New York City, NY

Ghost Signs of NYC: The American Express Watchdog

Frank Mastropolo

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4–8 Hubert StreetFrank Mastropolo

The luxury apartment buildings and hotels of Lower Manhattan’s Tribeca grew out of streets lined with commercial buildings. In the mid-19th century the area featured an exclusive residential neighborhood known as St. John’s Park, the square that surrounded St. John’s Chapel. Its demise came when Trinity Church sold the square to the Hudson River Railroad in 1867 for $1 million.

Warehouses and factories were built to take advantage of the proximity to the railroad. The sale changed the complexion of the former residential neighborhood but created an opportunity for a new company.

American Express was founded in 1850 in Albany, NY as an express delivery company. By 1858 its headquarters was at 55–61 Hudson Street. Tracks from the Hudson River Railroad ran through the Hudson Street building. As local deliveries were made by horse-drawn carriages, stables were built nearby on Hubert and Collister Streets in 1866. The American Express logo. a terra cotta watchdog, was high on its Hubert Street facade.

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American Express 1857 adCourtesy of American Express

“The American Express watchdog logo first appeared in the late-1850s on delivery receipts and promotional materials,” says Ira Galtman, Director, Corporate Archives. “The dog represented safety and security, which were critical to the success of our express business. We used different versions of the watchdog logo until the end of the 19th century.”

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55 Laight StreetFrank Mastropolo

Architect Edward Hale Kendall designed the 1898–1899 expansion of the building to Laight Street, which also featured the watchdog logo.

By the time the parcel post system was established in 1913, American Express had already begun its transition to a financial services company. Horse-drawn carriages became extinct and American Express moved from the building in 1918.

Mastropolo is the author of Ghost Signs: Clues to Downtown New York’s Past and Ghost Signs 2: Clues to Uptown New York’s Past.

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Frank Mastropolo is the author of Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever, one of Best Classic Bands' Best Music Books of 2021; New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock; 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 journalist, photographer, and former ABC News 20/20 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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