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The Neon Peace Sign Causing Friction at the Ansonia

The peace sign when it was first lit up back in 2011. Photo: William Reynolds

You have to crane your neck to see it, but if you’ve walked by the Ansonia on a recent evening, you may have noticed an illuminated peace sign in the turret on the very top floor. It belongs to Brigitte Vosse, a 69-year-old resident of the 119-year-old Beaux-Arts building on Broadway and 73rd who had previously spent years battling the city and her neighbors over its place in her window on the 17th floor. She even lost a federal court case over it in 2016. But now, it’s back.

The peace sign lit up earlier this week.

Vosse, a clothing designer whose living room occupies arguably the most distinctive turret in the hotel turned condo, first put up the peace sign more than a decade ago as a protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to reporting at the time. (Vosse did not respond to a request for comment.) Complaints from her neighbors soon followed. “It’s so unattractive,” a resident told DNA Info in 2011. “That person seems to be imposing his decorating taste on the neighborhood.” Someone in a neighboring building told the outlet that the Upper West Side “is about preserving what’s beautiful and historic,” and that the sign was “jarring” and “ugly.” In 2012, the city fined Vosse $800, citing an ordinance that prohibits illuminated signs more than 40 feet above curb level. Vosse’s sign is 150 feet up.

Vosse paid the fine but refused to remove the sign and instead sued the city. She claimed that the order to take it down violated her First Amendment right to free speech and wrote in court documents that she wanted to “express to the viewing public my opposition to war as a solution to human problems.”

She lost. A federal appeals court upheld the city’s decision, writing that Vosse was free to hang up an unilluminated sign and that the First Amendment “does not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or in any manner that may be desired.” Vosse’s lawyer told the New York Daily News at the time that without the lights, the sign “would have been virtually invisible” from her top-floor apartment.

Which was true when I walked by the Ansonia one afternoon this week. But at night it glows from its contested window perch. Until, and if, someone makes her take it down again.

The Neon Peace Sign Causing Friction at the Ansonia