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 :)​​​​​​​

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

The famous "Laube's Old Spain" restaurant on Main Street in Buffalo's Theatre District. I received numerous messages after my original post asking if I was to include this ghost sign, and I had to make sure I did this time around. Popular back in the 1950's, Laube's is a distant memory for those who might have experienced it. 

One of my favorite signs in Buffalo, this ghost sign reads "Hygrade's Honey Brand" with something underneath. I googled a few images and they all came up with Honey Brand Pure Lard - so maybe? Oh, the building is found on Niagara and Hamilton. 

** Update: several readers messaged me that the words under "Honey Brand" are "Hams & Bacon" - which makes much more sense! One reader, Elvis, even stated that this building was a pig slaughter house back in the day. Very neat!

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”

Found along Main Street in the Theatre District. I'd be interested in knowing when these signs were painted, they're all in amazing condition! The top sign reads "Albert's Curtain Store" with details below it visible. The sign below it reads "Willet and Draper Furriers", a popular high-end fur manufacturer that once boasted a storefront on bustling Main Street.  There's a long, skinny ghost sign below the Willet sign that reads "Fox & Staniland Opticians". They appear to still be in business, operating at a different location in North Buffalo.

One of my favorite ghost signs in all of Buffalo! This building on the corner of Broadway and Hickory Street has a ton of history and early 1900's character. Looking west on Hickory is this "Drink Coca Cola" ghost sign. What's even cooler is the "Pleskow Bro's Pharmacy" lettering, dating back to a pharmacy that is believed to have operated at this location during the 1920s. Today, the building has recently been renovated by HELP USA and Flynn Battaglia Architects to it's former glory, which now houses apartments for homeless veterans and low to mid income residents. The first floor is currently used as a community room and office space for project management and service staff.  In doing some research on the building, I stumbled upon an archived article mentioning a police report from 1922 about two people who robbed one of the brothers, Ivan, at gunpoint at this location (click here for article).

"1931 TH Kleinschmidt's Malt House 1931" found along Pratt Street in the Crosby Complex. This building is believed to have supplied Iroquios Brewery much of their malt during the 1930s and beyond. Thank you to the Preservation Board for saving this structure, amongst others in the immediate area, from the almost destined demo just a few years ago!!!

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. 

A newly uncovered ghost sign due to the recent demolition of the Swan Street Parking Ramp. The Swan ramp was built in 1924, so this ghost sign is at least 100 years old! Through some research, the black, gold and green sign reads "Ready To Eat, Malta-Vita, The Perfect Food "

"The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company" ghost sign found in Larkinville. Built in 1917 and acted as one of the company's main warehouses for the east coast until 1975. The building is currently undergoing conversion and rehabilitation into loft residential units. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

As we head over to Niagara Street, this building immediately stood out for obvious reasons. These ghost signs proudly advertised for "Great Lakes Pressed Steel Corp" which manufactured metal stampings, dies and other tools. Similar to the lead image, it was also common for businesses to paint signs in between the rows of windows on each floor.

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. 

"The Teachout Company" I believe it reads. "Wholesale Sash and Doors" reads below it, found on this circa 1910 warehouse building off of Genesee Street in the east side. Notice at the right of the image, there's another ghost sign facing the side street in between the rows of windows.

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.

"IRC Continues Transit Progress, More Buses, Postwar Models" read along this brick building on Broadway. IRC stands for International Railway Co. and this building used to be a rail and bus repair building where many of the last street cars were retired from service. Close by is the Broadway Fillmore District and Buffalo Central Terminal.

Another view of the building on 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.

Several ghost signs found along the side of the SImon Electric Co. building on Ellicott Street near Huron. The top sign reads "People's" with possibly "Furniture" underneath. I can't make out the other words to the right. Below is another ghost sign with the words "Refrigerators, Ranges, Home Freezers, Morton Kitchens and an arrow with "At Corner" indicating where to enter the door. 

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures found on this Pearl Street building. Buffalo was well know for their film exchanges associated with major Hollywood studios, and at one point was a local powerhouse in film production. This area of Buffalo, also known as Film Row, had numerous production businesses in parallel with Buffalos established Theatre District one block over. Film exchanges supplied everything for exhibitors who operated movie theaters such as the following: feature films, cartoons, short subjects, and coming-attraction trailers; movie projectors and sound heads; lobby posters, billboards, and still photographs. Pearl Street and Franklin Street held up to 8 film exchange companies in its heyday in the 1960s.

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

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.

Several faded ghost signs along Ellicott Street in Buffalo's downtown area. The top ghost sign possibly reads "Manhardt Printing Co." Buffalo was a top 5 printing city during the early 1900s with dozens of businesses focused in the trade. 

