New York City, NY

Ghost Signs of NYC: Beckenstein

Frank Mastropolo
Photo by Frank Mastropolo

Samuel Beckenstein was a Polish immigrant who sold odd lots of fabric he bought from clothing manufacturers. Beckenstein, who started as a pushcart merchant, established Beckenstein’s Men’s Fabric in 1919.

Beckenstein created a business that catered to men who could not afford a new suit when the pants wore out. Beckenstein began to buy leftover fabric from men’s suits manufacturers and carefully cataloged the material by manufacturer. The entrepreneur then contacted dry cleaners around the country. He offered to make pants that would exactly match the jackets of men’s suits. By the 1930s, Beckenstein advertised his business as the “World’s Largest Pants Matching House.”

Pants matching was a success, with 400 to 500 pairs a week shipped. The 1932 song “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long,” co-written by Milton Berle, was purportedly about Beckenstein. Barbra Streisand released a version of the tune in 1970.

"Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long" by Barbra Streisand

In 1945 the company moved to a new home, the former New York Telephone Company building at 130 Orchard Street. Beckenstein completely covered the second and third floors with signage for his business, announcing the “World’s Largest Values & Savings” and a “Special Remnant Dep’t.” Two large “Entrance” arrows point to the doors.

In case you somehow missed the facade, a sign is painted on the south side of the building along the roofline that can be seen for blocks.
Photo by Frank Mastropolo

In time, fabric businesses departed Orchard Street, replaced by leather and hat shops. Beckenstein was one of the last holdouts when it moved uptown in 1999. Kudos to Perrotin art gallery for preserving the Beckenstein signage, adding words in the style of the original.

Mastropolo is the author of Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past.

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Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever and New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make New York Rock, selected by Best Classic Bands as two of the Best Music Books of 2021 and 2022. He is also the author of the What's Your Rock IQ? Trivia Quiz Book series; Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York's Past, winner of the 2021 Independent Publishers Book Award; and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York's Past. Mastropolo is a photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 writer and producer, winner of the Alfred I. DuPont–Columbia University silver baton. His photography is featured in the Bill Graham Rock & Roll Revolution exhibition.

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