In November 2006, I received the following e-mail. The famous upside-down apple plaque from the 1934 Harlem “Big Apple” club at Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and 135th Street was removed and had nearly been destroyed. The former club would now be a Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits fast-food restaurant. (Popeyes is from New Orleans, like “Big Apple” itself.) The plaque was being put up for sale on eBay:
I have a “Big Apple” plaque from the original Big Apple Jazz club that was located on 135 st. and Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem. They are building a Popeyes restaurant and were going to tear it down but my step dad and I saved it and have tried to get it appraised by the museum. I have gotten some offers but I really would like to find out for myself how much is it actually worth. I know its an original and it is from the early 1900, also it is one of the reasons why New York is called “The Big Apple”. If you can help in any way please reply to the e-mail.
I have pictures of when it was on the wall and when we took it down.
The plaque was never sold and the “Big Apple” icon is now the private property of Luis Maldonado. (See the 2009 New York Times story, below.)
Night Club “The Big Apple” a Harlem New York City en 1932
(This photo cannot be from 1932, The restaurant/bar opened in 1934. However, it is an early photo.—ed.)
Google News Archive
16 June 1934, Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “A Harlem Questionnaire” by Ted Yates, pg. 8:
That new beer tavern on 135th Street has been named the Big Apple.
23 June 1934, Journal and Guide (Norfolk, VA), “Harlem Hot-Cha” by Ted Yates, pg. 4, col. 6:
The Big Apple, Harlem’s newest bar and grill opens next week.
30 June 1934, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, pg. 17, col. 7:
COLONIAL STYLE BAR
OPENS FOR BUSINESS
All the colonial touches that Jimmie Shannon could find for a modern barroom he procured for his latest venture, “The Big Apple,” an ostentatious drinking emporium which opened its doors Tuesday night at the northwest corner of 135th street and Seventh avenue.
Done in glazed brick, hand-carved beams and panelings, the place is probably the snootiest in Harlem and by far the most pretentious bar ever opened by a Negro. Scrolls, wioth such sayings as the following, adorn the walls: “A Little Nonsense Now and Then Is Relished by the Best of Men,” “He Who Does Not Love Wine, Women and Song Remains a Fool His Whole Life Long.”
7 July 1934, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, pg. 7, col. 4 ad:
MEET YOUR FRIENDS
THE BIG APPLE
THE NITE SPOT
*Wines and Liquors*
OPEN DAY AND NIGHT
135th St., cor. 7th Ave.
Pg. 9, col. 1:
“This Hectic Harlem” by Roi Ottley
The Big Apple has arrived and is worth your time.
14 July 1934, Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), “New York After Dark” by Ted Yates, pg. 8, col. 8:
What do they mean by the “big” apple?
11 August 1934, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, pg. 7, col. 1 ad:
Mr. James L. Shannon, proprietor of “The Big Apple,” wishes to thank his many friends whose patronage and co-operation have resulted in making “The Big Apple” another successful Negro enterprise.—One whose reason for existence is to give Harlem a night spot with a refined atmosphere, choice food and beverages at a very moderate cost.
THE BIG APPLE
7th Ave., cor. 135th Street
Old Fulton NY Post Cards
29 October 1934, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, “Reverting to Type” by Art Arthur, pg. 9, col. 6:
Up on Lenox Ave. there’s a restaurant called “The Big Apple,” the explanation being that “the big apple” is Harlem slang for “the main stem,” which is Broadway slang for the main dino.
19 October 1935, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, “This is New York: Just browsin’ ‘round the town” by Ted Yates, pg. 7, col. 1:
THE BIG APPLE, which got big splash in met. papers when Joe Louis toppled Max Baer, is haven for sportsmen. Operated by Messrs. Shannon and Small, local sportsmen. [Illegible] is always filled with congenial [Illegible]. Bar trade steady.
8 April 1936, Atlanta (GA) Daily World, “So This Is New York,” pg. 2, col. 3:
Said to be the wealthiest, “Boss” Shannon, owner of the Big Apple Cafe and Restaurant.
9 July 1938, New York (NY) Age, pg. 7, col. 8:
The Big Apple Cafe Re-
Opens After Remodeling
James L. Shannon’s Big Apple Cafe, at 135th street and Seventh avenue, is all set for the hundreds of visitors expected from all parts of the country for the Louis-Schmeling fight. The cafe was recently remodeled and enlarged with the addition of a circular bar, and more space for entertainment in the rear. Long a favorite headquarters for the sporting community, the Big Apple can now boast one of the best looking establishments in the city.
