to New York City in 1865 where they founded a hospital to treat the poor on East 5th Street.
“The medical Board of St. Francis’s hospital, situated at 603 to 617 Fifth Street and under the charge of the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis, in their annual report justly calls attention to the excellent work of the hospital for the past year… During the year there were 2,634 patients treated, and 220 remained in the hospital on Jan. l. Of the number treated, 1,366 left the institution cured.” – New York Times April 1, 1889
The hospital on East 5th Street, pictured above was demolished in 1951.
Oh, and the Cint Eastwood connection … did you think we forgot?
It’s rumored that Clint smoked Parodi’s in many of his spaghetti westerns.
If you liked this post you may want b einterested in some of our December programs about the Manhattan grid plan in Greenwich Village and the Evolution of East 7th Street.