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  • "Letters from Florida"

    Ghost Sign Appears in
    Downtown St. Petersburg

    The Architectural Tattoo as Historic Relic

    by Rufus St. Claire
    TE Photos, August 2012
    St. Petersburg, Florida - Millinery, Confectionery Ghost Sign
    The Brothers Ermatinger point to their grandfather's name.

    The 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.

    St. Petersburg, Florida - Millinery, Confectionery Ghost Sign

    Tom, John and Lois Ermatinger

    Although the 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.

    Soon 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.)

    St. Petersburg, Florida - Millinery Ghost Sign

    Detail

    St. Petersburg, Florida - Confectionery Ghost Sign

    Wisteria Prefered Chocolates

    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.”

    Our thanks 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.
    St. Petersburg, Florida - Augusta Block
    Paving bricks in the rear alley reveal another untold historic story.

    August 13 , 2012
    © John Troesser

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