Saturday, March 31, 2012

A few more ghost signs in the Melbourne 'burbs

Encountered whilst on bicycle:

Glenroy...rare example in a suburb where pickings are slim

Heidelberg Road, Westgarth: old dairy with a 'ghost window' bearing its trace of its former Kosherness (these days, it's nowhere near the Jewish part of town...looked at this place to buy a decade ago and was struck by the Magen David then)

Former milk bar, Maidstone

Former milk bar, West Footscray
Not strictly a ghost anything because this small deco tennis string factory is still working - but too cool to not include (it's in the backblocks of scrappy rundown Braybrook...facing an equally 'incongruously beautiful' river valley)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some more ghost signs and the like from around Melbourne

...taken at various times over the last month:
Side street off King Street, west CBD (not Collins)

Just down the road from our house, Reservoir

Lonsdale Street (?) CBD...surrounded by new development. More CBD ones follow:

The following are on Melville Road, Coburg and Brunswick:

Here's one in Parkville

 ..and one in Kensington, near the river

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Reynard Street shuffle: tea wars, the validity of 70s signs, and being attracted to ghost signs in a time of change

This afternoon on the way home I took twenty minutes to take a few snaps along Reynard Street, West Coburg, an understated area with quite a concentration of small ghost signs, including the Robur Tea sign snapped a month or so ago. (I wonder why it had so many shops selling groceries? Was evidently quite the shopping centre in its day)

Down the end near Melville Road is the Gilmours Milk sign:

Further down, the Bushells Tea sign:

Further down the road, the branding of Lipton Tea on another old grocer's shop:

In between is the Robur Tea sign previously cited:

Space must have been fiercely contested by the tea companies, and loyalties protected, like football teams. From what people tell me who remember it, Robur was the cheap tea. I'm extrapolating (somewhat wildly) here that Liptons would have been the middle choice - reliable and solid. And Bushell's would have been the expensive, classier option. You can see this in (or read this into!) the signs: the Bushells signs were large and ornate, the Robur signs basic, prosaic and in smaller spaces. And Lipton, it seemed, owned their host (like the milk bars festooned with Cadbury's signs, as seen in the Lewis & Skinner records). This was unlike the others that took up side walls and odd spots.

So, more snaps on Reynard Street:

Next to the Lipton sign, the rest of an old Tarax window.

A covered sign a little way down the road, put there to frustrate sign nerds like me. And lastly:

One from the 1970s and/or 1980s, depicting newspapers and magazines and the other side of the Robur sign. As postulated in the last post, not quite as romance-inducing as the older signs, and therefore subject to the ghost sign 'law of age'?

One extra thing. I'm living through a time when my workplace is going through upheaval and uncertainty. Today, walking down Reynard Street with the afternoon autumn sun out, I realised that this exploration of dead worlds has been quite a source of comfort and succour of late, whether of the Aust Radio Productions story, the Lewis & Skinner records, or my ghost sign-driven urban wanderings in general. I think there are two things here: in an era of constant change, it's somehow comforting to see things that have simply been left alone to be - not revitalised, added to, transformed or augmented. Just left to lie and be. I love the city for its dynamism and movement, but also yearn at times for an anchoring constancy in my environment, and especially when change is all around.

Granted, the signs that are left are often the result of what can be seen as slackness or neglect over many years. But I resonate with that too, that element of unfinished business and letting things go, of not caring or wanting to 'make things better'. Sometimes things are fine as they are, and we may not see how fine for a long time. Perhaps here's the difference between the 'left alone' and the 'lovingly preserved' (see two posts back).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Two more signs encountered today in Franklin Street Melbourne

Two more signs from today. I found another question too: how old does a sign have to be to qualify as a 'ghost sign'?

I saw a number of signs today that I didn't take a pic of. Would a sign from the 1970s cut it? The 1980s? Perhaps increasingly less so. The miracle of its survival is possibly less miraculous the younger it is, not only for the likelihood of it being painted over or its host wall destroyed, but also in the hardiness of the paint itself. And the pull of retrostalgia is less magnetic the younger it is. Also, there's the aesthetic element again - the older signs are often prettier: more care taken, more ornate etc. As per the letterheads on the Lewis & Skinner invoices.

Urban archaeology's time (and how it relates to intentionally conjured ghost signs)

Traces of the urban past are becoming increasingly fashionable it seems. Industrial is chic, deco is in and as we all grow older in complex, confused and confusing times, the post-war era is rapidly acquiring the shiny patina of nostalgia in a glow that combines the mysterious and far-away with the familiar and comforting.

Is it right to assign the name 'ghost sign' to something that has been deliberately disinterred? Where the traces of yesterday, accidentally preserved elsewhere, merge with retrostalgic acts of preservation? I guess peeling back layers of paint and preserving a formerly superseded image, as in below, is a kind of archaeological kindness, a kiss of life for the formerly dead and buried.

Today I found and snapped the two shops below. The first shopfront, now a French pâtisserie, is fittingly located opposite the cemetery in Nicholson Street, Carlton. The second - the remains of the milkshake - is also in Carlton and is also a café. (The kids hanging out in the pic are my two. They would have have loved the shop's former offerings):

And then there was a visit to Sydney recently, where we stumbled on the Paddington Reservoir Gardens, a park built around and amongst the ruins of a 19th century reservoir:

These three urban interventions are all in old, inner-city, upmarket locales. And hence, a certain well-fed aesthetic about the past comes into play. Their concern is, indeed, largely with the aesthetic. (A caveat added later: I don't mean to imply that a concern with aesthetics is a shallow one. As my partner, a designer, pointed out, the same emotional pull that draws people to the aesthetics of these traces is the one that draws me in too).

Certainly it's better to have these traces around than not.  But it makes me wonder: how much of the power of ghost signs is in their ephemerality, in their tenacious sticking around for decades even when they were marked with death, intended to be temporary? If you seek out the ghost, will it still haunt you the way it does when it finds you? Or does it turn into a pretty ornament, a pet? Is this the point that memory, as embodied lived experience, turns into history, a repackaged commodification of the past that lives in the present as a disembodied product? There is little connection between the current park in fashionable Paddington, in all its architectural clean lines and artsy quotes rendered in moss and steel,  and the reservoir's former crucial survival role in more gritty Victorian times as a place to store and distribute much-needed water. Nor between the French eatery and the prosaic reasons for the signs' existence: to sell product. The mass marketing of their time, something that has become very clear to me as I pored through the Lewis & Skinner records.