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.
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.
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.
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:
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, OldPasadena.org
There are several walking tours offered by the city that include Old Town Public Art Walks and a History Tour. Both are self-guided.
I love Pasadena, next time I go I doing some ghost sign hunting!
Thanks for stopping by, Sherianne. The historic core is full of surprises.
Great pictures! I love old vintage signs, they really show the soul of a city
Love that, ‘They really show the soul of a city.’ Thanks for sharing.
So cool. My favorite was the Bowling Alley sign. I just love these old signs and am happy to know that some places are working to preserve them. I also love that you were able to find so many cool examples. I hope you continue to share these treasures and relics of a time almost forgotten.
Thanks, Duke. I’ve always had a soft spot for old time graphics. The thing is these vintage signs are all over the world! I’ll keep looking…
Pasadena is a wonderful town. How fun to re-visit with you as you collected your ghost signs!
I really enjoyed reading your article! Very well written, with beautiful photos! I love the way you have made it more “personal” by including the story about your mom. l love self-guided walking tours like this! How interesting with these ghost signs from the past. Some of them are truly art work, so beautiful!
Thanks, Maria, It was great fun seeking out the ‘ghosts’ especially as they’re in a close radius. Very walkable. I bet you’ll start noticing them in your future urban travels too.
Neat post! I think I’ll keep my eyes out for ghost signs now during my travels!
What rich history! I have never been to Old Pasadena – but the stories intrigue me for sure.
My grandparents lived in Pasadena when I was growing up and I spent many weekends with them just going on drives around the area. How fun to relieve some of the memories and learn about the ghost signs at the same time. Thanks for the interesting history lesson!
You were a lucky kid. I look forward to exploring there more.
Interesting history about the ghost signs and attempts to preserve them before its to late.
What an interesting post. I love the idea of ghost signs 🙂 I’d definitely book on one of the historical walking tours 🙂
Did you know about the signs before spotting them? They must be hard to find.
There’s a link at the end of the post to the Old Pasadena community page. If you scroll to the bottom there’s the link with a list of the local ghost signs. I’ve admired them wherever I’ve seen them but only recently discovered their proper name. A ghost sign is at least 50 years old and it’s original use has gone the way of history. Thanks for the note.
I love it. History right in front of our noses. Old Pasadena is so charming anyway. Thanks for taking us back in time, and loved hearing about your mom’s first “Hollywood” job.
I know about the job. Someone in my family has a cartoon done of Helen in her roller skating mode. When I locate it I’ll add it to the post. Thanks for the note.
It’s like you were on a treasure hunt of the past. I really enjoyed reading your post about Old Pasadena.
Thanks, Marilyn, I do love rooting around in the architectural past.