Sunday, May 17, 2009

Uncovered on Franklin

Whoever is renovating the former M&J Home Center on Franklin between Lincoln and St. John's unearthed a treasure over the weekend when they pulled the awning down, revealing a well-preserved hardware store sign advertising Dutch Boy Paints. According to the company history, the ad went up between 1957, when they adopted the logo seen above, and 1967, when they tweaked the image to include the company name on the boy's hat (and made the boy himself slightly more exuberant). Lost City found a similar sign in Midwood last year, which seems to date from the same era.

So who's the Dutch Boy? An Irish-American kid from Jersey, whose image was captured by American painter Lawrence C. Earle when the National Lead Company changed its name to Dutch Boy Paints in 1907. The name refers to the "Dutch Process" of producing lead paint, which originated in 16th-century Holland. The image became such a hit that a painting trade magazine, the Carter Times, went out and found the original model, Michael Brady, 24 years later in 1931. He was living (where else?) in Brooklyn, and his stint as a model had inspired him to study painting and drawing. When they tracked him down, he was drawing cartoons for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and penned this autobiographical sketch for their article.

The Brooklyn connection doesn't stop there. One of the corporations that amalgamated into the National Lead Company in the late 19th century was the Brooklyn White Lead Company, founded in 1825 by local banker and financier David Leavitt. An avid art collector himself, Leavitt partnered with Augustus Graham, who used his share of the profits to build an "Apprentices' Library" to provide wholesome leisure for the working man. Graham's institution grew into the Brooklyn Museum, where a portrait of Leavitt's wife now hangs.

So, as it happened, the white-lead industry of Brooklyn gave the borough a museum, a cartoonist, and a fabulous old sign on Franklin Avenue. I hope the new owners at 766 Franklin are planning to keep it, but if not, I hope the Brooklyn Museum can find a place for it.


  1. Does anyone know what's going in that space? I'm glad to see new places being open.

  2. This is part of Franklin Park, there is a bar behind the covered facade. Entrance around the corner on St. Johns. I dont think they are changing the front, could be wrong.

  3. Is that space going to become a second entrance, or are they renovating the storefront for a different purpose? Either way, I hope they keep the sign.

  4. Thanks for the Brooklyn Museum call out. David Leavitt's portrait is here, too -- see
    Great pictures! Hope the sign stays, too.

  5. they're doing a coffee shop cafe type of thing. wouldn't be surprised if they left the sign but they rent the space so its up to the owner to decide what comes of it.

  6. cool and very funny to me, I looked at the photo twice to see what the "gem" was before I realized you meant the sign. It's a beauty for sure, but I didn't realize it was covered, I remember seeing it as a kid in the 70's might have made it to the 80's. Good catch!