Sunday, November 06, 2005


Ghost Signs

Yesterday's Times had a wonderful article on fading painted signs. If you've ever lived in a city, you know the sort:

Surprisingly, these old signs are not covered under any preservation laws:

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, however, has decided that it will not protect what it calls "ghost signs," according to Diane Jackier, a spokeswoman. "The commission protects architectural features and the commission does not consider the painted signs a significant feature," she said. No one has applied for a landmark designation for a painted sign in years, Ms. Jackier said.

Signs that are threadbare but still visible recall workhorse department stores like Gimbels and Hearns and men's clothing shops like Rogers Peet. They evoke a time when apartment buildings like the Warwick Arms at 101 West 80th Street trumpeted ULTRA MODERN APARTMENTS with GLASS SHOWER ENCLOSURES and when bowling alleys like McLEAN BOWL-O-DROME, which opened in 1942 along the Yonkers border, lured customers by boasting of air-conditioning.

Occasionally development actually serves to preserve these signs by walling them off: when I was living in San Francisco, I remembering seeing one large storefront torn away during a renovation to reveal an ancient painted sign underneath for -- oddly enough -- Coney Island Hot Dogs.

Someone should compile a book of these signs. Has someone compiled a book?...

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