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Lakeview, Wrigleyville, Northalsted

Rare, Decades-Old ‘Ghost Signs’ Revealed On Lakeview Building Facing Demolition

The siding on a wooden two-flat dating back to the 1890s was taken down recently, revealing well-preserved walls of advertisements for Shell Oil and Wonder Bread's predecessor that might date back to the '50s.

The siding on 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. was removed recently, revealing decades-old ghost signs, as seen on July 18, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LAKEVIEW — Colorful, decades-old ads that were hidden away for years have been found during renovations to a building in Lakeview.

The siding on 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave., a wooden two-flat dating back to the 1890s, was taken down recently. The change revealed well-preserved walls of advertisements that might date back to the ’50s.

The northern wall of the building features an ad for Shell oil. The logos used date back to 1948-1955. There are also banners for Ward’s Soft Bun Bread — which later became known as Wonder Bread — and for car services.

The painted ads were shielded from Chicago’s elements by the now-removed siding, and they’ve remained largely intact through the years.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The siding on 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. was removed recently, revealing decades-old ghost signs, as seen on July 18, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A ghost sign on the south side of 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave.

The building itself has quite a history, said Larry Hammond, who rented and ran a pet day care there for 20 years.

The building used to face Addison Street, Hammond said. bIt was rotated toward Ravenswood between 1923 and 1950, as seen in Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of the neighborhood.

Credit: Chicago Public Library's Historical Information Gatherers
A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map depicting the 1700 block of West Addison Street in 1891. What is now 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. was then 640 Addison St.
Credit: Chicago Public Library's Historical Information Gatherers
A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map depicting the 1700 block of West Addison Street in 1923. What is now 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. was then 1748 W. Addison St.
Credit: Chicago Public Library's Historical Information Gatherers
A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map depicts 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. in 1950, rotated to its current location.

A garage where neighbors used to house their buggies was later used by Hammond to house cats at his day care, he said.

Around 1950, the building was a machine shop, with a greasing shop and filling station adjacent, according to a Sanborn map from that year.

And before Hammond’s business moved in, the building was a plumbing factory, he said.

While at the Ravenswood building, Hammond befriended neighbors and served them — and their pets — for two decades. He moved out in March as the owner began selling the space.

“The whole history of that block is actually stunning. It’s sad to see it’s turning into yuppie-ville,” he said.

A six-story development will replace the building, the adjacent strip mall and another multi-unit home, Chicago YIMBY reported in October. The Transit-oriented development will include 52 residential units and ground floor retail.

But before the corner of Addison and Ravenswood meets the wrecking ball, residents have been flocking to the vintage ads, also known as ghost signs.

Professor and author Bill Savage tweeted images of the signs Sunday afternoon, garnering more than 1,000 likes. After seeing the tweet, many headed out to see the signs for themselves.

Savage, an expert in Chicago history, said it’s rare to see these kinds of old ads on wood, as they are usually preserved on brick in Chicago.

When neighbor Chris Brandt and his family travel the country, they purposefully use old highways to get a glimpse of ghost signs in other towns. He created a hashtag on Instagram — #ghostsign4dary — for his friends and family to share their findings.

So when Brandt heard there were signs just a few blocks from home, he set out with his daughters to scope out the relics.

“It’s just pop-up history … that randomly pops up due to construction, or de-construction,” Brandt said. “And they’re only there for a minute. You get these glimpses into the past, and then they’re gone.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Brandt family poses in front of the decades-old ghost signs on 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. on July 18, 2022.

Brandt’s 4-year-old daughter, Hazel, has a knack for spotting these billboards of yore.

“I like spending time with my dad … and I like finding the ghost signs,” she said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The siding on 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. was removed recently, revealing decades-old ghost signs, as seen on July 18, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Addison Street and Ravenswood Avenue as seen from above on July 18, 2022.

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