For years, people have admired the Pepsi-Cola HOTEL sign that hung on chains outside the Elk Hotel on 9th Avenue and 42nd Street. The faded paint, the old typeface, reminded us of a lost Times Square, of fleabags and flophouses, of Travis Bickle rolling by in his Checker cab looking for underage hookers to save.
The sign is now gone.
Nothing remains of it except its chains, a rusted triangle of braces hung between two windows and the words HOTEL CLOSED.
Those windows once belonged to a man called Pops, an 86-year-old disabled war veteran who relied for years on the kindness of his neighbors to bring in food from the outside.
But Pops was evicted, along with Coo-Coo and the rest of the hotel's tenants, as we learned from Mark Schulte, the last of the Elk's holdouts. He has since moved out, too, and the 88-year-old hotel stands empty, a husk of haunted rooms.
Across the avenue, a cluster of old buildings, recently containing the Big Apple Meat Market, have been draped in a black shroud, prepped for demolition and the glossy hotel tower to come. We expect the same fate for the Elk--and maybe half a block of its neighbors, too, which we heard have all been sold to the same buyer in the past year.
The sign lasted awhile after the closure, the last survivor of the Elk Hotel. We wondered if some intrepid collector of urban ephemera climbed up there to save it, or if Pops took it with him when he went. But we heard from a reader that the landlord's nephew, an antiques enthusiast, claimed it for himself.
Maybe it's hanging on the wall of a luxury loft, to be discussed during cocktail parties. Maybe it will be scrubbed up and sold to a trendy restaurateur who's planning to open a high-end brasserie called Flophouse.
More likely, it'll be hawked on Ebay. So keep watch. You never know.
Inside the Elk (a must read)
The Elk Hotel