1940 Manhattan Telephone Directory
Big Apple Restrnt 2300 7Av AU dubn 3-9240
1 April 1944, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, “‘Big Apple’ Owner Dead: James Shannon, Famous Tavern Figure, Issued ‘Common-Sense Advice’,” pg. 3-A, col. 2;
Funeral services for James Shannon, wealthy owner of “The Big Apple,” Harlem’s famous tavern located at Seventh Ave. and 135th St., were held Monday afternoon in the Rodney Dale Funeral Chapel.
Mr. Shannon, 53, died at home, 137 W. 141 St., early last Thursday.
1946 Manhattan Telephone Directory
Big Apple Grocry Store 305W144 AU dbn 3-9531
Big Apple Restrnt 2300 7Av AU dubn 3-9240
13 August 1966, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, “Harlem Cops Found Guilty Of Lying,” pg. 11, col. 3:
The officers admitted that they lied when they reported that Nichols fired a pistol at them while he grappled on the sidewalk at Seventh Ave. and 136th St., with Eugene Principe, owner of the Big Apple Bar which is located at 145th St. and Seventh Ave.
26 October 1972, New York (NY) Times, “A Day for Harlem to Pay Its Respect” by Steve Cady, pg. 51, col. 1:
All afternoon, they filed past an open coffin where Robinson’s body (Brooklyn Dodgers baseball star Jackie Robinson—ed.) lay in the Duncan Bros. Funeral Home at Seventh Avenue and 135th Street.
“The whites and fancy blacks will see him at Riverside,” said Louis Miller, lounging on the sidewalk across the street from the Big Apple Bar and Grill.
11 September 1973, Daily News (New York, NY), “On the Town” by Charles McHarry, pg. 17C, col. 1:
The Big Apple
Here’s a bit from leader Larry Tillman: “Back in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, when Harlem was the showplace for out-of-towners, everyone visited Small’s Paradise and an adjacent place called the Big Apple.
“Many black artists got their start in the Big Apple’s little back room that was always crowded with white patrons, so when they returned home they talked about the Big Apple, spreading its fame internationally, and it became synonymous with New York.”
1 August 1981, New York (NY) Times, “Mixed Reaction By Fans” by Al Harvin, sec. 1, pg. 19, col. 6:
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it (baseball, during a strike—ed.),” said Jimmy Jones, among the few patrons in the Big Apple bar on the corner of 135th Street.
9 April 1989, Hartford (CT) Courant, “Harlem: hallowed, harrowing paths” by Steve Silk, pg. F6, col. 1:
One of the places people went to was the Big Apple (now a grocery store), a nightclub at the corner of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 135th Street. It was once one of the best-known hangouts in Harlem. “That used to be a very famous place,” Washington (Emerson Washington, a teacher and tour guide—ed.) says.
30 July 1998, New York (NY) Amsterdam News, “Take a great and mighty walk through Harlem” by Herb Boyd, pg. 8, col. 3:
Williams (Kernie Williams, a tour guide—ed.) then led her entourage of 25 down the street to the YMCA and explained to them the history and background of tenements and settlement houses. At the corner of Seventh Avenue and 135th Street, she stopped in front of a building where a red bas relief of “The Big Apple” protruded from the wall.
“Do any of you know why New York City is called the Big Apple?” she asked.
“Because it’s rotten to the core,” someone in the back whispered.
After hearing several humorous remarks, Williams said it was derived from a writer John Fitzgerald, who used to refer the top horse in a race as the Big Apple in the city’s early history. The term was then used by jazz artists when referring to the best musicians.
Underneath a Harlem Moon:
The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall (Adelaide Hall, 1901-1993—ed.)
By Iain Cameron Williams
London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic
Curiously, the (Big Apple—ed.) bar’s popularity inspired many Negroes to use its name—the Big Apple—as slang referring to the geographical region in Harlem where it was located. Gradually, the nickname became known to visiting white New Yorkers who, thinking the term novel, adopted it and began referring to New York in general as the Big Apple. No one really knows who first referred to the metropolis in this manner, but most jazz historians agree the terminology came from Harlem in the early Twenties. As with all aspects of fashion, the original idea emanates from street level and is then expanded upon by others. Certainly, Adelaide’s story and her lifetime claim that she popularized the name seems valid enough when put into context. Since their marriage, Adelaide and Bert had resided at her mother’s apartment at 194 West 134th Street.
Pg. 407 [Footnote 1]:
Many theories exist regarding when and how New York was christened the Big Apple. Most historians agree the term evolved during the jazz era in the 1920s and came out of Harlem’s Renaissance. As happens with any new culture, a new language is created to express its ideals and aspirations. From Adelaide’s account, it appears that regular customers to the Big Apple bar gradually began to connect the name with the geographical area where it was situated. When white New Yorkers from downtown visited Harlem they picked up on the name and over a period of time began to refer to the area in general as the Big Apple. When put into context, this story seems highly probable.
See also, Alberta Hunter’s biography A Celebration in Blues, page 155. Alberta claims ownership of the Big Apple name to the book’s author, Frank C. Tayler.
Unfortunately, Adelaide couldn’t accurately recall on which of the four corners of 135th Street and Seventh Avenue the Big Apple bar was originally located.
Matthew X. Kiernan
Taken in July 2006
Big Apple Bas Relief, Harlem
Big Apple Bas Relief (1934)
2300 Adam Clayton Powell Blvd (Seventh Ave.) at 135th St.
Harlem, New York
This relief was affixed to the side wall outside the Big Apple Restaurant on 135th St. from 1934 until it was removed in 2006. Its whereabouts today is unknown.
© Matthew X. Kiernan
First Glance: Popeye’s
On January 6, 2007 by D. Bell
Popeye’s, originally uploaded by blackberry2u.
In the midst of the transfat travesty a new Popeye’s appears on the corner of 135th Street and 7th Avenue.
NAT on January 7, 2007 11:37 pm
I thought the “Big Apple” plaque on the side of the building was under Landmark status. Back in the day that building and Bar had a tawdry reputation. Another piece of Harlem History is now gone.
Tobes on January 9, 2007 12:18 pm
Because what Harlem needs is *another* fried chicken place. It’s sad that the neighborhood will choose Popeye’s over local history.
The Big (Rotten) Apple Controversy
On January 9, 2007 by D. Bell
I thought the “Big Apple” plaque on the side of the building was under landmark status. Back in the day that building and bar had a tawdry reputation. Another piece of Harlem History is now gone. -Nat-
Sparked by a reader’s comment in a post about the new Popeye’s opening on 135th Street, I decided to get to the core of the missing Big Apple sign that used to be on the side of the building.
It seems that Barry Popik contacted the Landmark Commission to inquire about preserving the site and sign. Popik was unsuccessful in his efforts and the sign was eventually put up for sale on ebay.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Who Stole the Big Apple?
Is it just me, or is anyone else disturbed at the alarming rate at which our Harlem institutions are falling by the wayside.Some like Copelands -are the victim of economics, while others others are falling prey to changing community standards (read gentrification).
I met my wife in the late Eighties in the last iteration of Small’s Paradise, the speakeasy cum night club, where on any given night of the week, one just might witness something extraordinary, and entirely unique to Harlem. That venerated space has been reduced to hustling the same pancakes available in almost any city in the world. Not a hundred feet away, the Big Apple, after which our dear city is nicknamed was recently removed in favor of corporate design in keeping with Popeye’s look.
New York (NY) Times
A Sign Recalled a Vanished Jazz Era in Harlem; Then the Sign Vanished, Too
By A. G. SULZBERGER
Published: July 7, 2009
The Big Apple was never more than a minor player among the many clubs that swung and bopped their way into the Harlem jazz scene in its heyday. Nobody seems quite sure when it closed; many don’t remember it was there in the first place.
The club’s most enduring legacy appeared to be the sign set in the fake stone exterior of the building — a brown stucco coat of arms featuring an upside-down apple painted red and overlaid in white letters — which trumpeted the club decades after the music stopped.
“I forgot all about it,” said Luis Maldonado, speaking from his home in Florida on Monday night.
In the summer of 2006, Mr. Maldonado had just finished six years with the Navy and was working part time in demolition. While ripping down an old facade to make way for the fried chicken franchise, he stopped his stepfather — who had helped him get the job — as he was about to tear into a strange old sign of an upside-down apple.
“He was actually going to destroy it — I said, ‘No.’ It seemed like something of interest,” said Mr. Maldonado, 31. “I spoke to the landlord and I asked if it was O.K. for me to take it down off the wall and he said sure.”
As he researched the sign, Mr. Maldonado said he became excited that he had found something valuable.
“I thought I had a piece of New York history,” he said.
But his attempts to sell it — first for tens of thousands of dollars, then for more modest sums — provoked little interest, he said. When he got less than he was seeking on eBay, he tucked the plaque into his stepfather’s closet in the Bronx.
Shortly afterward he moved to Florida, where the memory of the strange artifact faded. He still hopes to sell it, he said on Monday, adding that it was more important to him that it “go somewhere meaningful.”
