Scope and arrangement
Artkraft Strauss designed, fabricated, installed, and maintained an extensive range of sign products, including exterior identification signs, theater marquees, billboards, directional signage, and the giant illuminated signs known in the trade as "spectaculars," for which the company was particularly famous. The records of the Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation document over 70 years of work in the field of outdoor advertising. The collection is arranged in seven series: I. Executive Office Files; II. Management Correspondence Files; III. Job files; IV. Electrical Division Records; V. Ledgers; VI. Press and Promotional Material; and VII. photographs. The collection also contains audiovisual material, which is closed pending preservation transfer.
The records date primarily from the mid-1930s through 2004. Virtually no material dating prior to the 1930s is extant, as the company did not begin to maintain its corporate records until 1932, the year it moved into its factory on the West side of Manhattan. The company chose not to retain records for all of their jobs, but rather to highlight select jobs which they felt represented the technical and artistic scope of their work. After closing its factory in 2006 the company held an auction of its holdings, including signs, memorabilia, and blueprints. As a result of these factors, the records are not a comprehensive chronicle of the work of Artkraft Strauss, and some of its most recognizable works are underrepresented-or not represented at all-in the collection.
Executive Office Files represent jobs and special projects managed by Tama Starr in her capacity as president of Artkraft Strauss. Management Correspondence Files consist largely of correspondence between Artkraft Strauss' executive, management, and sales teams and their clients. A small quantity of material from the electrical division illustrates the work of the company's electricians in the 1940s through 1970s, as well as providing some of the earliest administrative material in the collection. Ledgers of accounts receivable date from 1946 to 1968, but are not inclusive. Promotional material demonstrates Artkraft Strauss' popularity in the trade and popular presses, while a collection of souvenir postcards of Times Square demonstrates the impact of these outsized displays on the popular imagination.
The iconic signs of Artkraft Strauss are documented in various ways throughout the records, but of particular importance are the Job files, which represent the bulk of the collection and illustrate the creation of many of Artkraft Strauss' famous projects in New York City, Atlantic City, Boston, and other locations from 1936 through 2004. Job files are records of sign construction, which may include sign fabrication, installation, maintenance, alteration, and repairs. Job files may also include cost sheets, labor records, materials specifications, engineering and other technical information, contracts, permits, insurance policies, drawings, layouts, mechanicals, blueprints, photographs, and other material. The projects documented range in scope from street and directional signage to illuminated spectaculars to three-dimensional installations featuring computer-operated robotics. Location presentations and client proposals are also included here, as are contracts, leases, and construction records. Project management files provide an extensive record of large-scale, technologically complex projects undertaken in the 1990s, such as the Morgan Stanley world clock, the renovation of the Dow Jones stock zipper, and state-of-the-art Budweiser and Coke signs at 1 and 2 Times Square.
The photographs series is extensive, and contains not only images of the company's signs, but often of their fabrication and installation. Artkraft Strauss' employees and facilities are also featured. Photographs show sign locations and proposed locations throughout New York City and beyond. Audiovisual material places the company and its work in historical and cultural context through interviews, documentary footage, and b-roll. Artkraft Strauss currently maintains an extensive photo and video archive on the company website: http://www.artkraft.com/photvid.html.
Researchers should note that material relating to specific signs may be present in multiple locations. This is especially true of work dating from the 1990s; researchers pursuing information on projects from this period should be prepared to consult Series I. A. Project Files; Series III. A. Job Files; and series III. B. Project Management Files. Likewise, while some job files may contain photographs or images, researchers looking for visual documentation of specific signs should also refer to Series VII. Photographs.
The Artkraft Strauss records are arranged in seven series:
- 1927-2004 (bulk 1984-200441 boxes
These files were created and maintained by Tama Starr in her capacity as president of Artkraft Strauss, and represent jobs and special projects managed directly by Starr, including the 42nd Street Development Project, the New Year's Eve ball drop in Times Square, and a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Artkraft Strauss in conjunction with an exhibit on the history of Times Square's iconic signage at the New-York Historical Society. Subseries: I.A. Project Files; I.B. 42nd Street Development Project; I.C. Times Square; I.D. New Year's Eve; I. E. Signs and Wonders.
Project files consist predominantly of correspondence with clients, vendors, and city agencies relating to jobs and special projects. Included are internal memoranda and meeting notes; bid applications; project proposals; cost studies and related research; as well as drafts of contracts, license agreements, leases, and other legal instruments. These files also document activity at locations in New York City, particularly in the Times Square vicinity, where Artkraft Strauss erected or maintained signage and spectaculars.
Times Square files contain material regarding the history and development of Times Square, as well as practical information concerning business operations in the area. Included here are files relating to Artkraft Strauss' participation in the 42nd Street Development Project, a redevelopment initiative establishing a 13-acre renewal site along 42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.
Artkraft Strauss is closely identified not only with Times Square, but with the New Year's Eve ball drop at One Times Square, which Benjamin Strauss and Jacob Starr originated in 1907. New Year's Eve files contain photographs, press releases, publicity files, and other documentation of annual celebrations in Times Square between 1982 and 1999. No material relating to earlier events is present in this series, though some photographs of ball drops in the 1950s are present in Series VII, Photographs.
Signs and Wonders files relate to an exhibit hosted by the New-York Historical Society, ''Signs and Wonders: The Spectacular Lights of Times Square." The exhibit, which featured many of Artkraft's famous signs, coincided with the 100th anniversary of Artkraft Strauss. A companion book written by Tama Starr and Edward Hayman was published by Anchor Press in 1998.
