Businesses die, but signs tell their ghost story

June 2, 2010

Lee Bey is away for the remainder of this week. He will return on Monday. Instead of staying dormant, we bring you some of his work from the archives. This post originally ran on January 15, 2010.

Signage for a defunct real estate firm (photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

 That's a funky sign, right there.

You can almost hear the wah-wah pedals as your eye washes over the bell-bottomy "Real Estate" lettering and the company's name squinting through those low-profile, late 1960s/early 1970s orange and black graphics.

But Newmann & Associates has been out of business for years. Which means this fantastic piece of street advertising--visible from the southbound lanes of Cottage Grove south of 75th Street--will ultimately fade away like the business that sponsored it. The sign has joined the ranks of ghost signs ever-so-slowly vanishing on brick walls all across the city.

There are more than 200 signs like these across the city, according to an‚  online thesis research project by School of the Art Institute master's degree candidate Nicole Donohoe that tracks ghost signage. And there is a flickr page devoted to fading Chicago signs.

Here's one I peeped from the upper floors of a building on south Dearborn downtown three months ago. "The Hub" was an early nickname of the centrally-located old Henry C. Lytton & Son's clothier at Jackson and State...

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

 In 1946, the retailer dropped "The Hub" moniker and shortened the store's name to "Lytton's" , according to the Jazz Age Chicago website. But 64 years later, the sign remains, though Lytton's doesn't. It went out of business in the 1980s.

The sign below, on a building at 10th and Michigan, exhorts us to "Wear Gossard Corsets."‚  Who could say no to that? The company was founded here in 1901. The British own it now...

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

 And here is a ghost sign showing a bit of the old‚  Carson Pirie Scott's‚  script logo. The "Scott" is visible here. The sign is on the top of the south side of the former Carson flagship store on State Street...

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

 Back to the South Side for this find on east 79th Street: an ad for the defunct, Chicago-produced Joe Louis Milk. The company was founded in the 1950s, but its packaging and ads got "soul" in the late 1960s and 1970s.‚ ‚  The company's tag line in the 1970s:‚  "Joe Louis Milk. It's a Good Thang." And it was too. You can tell by the funky swirling graphics on the left side of the carton and a pair of boxing gloves coolly hanging from Louis' name.

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)

 Near 95th and Michigan, this sign for the former black-owned Independence Bank hangs on. Tucked behind a KFC and touting a once major black bank that no longer exists, this 1970s sign, with its "Be Proud" message is rather bittersweet...

158417142_c5834958e6_o-2
(photo by Lee Bey)

So back to Newmann & Associates real estate. The company had long vacated its spot on Cottage Grove when I took the photo below in 2006, but at least they left the sign behind.‚  Unfortunately, the sign was ripped down a few months later when the storefront underwent a major remodeling.

(photo by Lee Bey)
(photo by Lee Bey)