Ghost Signs of Buffalo, NY

Ghost signs, also known as faded ads, are the disappearing painted letters and illustrations on the sides and fronts of old buildings. They once lined the streets of almost every town and city, especially common in the business districts of the rust belt cities in the early 1900's. During that era, it was not uncommon for a business to be located on the second, third or fourth floor in certain business districts and these signs were the most practical means of letting people know where their store was. In many cases these are advertisements or store names painted on brick that remained over time, typically placed on the top side corners of brick buildings or sometimes right on the front of the building in between floors. As cities continued to become more dense over the past 150 years, wall space became increasingly rare and many ghost signs were covered up due to construction of adjoining buildings. Signs on the side of old brick buildings are occasionally discovered upon demolition of later-built adjoining structures. A fraction of these ghost signs from the 1890s to 1960s are still visible today and were commonly used in the decades before the Great Depression. 
The painters of the signs were called "wall dogs", often times hand painting these signs from 3 story ladders placed on the roofs of next door buildings. As signage advertising formats changed, less durable signs appeared in the later 20th century, and ghost signs from that era are less common. Ghost signs were originally painted with oil-based house paints and the paint that has survived the test of time likely contained lead, which keeps it strongly adhered to the masonry surface. Due to this, many of the surviving signs today are believed to be 80-100 years old. 

Found on Genesee near downtown, dubbed the Genesee Gateway. Werner occupied a photography studio in the 4 story yellow brick building with the famous waterfall window. The sign is believed to be over 100 years old (based on the timeline of Werner's occupancy), however the sign was restored several times over the years. 

Specific to Buffalo, one can find several ghost signs by simply understanding our commercial history. The major roadways leading through the east side, such as Seneca, Broadway, Genesee, William and Sycamore, used to be filled with brick buildings and all have great examples of ghost signs you can see today. Main Street might have the most signs from my experience, with pockets of examples found in the First Ward, Cobblestone District, Niagara Street and parts of Elm, Michigan, Oak and Ellicott Streets. 
Today, cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit are taking action in preserving these signs as they are becoming more and more rare. Conservators are working closely with their city's Preservation Boards in maintaining ghost signs where they can. New businesses are taking to the throwback idea and adding ghost signs to their building (see Hydraulic Hearth). As Buffalo continues it's resurgence, I'd love to see a group step in to ensure we preserve as many of these signs as possible. I will volunteer my time and effort to help :)
See "Part 2" of my ghost signs series HERE

Ellicott Paint Co. ghost sign, found across the street from the previous Genesee Gateway photograph. One of the largest and most vibrant signs to be found downtown!

Seen from Michigan Avenue near Sycamore. The Dwelle-Kaiser company was created back in 1910 and sold glass, mirrors, paints, oils and accessories. Originally located on Ellicott Street nearby, the company grew so fast that it moved just 3 years later to this Elm Street building. A note from the Chamber of Commerce noted that Dwelle-Kaiser was incredibly successful - “Company is Only Four Years Old But Its Capital Has Been Increased More Than Eight Hundred Percent”

Several ghost signs filling the side of this Five Points building, including Gold Medal Flour on the bottom

Towne House, Hotel One Block Right arrow ghost sign. Unsure of middle word that is covered with a vine. Today this ghost sign is no longer visible due to new construction.

The Alling and Cory Co. Garage. Alling and Cory was a privately owned printing paper and packaging distributor in Buffalo and Rochester, founded in 1819. The Alling & Cory Buffalo Warehouse partially shown behind the garage is of the "Daylight Factory" design and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The garage shown in the picture was an addition in 1926 and the ghost sign is believed to be approximately 80-90 years old!

Buffalo Awning and Tent Manufacturing found at Broadway and Hickory Streets, believed to have been from the early 1970s.

Barcalo Manufacturing ghost lettering on their manufacturing building in the Old First Ward

Beautifully intact ghost sign found in the Genesee Gateway. Notice the yellow framing bordering the lower portion. 

The Crosby Company Sheet Metal Stamping ghost sign, part of the Crosby building complex in lower east side area.

Fancy Dry Goods ghost sign in the west side of Buffalo.

Tough to make out, but possibly the word Wilder? Found downtown near Main Street.

The first word appears to be Gerber, second line I believe says Hot, unsure of the second word. Below it reads Wholesale Millinery - which indicates the ghost sign advertised a hat making and production company. Sinclair, Rooney & Co. were a long established millinery on Washington Street, perhaps this is somehow related to them or one of their competitors? SR & Co Vice President was named Henry Gerber, perhaps he purchased the company at some point and renamed it? This sign is believed to be from the 1920s!

The popular "Saperston Management" ghost sign in downtown Buffalo, view from Delaware Avenue. Saperston has several ghost signs around the city, this one being one of the best preserved. 

King United Jewelers found along the side of a row of buildings at the foot of Seneca Street downtown.

Believed to say Dockash, which was a stove and range company in Buffalo back in the 1920s and 1930s. I was not able to confirm if they occupied this building, but I believe that is what this ghost sign is advertising.

Tent City ghost sign found along Main Street in the Theatre District.

Horsefeathers Market / Zink building on Connecticut Street in Buffalo's West Side neighborhood. Several ghost signs that give light to what this beautiful building once housed, including businesses that offered products such as Gas, Coal, Wood, Steel and numerous kitchen appliances. Today the building houses numerous winter market small businesses, Perks Cafe and is home to over two dozen people living on the 2nd - 5th floors. 

Broadway and Hickory. On the other side of this building a ghost sign that reads "Buffalo Awning & Tent Manufacturing". You can make out "Tent" and "MFG Co." on this image, presumably for the same company. Today is part of the HELP Buffalo complex previously mentioned, being utilized as offices and low-income housing.

Ghost signs on a Cobblestone building which once houses a brass foundry and finishing company and numerous blacksmith shops. These stretch of buildings are believed to be some of the oldest surviving commercial buildings in the city, making these signs potentially some of the oldest as well. A detailed history of this building and many others in Cobblestone can be found in my first blog post HERE

Another view of the Jewetts building on Elm Street with more Dwelle-Kaiser lettering. Several words include Refrigerators, Glass, Mirrors, Paints and more.

Found along Main Street

Barely visible ghost sign along Main Street.

Found along Washington Street, partially reading Furniture and Carpets.

A barely noticeable ghost sign found along Main Street.

Ghost signs found alongside a commercial building in Larkinville neighborhood

A faded ghost sign found along Seneca Street.

Since 1924, North Star Supply Co., Inc has been a Wholesale Distributor serving contractors in the heating, air conditioning and sheet metal industry throughout Western New York. 

Faded ghost sign found along the 800 block of Main Street. I can make out Exotic Drinks and Specialties in take out orders. 

Broadway Garage - Storing, Wash and Repair.

Shipping and Returns ghost sign found on the Barcalo Manufacturing building in the Old First Ward neighborhood.

A barber ghost sign found along Main Street

Dwelle-Kaiser building on Elm Street, however these are much newer ghost signs from a design company who later occupied 237 Elm Street.

Anchor Bar newer ghost sign

Old Editions ghost sign found on Huron Street

The Hotel Lafayette ghost sign, one of two found on the hotel. This is the much newer one of the two.

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