Ghost sign, tripwellness

Exchange Alley – Fake Ghost Sign from the movie, The Sting, 1973

Time shifted as I drove the old Highway 110 out of Los Angeles. A road sign warned that no trucks were allowed. It seemed odd but probably was necessary due to the height of the over 80 year old arched overpasses. It was the first clue to leaving the present on my mission tracking ghosts – the vintage signs that proliferate through Old Pasadena.

ghost signs, tripwellness

An illegible Ghost Sign above Colorado Blvd., hiding high in the center.

My mind wandered to my Mother who sought work in Pasadena as a young girl fresh from Minnesota. She found it first roller-skating in a hangar re-fashioned for the WWII war effort to house engineers as part of a fleet of young women who would shuttle plans across the vast space. She loved the job until a tumble left her with a broken tailbone. Her sojourn in Pasadena ended soon after but mine was beginning on a glorious fall afternoon.

The highway spilled onto the Arroyo Parkway which slices the city on a north-south axis between the valley’s mountains, but I hardly looked up, as I was scouring for ghosts, the ancient signs once plastered across brick buildings and facades.

Ghost signs, tripwellness

Another illegible ghost sign in Christensen Alley

Although found across the world, in the United States Ghost Signs were most popular in the years before the Depression. The old ad campaigns were developed in the 1800’s through the 1960’s. Painters, called ‘wall dogs,’ often used lead based paints that soaked into the facades and the ‘brickads’ could be touched up over time. Often one ad would be painted over another. Today conservation efforts are preserving the 50 plus year old ads across the country using new products that structurally stabilize both the components of the paint and the masonry substrate.

Clunes Pasadena Theater, ghost signs, tripwellness

Clune’s Pasadena Theater ghost sign above the One Colorado Courtyard movie screen

I’m sure my young Mom hardly looked up and noticed the signs but I spent hours in Pasadena’s Old Town district combing roof lines and wandering alleys to find the ghosts. The neighborhood begs for attention and is flourishing with many industrial alleys given over to retail interests. Shops and cafes spill onto the sidewalks. Public art proliferates. Above one outdoor seating area a giant film screen hosts outdoor movies poignantly positioned just below the ‘Clune’s Pasadena Theater’ Ghost Sign.

It took all my willpower to stay focused on the task at hand but I can’t wait to return with a girlfriend or two for several days. We probably won’t spend much time tracking ghosts with all the shopping and noshing to tempt us there.

A few other Art Deco architectural treasures in the Old Town Pasadena area.

The original uses long gone but still vibrant:

Mecca Room, Old Pasadena, trip wellness

The Deco Mecca Room now hosts a pizza parlor.


Old Pasadena, ghost signs, trip wellness

Ceiling detail of the old Savings & Trust, now BJ’s Brewery

Pasadena Hotel Landmark ghost sign, tripwellness

Pasadena Hotel Landmark ghost sign


If you go, stop in at the Distant Lands Travel book and gear store on Raymond Avenue just south of Colorado and ask for the free Old Pasadena map. You can preview the calendar of events, over 300 shops, parking information and more at their website,


There are several walking tours offered by the city that include Old Town Public Art Walks and a History Tour. Both are self-guided.