- 1940-200225 boxes
Management files consist largely of correspondence with clients generated by members of the executive, management, and sales teams of Artkraft Strauss Sign Corporation (referred to internally as Signcorp). Clients include advertising agencies, contractors, and corporate entities working directly with Artkraft Strauss, such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and Hiram Walker. Subject matter is administrative and account-related, including sales, letters of agreement, change and maintenance requests. Correspondence with executive officers of West Side Neon, whose assets were acquired by Artkraft Strauss in 1988, is also present.
General correspondence files, which contain both chronological files and files alphabetized by client, are preceded by files identified by staff member. The content is consistent throughout the staff, client, and chronological files; researchers may need to review multiple files. Management staff represented here includes company president Mel Starr; Vice-presidents Herman Hirsch, Gene Kornberg, Michael Leterra, Philip "P.J." Marshall, Neuberger, Robert Jon Starr, and Tama Starr (see also Series I.); controller Victor Balitzer; project managers James Manfredi (see Series III. B.) and Roger Mazzuchelli; salesmen Herbert Blank, Bill Levy, Chaim Ratki, and Lou Grasso; service manager Mike Peras; and executive secretary Helen Nielson.
The material dates almost exclusively from the 1980s onward.
- 1936-2004173 boxes 9 oversize folders 72 tubes
Artkraft Strauss designed, fabricated, installed, and maintained an extensive range of sign products, including exterior identification signs, theater marquees, billboards, directional signage, and the giant illuminated signs known in the trade as "spectaculars," for which the company was particularly famous. These signs are documented in various ways throughout the collection, but of particular importance are the Job Files.
Job files are records of sign construction, which may include sign fabrication, installation, maintenance, alteration, and repairs. Many job files contain work orders (sometimes referred to as "Commercial Orders") which give the name of the customer, the date and location of the job, a job number, and a general description of the work. Job files may also hold cost sheets, labor records, materials specifications, engineering and other technical information, contracts, permits, insurance policies, drawings, layouts, mechanicals, blueprints, photographs, and other material. Note that not all job files contain all these elements; the degree of documentation varies widely from job to job.
Files are arranged alphabetically and are not comprehensive. Artkraft Strauss completed as many as 1000 jobs per year; as a result, the company opted to retain only those files they deemed interesting or notable in some way, whether because they contained interesting visual material, had historic or aesthetic significance, or contained other records of particular value. The longstanding relationship between Anheuser Busch and Artkraft Strauss is strongly represented in this series. Extensive documentation is present for work on Anheuser Busch breweries in Boston, Columbus, Houston, Jacksonville, Newark, and St. Louis; as well as material relating to the scoreboard display at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, and to numerous Budweiser signs and spectaculars in New York City, Atlantic City, and elsewhere in the United States. The company was also responsible for a number of signs for Coca-Cola in Times Square and elsewhere. A number of designs for theatre marquees are present, including many Loews and Broadway theaters.
Artkraft Strauss' largest and most technologically sophisticated projects from the 1980s onward, such as the British Airways installation in Times Square, the Morgan Stanley world clock, and the refurbishment of the Long Island City Pepsi sign, are documented in the project management files maintained by the company's Vice President of Design and Engineering Robert Jackowitz and Vice President of Special Projects James Manfredi. Additionally, some files documenting work for specific clients in the 1980s and 1990s can be found in Tama Starr's executive files, Series I.A.
A small quantity of proposals and presentations are also contained within this series. These records document proposed signs and spectaculars, or provide statistics and feasibility studies relating to particular sign locations. Files are divided into two categories: those relating to specific commercial clients, and those relating to sign locations. Also included are card files containing alphabetized records of construction and maintenance for many Artkraft jobs.
Series: III.A. Jobs; III.B. Project Management Files; III.C. Presentations; III.D. Proposals; III.E. Contracts, Leases, and Construction Card Files; and III.F. Audiovisual Documentation of Signs (closed until preservation copies are made).
- 1937-19703 boxes 1 volume
A small amount of material exists to document the work of Artkraft's electricians, such as a payroll book, foreman's records, an electrician's book, Underwriters Laboratories notebooks, and unidentified technical specifications. Early material is notable for hand-drawn schematics and illustrations. Arrangement is chronological
- 1946-196733 volumes
Ledgers contain records of accounts receivable between 1946 and 1967, arranged chronologically and then alphabetically by client. The run is incomplete, with volumes missing in 1958, 1963, and 1965-1967.
- 1945-20046 boxes
Artkraft Strauss, its clients, and its signs appeared frequently in both the mainstream and trade presses. This series chronicles those appearances through press releases, media alerts, and correspondence with press agents and representatives. Press kits and promotional ephemera, including flyers, postcards, and posters, are present, as is a selection of commercial postcards featuring images of Times Square and famous Artkraft Strauss signs. Although published material from mainstream news sources have not been included, some material from foreign or niche trade publications have been retained. Material dates predominantly from the 1960s, and from the 1980s through 2004. Arrangement is by format.
- 1938-200447 boxes 2 volumes
Artkraft Strauss maintained a significant, though not entirely comprehensive, library of photographs documenting its signs and locations. The early decades of Artkraft Strauss' work are not covered here; photographs generally date from the 1950s through 1990s. Also held here are photographs of AKS staff members and facilities, and photographs taken with clients at press events. Photographers whose work appears frequently within the collection include Jon Simon, David Handschuh, Louis Nemeth, Ross Photo, Braun Photo Services, Tom Murtaugh, and Peter S. Kaufmann. Prior to the auction of their assets, Artkraft Strauss digitized a significant quantity of photographs, which are available in addition to the physical images. Photographs which have been digitized are housed in the photo albums listed in subseries VII. D