Category Archives: Ghost signs, ghost ads & other phantoms

Paper Makers Supplies – Jones Street – Greenwich Village, NYC

© Frank H. Jump

© Frank H. Jump

Apparition of sign doesn’t return when you paint a new one – News Tribune – Peter Callaghan

Apparition of sign doesn’t return when you paint a new one– PETER CALLAGHAN; STAFF WRITER – THE NEWS TRIBUNE

It seems like such a simple response to a careless mistake.

Rather than lament the loss of the 77-year-old hand-painted Alt Heidelberg sign on the side of the Joy Building, just repaint it.

“Do we want to preserve the sign or the paint?” wrote one reader of my column on the screw-up by the architects and contractor charged with renovating the building AND preserving historic artifacts such as the sign.

Others pointed to the “New York and Washington Outfitting Co.” sign on the exposed wall of the Knights of Pythias Temple on Broadway as an example of repainting.

© Frank H. Jump

I’m not a fan of that sign but I was having trouble articulating why. It not only looks new, which it is, it covered the actual-though-faded sign underneath. It is so bright it detracts from the real ghost signs on the walls that were exposed when the Colonial Theater was demolished in 1988.

But paint is paint. Besides, most of the prime sign locations downtown were repainted repeatedly as new products, new businesses and new fads came along.

The Alt Heidelberg sign featuring the Student Prince from the 1920s operetta and the slogan “Everybody Knows It’s Better” was itself painted over other signs now partially exposed. (And the stein he raises in a toast was originally a bottle, according to Doug McDonnell, a local historian and descendent of the brewery’s founder.)

© Vincenzo Aiosa

So I asked a few people with a special affection for ghost signs, such as New Yorker Frank H. Jump, who features the Student Prince sign on his website Fading Ad Blog (

“I tend to abhor repaints,” Jump wrote back. “It is the decay of a sign I find beautiful. It is a living process in a way.

“But just like all living processes, all things must die,” he wrote. “Although preservation attempts are good for historical and tourist reasons, they can’t always be realized since buildings are at risk if they become porous.”

He [Jump] included a poem he’d written that touched on the question:

“Signs and vines weather and grow.
Brick, pigment, plant and lime-
Tenuously intertwined through time.
As paint degrades and image fades,
Soft tones evolve
From salmon pinks and jades-
Into sand and grime.”

Reuben McKnight, Tacoma’s historic preservation officer, said city policy is for ghost signs on protected buildings to be preserved. But it has no policy on repainting faded or destroyed signs.

“One issue is that for multi-layered ghost signs, restoring one layer necessarily means losing or destroying another,” McKnight wrote. “As you know, multiple shadows of signs are usually visible in the unrestored signs.”

The University of Washington Tacoma, owner of the Joy Building, will report to the city landmarks commission June 9 about the loss of the Alt Heidelberg sign. The commission may discuss the idea of repainting at that meeting, McKnight said.

Michael Sullivan, a preservation consultant and former city landmarks officer, said he thinks repainting is a bad idea.

“You can’t wind back the clock,” he said, adding that repainted signs look “hokey.”

I agree. The beauty of ghost signs is that they are an apparition. The same image that you can’t see or overlook in certain light appears when the conditions are right. To come upon them is to discover an artifact of a city’s history. And to be able to see multiple layers of advertising is a sort of visual archeological dig.

Repainting, therefore, is contrary to all that makes these signs fascinating. Acknowledging that the Student Prince is lost forever makes it an even bigger debacle. But putting an inferior reproduction on the wall would be very cold comfort.

One commenter suggested a compromise of sorts. Billyizme said a recent photograph of the sign could be projected onto the wall in the evenings. It would be clear that it isn’t original. But it would be an homage to what was the last stand of an iconic Tacoma brand and mascot.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657
Read more:

Here I'm not making a statement about preservation, but the lack thereof. - © Vincenzo Aiosa

This wall above is opposite the New York – Washington repaint in Tacoma, Washington – a treasure trove of fading ads that now has one less gem.

Little Salvage Company – Nashville, TN

© Frank H. Jump

© Frank H. Jump

Payne Furniture Company – Nashville, TN

© Vincenzo Aiosa

CC – Largest House Furnishings in the South – Nashville, TN

© Vincenzo Aiosa

© Vincenzo Aiosa

Bradford Nichol Furniture – Nashville, TN

© Vincenzo Aiosa

Google Books

Google Books

Tennessee State Library & Archives

Beesley Furniture Company – Nashville, TN

© Frank H. Jump

© Vincenzo Aiosa

Corn Hay Oats Wheat Bran Shorts – Nashville, TN

© Frank H. Jump

© Frank H. Jump

© Frank H. Jump

Views from the Bowery Hotel – YMCA – Men Welcome, Lodging, Meals, Employment – Rosario Dawson

© Rosario Dawson

© Tamelyn (Flickr Photostream)

Uneeda Biscuit – Nashville, TN – CNN – Tennessee death toll from heavy rain at 19

Downtown Nashville - August 2009 © Frank H. Jump

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Tennessee death toll from heavy rain …“, posted with vodpod

DONATE TO FLOOD RELIEF – The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee

Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco – Bath, NY

© Frank H. Jump

Dempsey’s Liquor Store – Mail Pouch Tobacco – Waterloo, NY – Featured Fade

© Isaac Hattem

Between Seneca & Cayuga Lakes in the Finger Lake region of New York State is the town of Waterloo, named after the Belgian town where Napoleon didn’t have such a good day in 1815. My buddy Isaac, who I met in Yellowstone last summer, was traveling from Ithaca to Buffalo and shot this for me, almost incredulously.

Elsewhere on the Internet:

Alabama House (?) – Bowery, NYC

© Frank H. Jump

© Frank H. Jump

Hukon Mfg – Cincinnati, OH – visualingual

© visualingual

Visualingual – news+inspiration from a design studio in Cincinnati – was just featured at Etsy [your place to buy and sell] and mentioned the Fading Ad Blog as one of their favorite sites. Here is a taste of what’s on the tip of Visualingual’s tongue. Thanks for the mention!

Globe Electrotype Company – Robert L. Stillson Color Printing Company – West 38th Street

© Frank H. Jump

Previously posted on Fading Ad Blog:

Other Internet resources: