Every day I ride my bike past this decaying printing house on NE 7th Avenue just off Broadway and wonder what its story is. It's a turn-of-the-century wooden home all alone in a lot right next to the bright lights of Chipotle. Was it vacant? Did someone crazy live in the attic?
Yesterday, the rusty sign against the sunset was just too much so I stopped and poked around. Through the basement window I could barely make out big ancient printing presses and next to the front door, this dusty pile of Post-It notes promising to return at certain hours. Mystery, mystery.
So this morning I called the number listed for Ryan Gwinner Press and was surprised when someone actually picked up. Turned out to be Richard Gwinner, who took over the printing business from his dad in 1980, who himself started the embossing, foiling, stamping trade in the house back in 1948. Gwinner laughed when I told him I thought the house was abandoned. "It not abandoned," he said, "It looks like it is, but it's not." There used be two other houses on the lot, but he remembers the last one was torn down ten years ago (since then, the value of the land has quadrupled). "It's such a lonely, desolate looking house," I said. "That's the way I like it," Gwinner replied, "I work alone."
Gwinner grew up in the now-crumbling house, playing hide-and-seek among the letterpresses and living in the apartment above the print shop. When he turned 19, Gwinner moved back into the upstairs apartment alone, riding out the 70s printing in the afternoons and heading to infamous bar the White Eagle at night. He confirms that the building, while spooky, is not haunted. "I would know, I've worked all night," he said, "Though people say the basement at the White Eagle is haunted."
And about that iconic crumpled lithography sign: yesterday might have been its last sunset. Gwinner says he went out this morning with a saw to cut it down. Back in the 50s, the sign was neon. But once the tubes broke, the family never replaced them and since then it's been slowly becoming a beautiful safety hazard. Gwinner decided to put off sawing it down for another day, until the neighbors aren't around to complain about the noise.