NEW YORK — Before he died at the age of 100 in December, James Galuppo, founder and owner of Etna Tool & Die, urged his only child, Flavia, not to sell the company headquarters.
She might have considered that a significant sacrifice. New condos surround the building, 42-44 Bond St., a chic block in Manhattan. A triplex is going for $13.5 million in one of them. The other is home to both Chuck Close and Warren Beatty.
In contrast to these cool glass and granite residences, 42-44 Bond is a tawny brick loft building. Its arched windows represent a classic feature of the late 19th century Renaissance Revival style. Some would say it could use an update.
But at a glass-top desk in Etna’s office, underneath yellowing maps and black-and-white photographs, Flavia Galuppo, 55, pledged to preserve this history and honor her father’s wish, whatever the financial loss.
“I want to protect her for him,” Galuppo said, attributing a gender to her building like an old sea captain discussing a ship. “She’s also a member of the family who’s withstood a lot of history and seen many things.”
Aside from D & D Salvage, the scrap metal dealer across the street, Etna Tool & Die seems to have been the last business in the NoHo neighborhood still doing the light industrial work that long gave the neighborhood its identity.
The shop closed two years ago. Since her father died, the factory space is Flavia Galuppo’s to use as she wishes, but she is not rushing to rent it out. Before seeking a new commercial tenant, she wants to find the right way to dispose of all the old equipment, file cabinets and other workplace detritus.
Etna remains frozen in time. An alarm clock continues to ring, usually to an empty room, during the designated coffee breaks. The smell of grease and sawdust lingers. Decades of spilled oil has seeped into the floorboards, forming dark pools around each of the machines and workstations.
From 1945 to 2017, the business was a force for manufacturing and product design in architecture, interior decoration, film, museums, restaurants, city infrastructure, and an array of other facets of life in New York. A study of its dies, molds, and copious thingamajigs provides a behind-the-scenes view of everyday habits and beloved monuments in the city.
“All the objects have a story,” Galuppo said.
Tool and dies perform custom metal fabrication, giving many of them a wide range of customers. “If it is in metal,” Etna’s advertising copy read, “we will be happy to supply your needs.” According to Galuppo, her father’s favorite words were “why not?”
Perhaps the most eccentric item in the shop is a mold for lead shoes, used by a personal trainer and his clients. “A very, very peculiar fellow,” Galuppo said. “I tried putting one on. It’s not feasible to move with those.”
Such projects required James Galuppo to be inventive. He and his partner, Guy Angiolino, who died in the 1970s, registered a number of patents, including one for a “binding and stemming machine,” which they used to fabricate silk and wire flowers.
Many of these were purchased by the American Museum of Natural History for display in their dioramas. The shop is still littered with barrels of plaster molds whose meticulously carved patterns made magnolias, orchids and hundreds of other flowers.
Some items in the shop illustrate larger historical trends. Custom-made strike plates and threaded spindles for the doors of housing projects and public schools, for instance, indicate the jury-rigged nature of city infrastructure. Etna, a relatively small independent machinist, continued doing work for public housing until around the time it closed.
Seeing any of these products outside the shop, you’d never know Etna made them. James Galuppo did not use a signature or identify his clients, a tradition his daughter continued in conversation.
Some customers wanted to prevent the competition from learning about their suppliers. Others, especially the “big architects” — “You would know their names,” Flavia Galuppo said — might have suggested they made products in-house that actually came from Etna.
As a result, the business was more influential than widely known. Consider the tattoo industry. Michelle Myles, the co-owner of Daredevil Tattoo and its Tattoo Museum, along with employees at Fineline Tattoo and Fun City Tattoo, two of the oldest parlors in New York, all said that the city’s largest supplier of tattoo equipment was Unimax Supply Co. and that they had never heard of Etna Tool & Die.
But Wes Wood, 77, the founder and owner of Unimax, said that as his business grew, he started to get 90 percent of his equipment from Etna — all of the tubes, frames, grips, springs, and needle bars that make up a tattoo machine, the remains of which still litter 42-44 Bond.
By the 1980s and ‘90s, industry was vanishing from NoHo. The neighborhood became associated instead with artists and punks, represented most famously by CBGB. Tattooing remained illegal until 1997, but that did not scare away Etna, which adapted to the times. At one point, Wood said, every tattoo parlor in New York was using gear made by Etna.
Some businesses and individuals still rely on Etna, even in its afterlife. Just last month, Con Edison called to ask if they could buy pans Etna manufactured for workers to carry their tools in. Flavia Galuppo said yes. “Why junk it when you can sell it?”
Two of the machinists who worked at the shop, Juan Familia, 51, and Zhi Fen Liang, who estimated his age as “70-something,” continue to visit, still punching in and punching out their timecards using the old time clock. Both learned English through working at Etna.
Familia, now the super of 42-44 Bond, uses the shop for maintenance work. Liang simply likes to come by. “This is my second home,” he said after a cup of tea at his desk. As for what he does now at the shop, Liang explained, “I take a look at machines.”
The morning also brought a reminder of Flavia Galuppo’s difficult task ahead — three flyers announcing liquidations of tool and die plants, which are being wiped out across the United States by a combination of new technology and outsourcing. Soon, Galuppo will have to figure out what to do with Etna’s many old machines.
“I almost feel like they’re being orphaned,” she said. “I want to make sure that these machines eventually find themselves a good home.” In South America, she’s heard, there’s still a market for old but reliable tool and die equipment.
When Galuppo disposes of everything, there will, actually, be one piece of evidence left testifying to Etna’s glory days. After 9/11, when 10 firefighters at the nearby Great Jones Street firehouse were killed, its captain asked James Galuppo to make a miniature of the Twin Towers. He fabricated two aluminum pillars and a die to stamp them with thousands of replicas of windows.
One copy remains at 42-44 Bond. Others were distributed among New York’s firehouses. At the fire captain’s insistence, it was the only object James Galuppo signed: “Made in New York City by Etna Tool & Die.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.