Downtown St. Petersburg
Tattoo as Historic Relic
by Rufus St. Claire
TE Photos, August 2012
Brothers Ermatinger point to their grandfather's name.
discovery of a “new” ghost sign is to a signage appreciator what
the discovery of a vintage car hidden in a barn is to a collector.
Numbed by the onslaught of signage one is subjected to every day,
it’s a wonder this one was noticed at all, let alone, being featured
“above the fold” of the local newspaper (albeit the local section).
Painted on the side wall of what is currently the Central Coffee
Shoppe, this sign dates to the late 20s or early thirties. It was
an era when a woman might receive a box of “Wisteria Candies” from
a natty suitor in a Panama hat.
Just cattycorner from St. Petersburg’s 1929 Kress building (in great
shape, by the way), the sign had been hidden behind a neighboring
building – that has just been demolished.
Tom, John and Lois Ermatinger found out about the sign when their
phones started “ringing off the hook” (a fittingly antiquated phrase).
Observant friends and clients (Lois is a realtor) recognized the
brother’s surname on the sign's photo in the paper.
Could they be related? They could. They are.
Tom, John and
brothers (native St. Petersburghers) were well aware that their
grandfather had been in the clothing business at a nearby downtown
address, they were unaware he had once been at this address.
It was like discovering a new photo in the family album.
Our personal visit to the sign was delayed for various reasons and
it wasn’t until dusk when we finally got there. Serendipitously,
we found the brothers (and John’s wife Lois) in the act of recording
the appearance digitally. If it wasn’t for the brothers pointing
to the sign, they may have gone unrecognized as just enthusiastic
ghost sign aficionados.
the new structure will rise and once again the sign will be hidden
from view. Like a meteor shower, it was a brief appearance. The
sign’s “day in the sun” will indeed be measured in diurnal units.
Here and gone. But in the age of the Internet, it’s appearance has
at least been noted and preserved. (Maybe there are legions of people
worldwide researching Wisteria confectionaries.)
| A similar appearance
of a sign occurred in Hot Springs, Arkansas in the late 1990s when
a fire destroyed a building there. A sign for Owl Cigars that filled
the entire wall of a neighboring building was, due to use of leaded
paint, as bright as the day it was painted. Today it adds quaintness
to Hot Springs even as people question its authenticity due to the
vibrant color. Although the sign is a pristine example of its ilk,
sadly, it missed being included in the book “Ghost Signs of Arkansas.”
Yes, there really are book on Ghost Signs.
The salvage operation and razing of the building next door (last incarnation
as a Jazz club, so we were told) has closed the Central Coffee Shoppe
temporarily. Before long, things will be back to normal and the breakfast
conversation might occasional drift to “the day the sign appeared.”
| Paving bricks
in the rear alley reveal another untold historic story.
to Tom, John and Lois for sharing their story. It was our first
experience in meeting native-born St. Petersburgers (if that’s the
official designation) and from their candor and friendliness – we
feel St. Petersburg should do all that it can to produce more natives.
August 13 , 2012