Harlem World Magazine
The Big Apple Night Club, 1934 (video)
Posted on February 8, 2012
In 1934, the Big Apple Night Club founded by Bertram Errol Hicks opened in Harlem on the northwest corner of West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue across the street from the Savoy, and his wife the legendary Adelaine Hall-Hicks was the official business manager. One of the club’s most enduring legacy was the sign set in the fake stone exterior of the building — a brown stucco coat of arms featuring an upside-down apple painted red and overlaid in white letters. There are accounts from 1935 of the jazz club in The Amsterdam News that stated that it was run by “sportsmen” (bookies traced to horse racing) and was highly visited by people listening on radio to blow-by-blow descriptions of Joe Louis’ fights.
(This is incorrect. Hicks and Hall opened La Grosse Pomme in Paris in 1937. Also, the Big Apple club was across the street from Smalls Paradise, not the Savoy Ballroom.—ed.)
Today, decades after the music and dancing stopped the club has been transformed into a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits fast food business.
COMMENTS (These old comments do not appear on the new URL.—ed.)
narmer | February 9, 2012 at 8:45 am |
I read somewhere that the Big Apple was thrown in the trash during the construction of “Popeyes” and that a passerby rescued it from the construction debris. Doe anyone have any information of where the wall plaque is at now?
Harlem World | February 9, 2012 at 9:39 am |
Yes, you’re right. We understand that it is owned by someone in Long Island.
The Wall Street Journal
9 May 2014, Wall Street Journal (New York, NY), “Transformed, ‘Body and Soul’; On a Harlem street, a future sax great was transfixed by Coleman Hawkins’s 1939 hit” (online):
Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, 83, is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His latest album is “Road Shows Vol. 3” (Doxy/OKeh). He spoke to reporter Marc Myers.
It’s hard today to fully appreciate how different Coleman Hawkins’s “Body and Soul” sounded when it hit Harlem jukeboxes in late 1939. On that three-minute record, Coleman took a popular torch song and, with his tenor saxophone, turned it into a personal statement without ever losing track of the original melody. Wow, that was completely new, and it really changed me.
I first heard “Body and Soul” when I was 10 years old. I was standing outside the Big Apple Bar on the corner of 135th Street and Seventh Avenue, across from Small’s Paradise, and heard it on the jukebox through an open window.
Back then, I was playing alto saxophone and idolized [alto saxophonist] Louis Jordan—and still do. But when I heard Coleman’s “Body and Soul,” a light went off in my head. If he could personalize a popular song like that without lyrics, any song was possible if you had that intellectual capacity.
People in Harlem know their music, and I remember marveling at how many of them were touched by his record. Coleman went beyond what musicians were doing then by creating new harmonic inventions. Right after hearing the record, I bought a tenor reed and began using it on my alto mouthpiece to get that big Coleman Hawkins sound. Some years later, after much pleading on my part, my mother bought me a tenor sax, and I was on my way.
The Amazing One?
Popeyes on 135th burned down today. A little part of me died.
11:33 PM - 8 Jan 2017 from Manhattan, NY
The Popeyes on 135th street randomly burned down. I blame Gentrification and Trump supporters. But…it has been oddly quiet around here now
6:41 PM - 25 Jan 2017
They’re fixing the Popeyes on 135th! ????????
11:02 AM - 7 Sep 2017 from Manhattan, NY
Friday, December 1, 2017
SHOP: A HISTORIC STOREFRONT ON 135TH STREET
Harlem Bespoke: Popeye’s at the corner of 135th Street and ACP shuttered in the past year or so because of kitchen fire but many might not know the historic significance of this particularly address. Back in the Harlem Renaissance years, 7th Avenue was a major social hub at this corner with Small Paradise located across the street and Big Apple Jazz Club at the aforementioned storefront.
omfg. my Popeye’s right on 135th and 7th is open again!
it’s been closed for over a year after a fire in Jan 2017. i had no idea it was opening again ????
8:24 PM - 19 Mar 2018
(A photo of “The Big Apple” in Harlem from 1941.—ed.)
12:51 PM · Nov 22, 2020·Twitter Web App
Monday, November 23, 2020
REMEMBER: BIG APPLE JAZZ CLUB CIRCA 1941
Harlem Bespoke: Who knows the location of the famous Big Apple Jazz Club? A Bespoke reader submitted the above city tax photos with the Big Apple signage clearly visible amongst the traffic of some rather cool cars. Many longtime Harlem residents will tell you that the building still had a metal plaque out front up until 2006 but some construction at the time removed the Jazz Age relic.
New York City • The Big Apple • 1930s: Jazzing the Big Apple • Monday, April 19, 2021 • Permalink