Photo Grab Bag: Ghost Sign Roundup

ghost sign with layered text, McKeesport, PA

(unknown), McKeesport

Longtime readers know The Orbit is in the business of making dreams come true–and business is good. It was pointed out by super fan/sometime contributor Lee that probably a lot of folks don’t see the loose photos that end up on The Orbit‘s artsy dark and/or snarky narc pages and maybe we should roll them up into an actual blog post once in a while.

So here you go. Like Cheech and/or Chong, we’ve pulled out the gatefold copy of Fragile and are rounding up and rolling out a first collection of non-specific pictures from the last year or so. Here, they’re grouped on the pseudo-theme of ghost signs. Don’t inhale too deeply.

ghost sign/advertisement for Hipco Batteries, Pittsburgh, PA

Hipco Batteries, Manchester

It’s a bold claim, but the Hipco Batteries ad has to be the city’s greatest ghost sign. The incredible painted image has some classic “vernacular typography”, one giant old school No. 6 dry cell battery, and a sadistic, grinning red devil, his tongue wagging like a pervert from his open, fanged mouth. He’s very excited, with one hand reaching out, palm up, and the other employing a Hipwell flashlight to no doubt look for trouble in the dark.

This begs the question: do devils really need flashlights? Well, we know this one does. Unlike the subjects of every other photo in this post, the Hipwell Manufacturing Company, founded in 1887, amazingly still exists and continues to manufacture a line of flashlights (but no longer batteries) right in this big old brick building on West North Avenue[1].

ghost sign for former La Salle Electric, Pittsburgh, PA

La Salle Electric, Manchester

The pair of conjoined industrial buildings that once housed La Salle Electric, just off Brighton Road in Manchester, were torn down earlier this year. Now there’s just a re-grassed vacant lot where they used to be. Whatever prompted that action, it’s sad for a lot of reasons–mainly that we’ve got a limited supply of this kind of late 19th century industrial buildings out there and it’s a bummer to lose two of them in one fell swoop.

Here, we can only focus on the relatively minor loss of this great ghost sign, painted across the point where the two buildings met. You can see the red brick side appears to have shifted ever so slightly, distorting the alignment of the white background and breaking the A in “Salle”. And what a great pair of arrows! The office is that way, you can pick up your stuff on the other side. Ugh. I mean, the office used to be that way…

ghost sign for former Regent Sportswear Shop, Pittsburgh, PA

Regent Sportswear (and Wig Shop?), East Liberty

The rear entrance to the former Regent Sportswear Shop doesn’t have what we usually consider “ghost signs”, but still seems like it ought to count. Regent’s 3-D sign, the typeface in Wigs, and the multi-color blue/gray/white brick treatment all suggest a 1960s/70s makeover to a building that probably goes back to the very early 1900s. Somewhere out there is a person who bought a terrycloth track suit or tried on someone else’s hair at Regent’s and we sure hope this last reminder in the Kirkwood Street alley makes him or her feel something. Hopefully that feeling is not, you know, “itchy”.

ghost sign reading "Sal's Meats Since 1921", Ambridge, PA

Sal’s Meats, Ambridge

Sadly, Sal’s Meats, like most of the businesses in Ambridge, ain’t there any more. But at least we’ve still got this great ghost sign. Painted signs don’t get any graphically stronger than bold red text on a white background, painted fifteen feet across on a deep red brick wall. Sal’s Meats, since 1921. ‘Nuf sed.

ghost sign for former Penn Bowling Lanes, Pittsburgh, PA

Penn Bowling Lanes, Downtown

What a time when the downtown worker could bowl ten frames over a lunch break! This literal back alley entrance on Exchange Way (between Liberty and Penn, downtown) suggests the bowling may have taken place in the basement, but who knows? Heck, maybe those wooden lanes, pin-setters, ball returns, and beer taps are all still down there, covered in forty years of dust. Either way, we’re glad no one felt the need to paint over this incredible patchwork wall with its reminder of old Pittsburgh.

ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist, New Martinsville, W. Va.

Last winter, we made a special stop for the mind-boggling buffet at Quinets Court in the fine little West Virginia town of New Martinsville (about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh–and well worth the trip)[2]. The inevitable post-gorge belt-loosening constitutional yielded some fine views of the Ohio River and a bunch of great little oddities in the four-block downtown stretch. This ghost sign for Dr. D.E. Earley, Optometrist looks like it could go back a hundred years. That’s a long time to wait to get your eyes examined and glasses fitted, but then again, you’ve got a steam tray full of Quinets cobbler two blocks away. I can think of worse ways to spend a century.

Former storefront for G's Restaurant and Pizzeria, Pittsburgh, PA

G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, Downtown

Bathed in low winter sunlight, made awkwardly diffuse by scaffolding and construction fence, this photo of the former G’s Restaurant and Pizzeria on Forbes Ave. got shoehorned into an update story on the last remaining Toynbee Tile on Smithfield Street and the face of a rapidly changing downtown Pittsburgh. But we felt like there was a little more to say here.

G’s Restaurant, along with the former Honus Wagner Sports building next door, were razed earlier this year. Point Park University is building a big new performance arts building/theater on the property. This will no doubt be a great cultural asset, but The Orbit‘s going to miss this pair of early 1900s terra cotta storefronts, each with their own goofy mid-century add-ons.


[1] See article: In The Spotlight: Hipwell Manufacturing (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 10, 2002) for the full story.
[2] The Orbit actually needs to make the trip to Quinets again for a full review–or even if just for that eggplant parm, and the kielbasa and kraut, and the fried chicken, and the haluski, and the brown sugar sweet potatoes, and the butterscotch pie, and the…

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