LAKEVIEW — Preservationists were able to safely remove rare ghost signs that have brought people from across the country to a Lakeview building just days before it was set to be demolished.
Chicago-based sign painters rallied and set up a fundraiser so they could rescue decades-old painted ads that were found on the building at 3609 N. Ravenswood Ave. when its siding was removed in July. The building and its long-hidden ads were set to be destroyed as developers transform the property.
But this week, the painters got on scaffolding and pried each nail from the nearly century-old wooden boards and gently took down the massive ads.
On Friday, as the team removed the two-story-tall Shell ad from the building, they labeled the planks and stacked them in a truck. They’ll be stored until a permanent home is found.
Another ad on the building — the Ward Soft Bun Bread sign — was removed Wednesday and taken to the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati by its founder.
More than 200 people have donated so far to find the ads a new home where they can preserved. The campaign has raised more than $12,800, but it has a goal of $20,000. The money will be used for removing, moving and storing the ads.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Kelsey McClellan, the sign painter who started the GoFundMe. “We’re just incredibly grateful and thankful of people just being interested in supporting. … We wouldn’t have been able to do this” without them.
The process is tedious yet exciting, and it’s been an opportunity to learn about Chicago’s advertisement history, McClellan said.
Neighbors flocked around the scaffolding Friday to look at the signs as they were removed from heir longtime home.
“I think it’s really sentimental to them because it’s a part of their neighborhood, and they’ve seen their neighborhood change so much,” McClellan said. “I think they’re thankful that part of that history is going to be preserved.”
People have come from around the United States to see the ghost signs, and they’ve been shared widely on social media.
Local experts dated the ads to the late 1920s and early ’30s. They were painted directly onto wood panels as opposed to the common practice of painting onto brick, adding to their rarity.
Local sign painter Bob Behounek previously said the Ward’s Soft Bun Bread sign on the building’s south end was the work of Jack Briggs, who was essentially the ambassador of all things outdoor advertising during this era in Chicago.
Briggs played a role in the Beverly Sign Company, which was at 7517 S. Halsted St. in Englewood. The company shaped the sign-painting industry nationwide, he said.
“Beverly Sign Company basically changed the course of sign design with some of the techniques that they were doing, [like] color combinations in the panelization,” he previously said. “They influenced signs across the country. That’s a legacy for Chicago.”
A six-story development is set to replace the two-flat, an 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.
The developers gave preservationists until Aug. 22 to try to save the signs.
McClellan and other sign painters teamed up on the rescue effort.
McClellan is taking inspiration from the preservation work of Chicago architect John Vinci, who helped save artifacts of legendary architect Louis Sullivan. She sees the ghost signs as a history lesson for Chicago, she previously said.
“It’s an interesting look into how people were able to build their lives in Chicago as immigrants and develop businesses and provide to the community,” McClellan said. “It’s kind of like uncovering a time capsule.”
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