European Restaurant

218 Hanover Street, Boston, 1970

“At the Sign of the Clock,” a 1933 menu from the European Restaurant reminded its patrons, “it’s always time to have a bite to eat.” On a narrow site in the North End, the European competed with dozens of nearby establishments to attract hungry customers. Commissioned as a replacement for earlier clock-based signs, this double-sided sign was fabricated by the Mobeco/Janedy Company. Projecting out above the Hanover Street sidewalk, the sign sought to catch the eye of hungry customers from 1970 until the restaurant closed in 1997.

Originally envisioned as part of a larger hotel and bar complex when it was founded in 1917, the European stood firm as the neighborhood around it changed from a densely-populated immigrant community to a tourist destination. In its final years, the restaurant’s role in evoking the storied history of the North End was part of its commercial appeal. Long-term employees provided a sense of continuity and the kitchen’s pizza and pasta dishes changed little over the years. Returning customers, often suburbanites or out-of-towners, were delighted to introduce subsequent generations to a place they might themselves recall from childhood visits, especially in a city which had otherwise changed dramatically. The playful green curlicues and the fanciful, decorative typeface of the pink lettering of the 1970 sign suggest that its designer was trying to evoke a sense of the European’s past and the romance of Old Europe as the restaurant moved into its final decades of operation.

As the historic 1948 photo illustrates, Hanover Street was once densely-packed with commercial signage in a manner typical of much of central Boston. The European Restaurant’s sign, hanging perpendicular to the building and just above the door, was in keeping with earlier signage traditions. On narrow Hanover Street, the moderately-sized neon sign worked well as a means of capturing attention from both pedestrians and motorists without disrupting the overall character of the neighborhood.

Although the European’s illuminated sign was not as large as some of the nearby vertical signs, like the oversized “Newman’s Dept Store” sign to the right in the same photo, the clock face gives it distinction and elegance. The much simpler typeface of the 1948 sign suggests a forward-looking approach to modernity, rather than the nostalgia of later years. Hanover Street, just off The Greenway, still displays a fascinating variety of signs. (If you choose to visit the street, note that The European was located midway between Cross Street and Richmond Street, on the site currently occupied by a CVS pharmacy).

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