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

“Howard H. Baker & Co. Inc.“ Below that reads “Entrance Go Erie St.“ Several lines below include “Distributor“ and “The Cordage Group“ and “Macwhyte Wire Rope“. Finally below that reads “Marine & Industrial Supplies“. Howard H. Baker was a ship chandler, supplying sails and ropes and other supplies for sailing ships in this busy port town of Buffalo, NY. This 1896 building is now occupied by the Buffalo Harbor Museum. Not sure if this ghost sign has been retouched over the years, but this one is believed to be nearly 100 years old!

Choice of 25 ghost sign, found on a lone building right in downtown buffalo at 153 Delaware Avenue. This building has served as a number of different businesses, including a restaurant and resell thrift shop over the years.

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

"Webster-Citizens Co" ghost sign along Essex Street. This building used to be home to the company's 5th and final ice house in the WNY region. Webster Ice and Citizens Ice merged in 1907 and became the largest ice distributor in the region, operating near Lime Lake and Lake Erie. The following two pictures are also a part of the complex.

"Station No 5" ghost sign on the Webster-Citizens Co Building on Essex Street. This location was their 5th ice house they operated in the region, and the company held a monopoly on the ice trade in WNY for several decades.

"Manufactured Ice" ghost sign on the Webster-Citizens Co building as mentioned above. This third sign looks to be the best preserved of the three. Today, several businesses occupy the complex, including The Simon Griffis Studio, Big Orbit, and the Essex Street Arts Center.

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

"Goldhagen Storage Co" ghost sign found at 185 Grant Street on the west side. Underneath it reads "Storage, Carting, Packing & Shipping". Goldhagen was in business at this location beginning in 1921. 

Several ghost signs found on the side of building on Main Street. Unable to make out the top sign, but the bottom sign reads "FM Sound" in reference to a studio that used to occupy the building.

"Niagara Frontier Food Terminal" found on Clinton Street near Bailey. A much older red and white ghost sign is peaking through broken newer yellow and black signage (not a ghost sign).

Ghost sign found on the back of a building along Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo.

Heavily worn ghost sign found along Washington Street and current home of Washington Square Tavern. Only word I can make out here is “Restaurant“.

“Glenny Building“ ghost sign found along Washington Street. A similar ghost sign is also found on the Main Street corner one block west.

Unknown ghost sign found on the east side of 149 Swan Street. The building dates back to 1896, which was built for for Sibley & Holmwood Candy Company, a local confectioner that later partnered with several other businesses nationwide to form the National Candy Company. The building now holds dozens of apartments (Dubbed the "Apartments at the Hub"), a fitness studio and has been a previous home to Handlebar and Black Button Distillery tasting rooms.

Tough to make out, but possibly the word Wilder? Found downtown on E Huron 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!

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

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

Another severely faded ghost sign located at Smith and Clinton Streets. A few words I'm able to make out are "Groceries, Flour". 

"Paper Box Specialist" ghost sign found on the side of the 500 Seneca building in the Larkinville District of Buffalo. Originally, the building housed one of the world’s largest paper-box manufacturers, the F.N. Burt Co., in a 1901 wood structure that grew to include numerous brick and concrete, four- to six-story additions up through 1927. In 1909, founder F.N. Burt hired Mary R. Cass as the company's new General Manager, a groundbreaking move at the time when women weren't commonly in leadership roles within national companies. Mary led the company to what would become one of the nation's most innovative companies over the next 25 years, The plant was eventually shuttered towards the end of the 1950s before regaining life in the 2000s with New Era Cap taking up residency. Today, the building houses dozens of offices and businesses in the now thriving Larkinville District. Ghost signs like these are a small window into the history of this significant building!

Colorful but faded ghost signs found on the west side of 730 William Street, current home to Sloan's Antiques. I can't make out most of it, possibly "Wolf" at the top left corner? If anyone knows, please send me a note!

"Battenfield American Oils & Grease" ghost sign found near Clinton and Bailey Avenue. This building once housed the F. X. Kaltenbach Brewery starting in 1886 which was at one point owned by Buffalo Mayor F. X. Schwab in the 1920s, eventually being named the Buffalo Brewing Company.

Extremely faded ghost sign found along Clinton Street in Buffalo's east side. Tough to make out, however I believe a couple of the words might read "Warehouse" and "Food"

"Laub" across their warehouse at 1051 Clinton Street in Buffalo's East Side neighborhood. Their warehouse boasts over 360 thousand square feet of space and has been providing distribution and warehousing services since 1979. 

