New York City Red-Green Signal

Do you remember the old-fashioned two-color (red and green) traffic lights of New York City?  Whenever I visited New York in the 1970s, besides the other “colorful sights” I might see, I was fascinated by the considerable number of signals without any amber light scattered throughout the city.  These quaint fixtures were the vanishing remnants of the original GE and Horni/Ruleta signals that had been installed from the late 1920s into the ’40s.  Although the city had standardized on 3-color signals way back in the early 1950s, it took over 40 years to replace all of the 2-color units.


rgny07In the early years of my collecting, I sold a Ruleta signal that needed a fair amount of work, and which I had partially dismantled. I always regretted that sale, so I kept my eyes open for a replacement, and in 2012, I drove to New Hampshire to purchase another NYC red-green signal from a retired New Yorker.  According to him, the light was taken down from Merrick Blvd in Laurelton, Queens in the mid-1970s and given to him on the spot by the contractor.  This is evidently a later (1940s) variation of this type of signal.  It has the Horni/Ruleta design, but has no manufacturer name stamped or embossed that I can find.  The original wiring was plastic-coated, rather than the older cloth style.

There is  a 2″ steel elbow at the top, indicating that it was mounted on an overhead mast.  It was configured as a 3-way signal, with one of the four sides covered by aluminum “blanks”.  To my surprise, there were lenses, reflectors, and light bulbs on all four sides (see photo set below).

New York City originally painted their signals either black or olive green.  All of them were re-painted yellow in the 1960s during the reign of Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes.  I prefer the old fashioned look of the darker signals, so I stripped the yellow and black layers off  and then brush painted it with glossy Rustoleum black.

Special thanks with this restoration goes out to several people, including:

  • Gordon Loeffler, for rewiring the sockets
  • Sean Breen, for making the customized controller
  • Dave McPhail, for several rare-as-hen’s-teeth brass wing nuts to replace the missing ones
  • Lary Brown, for custom-making brass eye bolts to fit the old wing nuts
  • Ed Tapanes, for his assistance with getting this light dismantled, and for keeping his tongue off it, at least when I wasn’t looking
  • Patrick Gorman, who, come Hell or high water, saw to it that I had one of these lights in my collection!