Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ghost signs

I love ghost signs.

Ever since I was a little kid.

And then some years ago I found out
they actually had a name. And that people blog about them! Who knew.

These old hand-painted advertisements and company names, now chipped, faded and scaling off the bricks they were painted on, are a portal into the past – a glimpse at our cities' former simplicity and grandeur. I think ghost signs lend a gentility, a gracefulness, to city life.

The art form reached its zenith in the decades leading into the Great Depression. The itinerant sign artists were called "wall dogs." And now they simply fade away.

Some ghost signs sprawl across the sides of buildings.

There are relatively tiny ones, too, obscured by now-mature landscaping and dumpsters.

And many compete with 21st century "art."

In their heyday, I bet ghost signs were glorious to look at. They still are.

That is, until we paint, plaster and brick over them. Before we replace them with the garish visual monsters made of vinyl, metal and wood we call billboards. And before we tear down their buildings to make way for edgy, angular, neon high rises. Nobody hand paints art on a high rise.

I believe in ghosts. Do you?

1 comment:

  1. I love this post; never heard the "ghost sign" terminology before. We have tons of that in Richmond, VA, a once-booming industrial (mostly tobacco) port city. We're still a port city, but most downtown industry - namely tobacco - has dried up, leaving scads of empty brick warehouses all through the city scape. Thankfully, city planners have opted to keep most of that handsome architecture intact (along with the historical signs).

    I hope Spokane continues to embrace the charm and history of those old buildings and advertisements.