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The ghost signs of Phoenix, Arizona

As a history adventurer, I love to see ghost signs. A ghost sign is just a sign on an old building that has been left to fade away. Sometimes they are just about impossible to see, but when I see them I know that I'm time-traveling.

There are a lot of ghost signs in Phoenix, but you have to look for them. The easiest ones to see are on the eastern wall of the Fry Building, at 2nd Street and Washington. When Dan Majerle opened his restaurant there in the '90s, he made sure to carefully reveal the old signs that had been painted on the brick. If you're wondering they're real, they are. Sometimes ghost signs are faked for effect, but those are real. The building goes back to 1885, and while the ghost signs aren't that old, they're pretty old.

Ghost sign on the St. Francis Hotel and Apartments, usually referred to as Steineggers (the original name), visible from the alley south of Monroe between Central Avenue and 1st Street.

Sometimes you have to walk down alleys, and get behind buildings, to see a ghost sign. The one on Steinegger's, which is next to the Hilton Garden Inn, at Central Avenue and Monroe, is only visible from the alley (which is Melinda's Alley, by the way). It says, "The St. Francis Hotel and Apartments", which was probably very visible until the Professional Building blocked it in 1931. At that point, no one paid any attention to it, and the building that blocked it protected it. The sign is from 1912.

1912 ad for the St. Francis Hotel and Apartments, 27 E. Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona.

Ghost sign at the San Carlos Hotel, Central Avenue and Monroe. This is the wall facing west, and can only be seen now from the pool area.

If you've ever been in the swimming pool area of the San Carlos Hotel, and looked up, there's another ghost sign there. It says, "Air Cooled, Hotel (something). That's how it is with ghost signs. This wall faces west, and isn't visible from the street, so most people don't know it's there. Since the San Carlos has been there since 1928, long before any other tall buildings blocked the sign, it must have been visible for a good distance.

Ghost sign on the back of the old Central Hotel, Washington west of 2nd Street. 

Of course, not everyone believes that ghost signs are all that interesting, or attractive. One of my favorites, the ghost sign on the old Central Hotel, at Washington east of 2nd Street, was painted over recently. I got a few photos of it, in 2013. It says "Hardware Ezra Thayer". Territorial era, but just an old unsightly sign in an alley, I guess. There's a graffiti painting there now. I guess old faded signs can't last forever, and that's why I like to preserve the photos.

View from the alley (which smells bad) of the ghost sign for Ezra Thayer Hardware, Washington between 2nd and 1st Streets.

Ghost signs aren't the most glamorous things in the world, and really, they're just old neglected stuff, like you would find in a junkyard, left out in the elements, falling apart. And really, they're like old tractors that farmers leave out in the field after they stop working. Just neglected junk that hasn't been dealt with. If they get cleaned up, and painted over, I understand. My preference would be leave them revealed, as part of the look of the building, the way that Dan did.

Ghost sign at the Arizona Center, advertising what was once a Food Court called "Gardenside".

I'm sure that there are a lot more ghost signs in Phoenix. I saw one not long ago at the Arizona Center, which is at Van Buren and 3rd Street, from the 1980s. The sign is still there, advertising a food court that's been gone for years. The lettering still looks fine, and it would be a lot of work and expense to take it down, and besides there actually is a garden nearby.

Image at the top of this post: ghosts signs preserved at Majerles Restaurant, 2nd Street and Washington, Phoenix, Arizona.

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