Almost missed this barely noticeable ghost sign along Clinton Street near Emslie, I'm unable to make out any wording, but I'd image it once advertised for a business in one of the two store fronts on Clinton. 

Right across the street from the above image, this ghost sign is on the front of the once former Simon Pure Brewery. The faded ghost sign reads "William Simon Brewery" on the building at the corner of Emslie and Clinton Street. Founded in 1853 as the John Schusler Brewery. German brewer William Simon became its brew master, and purchased the company in 1896. It reopened after Prohibition and built a strong local following. The William Simon Brewery managed to outlast all the other breweries in Buffalo, finally closing in 1973. William Simon IV still owns the complex and has rumored to be interested in re-opening as a micro-brewery in the near future. If completed, it would instantly become the second oldest American brewery, only behind Yuengling. This has given me a future blog post idea, covering the buildings and complexes of Buffalo's original breweries. More to come!

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!

A view of the Crosby Company complex on the corner of William and Pratt Streets. This building has several ghost signs visible in numerous directions, including this vertical ghost sign shown above as seen from William Street. Travel down Pratt a bit more and you'll discover a few more signs, including an old adjacent brewery that I will be covering in a future post!

Another ghost sign found along William Street near Sherman. William Street certainly boasts a number of beautiful 100+ year old buildings! I'm unable to make this ghost sign out, but the building is believed to be over 140 years old and once housed an Aaron Goldberg Furniture store in the early 1950s.

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

More Cobblestone District ghost signs found along Illinois Street. 

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

Several stacked ghost signs found at the building on the corner of Broadway and Madison Street. Recently for sale and exchanging hands a few times in the past decade, this building is now owned by Peyton Barlow and will hopefully be restored to her former glory. The Pollack and Blackemore ghost signs are believed to be around 30 years old, relatively new in ghost sign standards.

Tent City ghost sign found along Main Street. A staple sign for decades in downtown Buffalo Theatre District.

A couple ghost signs found on a 100 year old building in the Broadway Fillmore District in Buffalo's east side.

Faded ghost signs on the side of 395 Broadway. One of the bottom words might read "Refrigerators"

Found along Main Street

Ghost sign facing Broadway at the corner of Pratt. The word "Machine" is visible, but unsure of the rest. Notice to the far right (down Pratt) there is another ghost sign, which reads "Star Supply".  This building was home to Northstar Supply, which focused on roofing, siding products, gutters and downspouts. Later it focused on the HVAC industry. 

Barely visible ghost sign along Main Street.

"Public Parking" ghost sign along West Huron in downtown Buffalo. With the building currently being renovated, this sign likely won't last long.

A top the same building of the previous image on West Huron (the C.W. Miller Livery Stable), possibly "Hertz" as the first word. The original Miller Livery was converted to a parking garage for cars and renamed the Huron Street Garage, and later the Hertz Garage in the 1950s.

Found along Washington Street, partially reading Furniture and Carpets.

Further down Niagara is this relatively newer ghost sign, I honestly was drawn to it because of the car in the center of the wall. Lettering reads "Ultimate Auto Service", which it appears to still be the current business at this location.

A barely noticeable ghost sign found along Main Street.

"Bathroom Vanities" on a building on Niagara Street. 

Ghost signs found alongside a commercial building in Larkinville neighborhood

A faded ghost sign found along Seneca Street on your way towards downtown.

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. 

Faded ghost sign along 17th street in Buffalo's west side neighborhood. 

Arched ghost sign above one of the main garage doors on the same building above on 17th Street. Appears to have been a firehouse or some type of public use building at one point. Current studio for Jim Bush Photography. 

"Flexo Transparent" ghost sign found along Seneca Street near Babcock. 

"Paisaro Pizzeria" along Clinton Avenue on Buffalo's east side. Although the restaurant is now closed, this relatively newer sign will live on.

Taken from a parking ramp in downtown Buffalo with one of my telephoto lenses. Notice to the left there's "Buffalo Christian Center" and "Cabaret" in the foreground. To the right there also appears to be several severely faded ghost signs just past Shea's Theatre.

"Spankin Detail 852-1566" ghost sign found at 365 Swan Street near Myrtle just east of downtown Buffalo. Age of sign unknown, but believed to be from 1980s - 1990s timeframe, relatively new compared to the rest of these signs. 

Broadway Garage - Storing, Wash and Repair.

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

"Entertainment" ghost sign to notify people entering the famous Buffalo Theatre District along Main Street.

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 ghost sign, believed to be from the late 1990s.

Old Editions ghost sign found on Huron Street, believed to be from the 1990s

The Hotel Lafayette ghost sign, one of two found on the hotel. This is the much older version of the two signs. Notice the words Fire Proof underneath Hotel. 

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