John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Artist Tom Fruin, who works with materials like crushed beer cans and drug bags, created this recycled wonder for a new hotel in Williamsburg.
Tom Fruin: Can you please use your sign-made-of-signs technology to make quilts? Think how wonderful it'd be to nestle under a patchwork blanket of pizza, construction and grocery signs – like sleeping in the middle of Times Square, but without the rat bites.
The Brooklyn-based Fruin made this alluring marquee for the front of the new Wythe Hotel in one of the less-hipster-colonized corners of Williamsburg. The vertical H-O-T-E-L measures 50 by 8 feet and invites minutes of careful scrutiny. Among the rusty scraps the artist salvaged from dumpsters and streets around New York are signs for renting apartments, air-condition repair, a fire sprinkler-control valve and hand-painted images of delicious deli fruits. Front Street Pizza's sign wound up in the metal salad, as did a billboard for M. H. Dicker Party & Balloons Corp. If you look closely, you can even spot '90s-era graffiti from now-respectable artist Dan Witz.
Fruin riveted and welded the sign scraps into full-grown letters in his studio and oversaw their erection on the hotel, a fitting canvas given that it itself is a recycled structure (it was built in 1901 as a cooperage factory). He also slapped some red neon tubing onto it so the letters glow hellishly at night. The hotel is set to open in May; a queen-sized room facing Brooklyn goes for about $235 on a Saturday, if you're wondering. See the finished sign here.
Crafting urban detritus into objets isn't new to Fruin. He's worked extensively with beer cans, arranging them into wall-mounted landscapes that make one direly thirsty, and is behind these exquisite tartans of discarded drug bags. Though it's not recycled, this 40 ounce cast in bronze speaks nicely to the urban soul, too.