Monday, November 24, 2008

Eagle Clothes

The Eagle Clothes sign. You see it from the train as you ride over the viaduct. You catch a glimpse walking on 4th Avenue, in between the condo towers that rise to block the view. Dark at night, still bright in sunlight, brilliant red and green. Maybe, like me, you wonder what Eagle was all about and if their sign will stay.



ForgottenNY explains, "Eagle is one of the many haberdasheries that succumbed to more casual living during the Swingin' Sixties. As more men began to eschew suits, jackets and ties during all but strict business hours, clothing manufacturers had to adapt or die."

Eagle began to languish when the leisure suit, "the kiss of death," came on the scene, according to a former employee interviewed by New York Magazine. For him, the Gowanus sign is "like a tombstone. The end of the world I knew." And what a beautiful world it was:


1940s Eagle ads from goantiques

Eagle had been around for awhile when the Gowanus plant opened in June of 1951. On opening day, Mayor Impellitteri cut the tape and recalled his Sicilian mother's toil with sweatshop work, while Rose Schneidermann, Triangle Shirtwaist survivor, marveled at the safe, modern facility:


New York Times, click to enlarge

In 1957, Rock Hudson posed in their suits, an eagle coming to rest on his shoulder, the epitome of mid-century masculinity. What would Don Draper wear?



Eagle Clothes is mentioned in a 1958 issue of the journal American Speech, in a fascinating little article entitled "Some Popular Components of Trade Names." The article looks at the trend of suffixes like -master, -matic, and -rama (Roadmaster! Futurematic! Glamorama!). "Rama," says the author, dates back to the days of Balzac and means a "spectacular show or display." Eagle jumped on the -rama bandwagon with their Naturama line, as noted in this slice of the article's fantastic and exhaustive listing of -rama usages (click to enlarge):



By the late 1970s, as low-end leisure and high-end tailor-made suits did well, Eagle was failing. They filed for bankruptcy. Then, after a few acquisitions, they turned around and managed to survive most of the 1980s. In 1989, however, they filed for bankruptcy again and that's where the electronic paper trail ends.

Which brings us back to the sign. For more than half a century, the sign has heralded Gowanus. With all the hubbub of development vying for that poisoned land, I'm worried about it.



Over a year ago, Gowanus Lounge revealed that a Karl Fischer design was going to be landing here, a big blue-glass tower like all the other blue-glass towers, developed by the same guy who brought Hotel Le Bleu to 4th Avenue. He told Brooklyn Paper, "This area is becoming modern, trendy and new. The glass is part of that."

So far, all that exists of that glass tower is the sign that says it's coming, accompanied by another sign that says: Future Home of Greg's Express Rubbish Removal. So, who knows?


view from Hotel Le Bleu

With Gowanus possibly slipping back into de-gentrification as Whole Foods dickers, and with the bear economy wearily limping into hibernation, maybe the sign still has a chance.

In the New York Magazine article cited above, a local ironworker sees a long future for the Eagle sign. Despite the city's surplus of cranes and demolition men, he assures us, "It is made of 33 1/4-inch steel pipes. You'd need a crane to take it down. So it stays."

More Gowanus posts:

22 comments:

Jeff Trexler said...

Great work on a great story. The Times story is so tragic, the promise of the future as a monument to the past.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks jeff, this was a fun one to do

hntrnyc said...

great post. I have often marveled at the sign and truly appreciate you filling in the details.

JackS said...

That whole area used to be filled with sweatshops and factories and even home of the Jewish Press.

My mom (rest her soul) worked out of a factory on Carroll Street back in the day.

Those glass tower condos are extra ridiculous in comparison to the low-rise brownstones in Park Slope across the street.

The part is over folks. No more crappy development.

Mariel said...

On third ave and sixth street, where the Greg's Express signs are, used to be Steve Ashley's
Peugeot repair and sales. We bought used Peugeots from him for twenty years. He sold the lot to the Greg's people, they sold to a developer. One of the former mechanics, Mario, now fixes my car working on the street in Red Hook
during breaks from his new job.

