Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ghost signs

Published February, 2010, in the Post Register.

On the southeast side of Mackay’s Main Street there stands an abandoned building that most folks will pass by without noticing, despite the treasures in evidence on its exterior walls.

On one side of the building is painted an enormous sign advertising Thomas Pilash, Tailor, which once was housed in the building. Below that, the sign promotes Levi Strauss. On the other side of the building is a beautiful sign advertising Mountaineer-O-All suspenders, available at ZCMI.

The building was so severely damaged in the 1983 Borah earthquake that it had been recommended for razing as a potential safety hazard. Whether it should have remained standing is open to debate, but the fact that the building and its signs are still there should be a delight to anyone remotely interested in the history of a community.

Signs such as these are called “ghost signs.” Originally created using durable (but dangerous) lead paint in the early to mid-20th century, they have faded over time and most have been destroyed or painted over. But some remain around eastern Idaho, providing a reminder of another era.

The most prominent ghost sign in Idaho Falls the beautiful Hotel Rogers sign above Park Avenue and B Street downtown, painted on the side of the hotel building built on that site in 1937. But there are less obvious ghost around the area.

For example, there’s a Kress ghost sign at 451 N. Park Avenue on the building that used to house the nationally famous five-and-dime chain.

For a special treat, wander over to Oneida Street, where a long brick building that has served as everything from a supper club to an auto shop and bar. Take some time and wander around the building – on one end it advertises Owyhee Candies and on the street side you can still make out very old signs for various automotive products dating back to the Thirties and Forties.

"There was no interstate at the time and all the traffic drove right past the shop," Jim Winborg said told the Post Register last summer. Jim’s father, Con, owned the building at one time. "In the old days, there were quite a few hotels on that street, a lot of businesses."

The next time you’re heading down 1st Street in Idaho Falls, check out the north side of the 300 block, where you’ll find a large sign advertising Harvey’s Store, which had been a beer-and-fishing supply store back in the day.

But perhaps the best ghost sign in Idaho Falls is its simplest, a few blocks away between First Street and Lomax streets. There, visible above a fence on the top part of a small and obviously old building, is this simple ghost sign: “Auto Laundry.” There’s a story behind that sign, but maybe it’s just as interesting to make one up.

1 comment:

  1. Is the building on 1st street the one behind Dr. Slaughter's and by the Post Office?