Armonosia B. said...

A good story. But little information. I'll give a little more. My Uncle, up till he retired, was Vice President of Eagle Clothes since it first opened. I practically grew up at Eagle. Most of my relatives at that time were imployed by Eagle. My uncle even gave my sisters a job so that they could attend college and pay for their tuition.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for writing in, armonosia. it was really hard to find info on eagle clothes. i welcome any stories or pictures you might want to share about the place.

Ken said...

I was just watching an episode of Twilight Zone and noticed in the credits that Rod Serling's clothes were furnished by Eagle.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Ken, nice catch--thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah
I have just bought a solid bronze plaque that is 15"x15" that looks just like the sign in New York with the same letter type,Only this sign has and Eagle On top with its wings spread,It looks as if this sign or plaque was at one time mounted on the front of a store or even maybe the factory entrance,Any info from you or anyone would be very helpful.
Thanks Oshposh

Jeremiah Moss said...

don't know, Oshposh--anyone else got a clue?

Renato said...

Thanks for posting this story! I have been watching Rod Serling in his original Twilight Zone, and he is always so sharply dressed. The end credits always say he wears "Eagle Clothes" and I googled it. You were the top link, below a few NFL ones.

Anonymous said...

A Maxim photo spread last year featured a photo of model Caite (not Kate) Upton taken from the Hotel Le Bleu, with the same angle one of your photos shows of the back of the Eagle sign. Obviously the foreground in this one's a little more attractive. ;) http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4116/4752879712_420696fa55.jpg

Bill said...

I was at the flea market this morning in Schertz, TX and bought a WW II Ike Jacket that included a wooden Eagle coat hanger. The Ike Jacket was made in Aug 1945.

Bill
San Antonio TX
weng@satx.rr.com

Jeremiah Moss said...

Bill, that's great. can you send a pic of the hanger?

Janet R. said...

My uncle,William Genzer,was one of three founders of Eagle Clothes. I believe he was the CFO.

I was 17 years old when I attended a bon voyage party on board the USS Constitution where he & my Aunt Lillian led me to a cabin to meet a friend of theirs. To my amazement it was Gregory Peck. As handsome as he was in films,he was 100 times more so in person. My mouth flew open,we shook hands & I couldn't speak.He smiled & was so sweet. That was a day an impressionable teenage girl would never forget & now this old lady's heart still flutters just thinking about him.

Anonymous said...

My father Saverio (Sam, Savy) Santoro was employed at Eagle circa 1957- 1977. He was a 'cutter'. He and his brother Vincent and sisters Gabrielle and Rose were all in the garment trade. Gabrielles husband, Angelo Randazzo worked for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union. I can remember when they were together they would all talk 'shop'. I miss them all, especially my Dad. Did anyone know them?
Esantoro@ldry.com

Samuel M. said...

I just picked up an amazing Eagle overcoat from a vintage clothing store in the LES. The quality of the fabric and the craftsmanship is truly incredible. This is a brand that is truly missed.

Anonymous said...

I proudly wear my eagle overcoat it was my Dads.i remember him wearing it since I was a little kid.I'm now 55 years old, the coat looks amazing. Great Brooklyn nostalgia

laura said...

does anyway know how much an eagel suit would cost today? similar fabric, fit etc?

Anonymous said...

Goodbye sign

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130724/gowanus/eagle-clothes-sign-being-torn-down-after-more-than-60-years-brooklyn

Anonymous said...

To ESantoro@ldry.com...My father, Tony Carlucci, worked for Eagle roughly the same years as your dad. Saverio...how many by the same name could there have been...was a name I heard frequently at our dinner table. My Grandfather, Ralph Broccoli, also worked there for more than 40 years, and was responsible for my father, his son-in-law, and other family members, working there. The people that worked there during these years shared something special. I think it speaks to as much about the company and its founders as it does about the people they were able to attract. It was more than a job. I felt good reading this.