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October 16, 2017

Local ‘ghost signs' may get preservation funds

Journal Staff Reporter

Photo by Rick Wong [enlarge]
The Chinatown-International District BIA is vying for a $150,000 grant to restore up to six old signs in the neighborhood.

The old sign on the Republic Building near Seventh Avenue South and South Jackson Street in the Chinatown-International District beckons passersby with the promise of chop suey, chow mein and dancing.

It's a precursor to modern billboards, and reflects the history of the area.

The Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area wants to save some of these so-called “ghost signs” in the neighborhood. So it is vying for a $150,000 grant to restore up to six signs as part of Partners in Preservation: Main Streets campaign.

The campaign was launched recently by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in collaboration with Main Street America. In a press release, the groups said the campaign will award $2 million for historic sites across the U.S.

About 25 sites are vying for funding, and the public will help decide who gets it.

You can weigh in through Oct. 31 at VoteYourMainStreet.org. Among the sites are the Formosa Cafe in Los Angeles and the historic Alabama Theater in Birmingham, Alabama.

Winners will be announced Nov. 2.

A 2013 research project by Seattle University students, under the direction of Marie Wong, found 200 hand-painted ghost signs on buildings in Pioneer Square and the Chinatown/ID neighborhoods. The signs are reminders of a time when companies, products and services — from coffee to hair cuts — were heralded on buildings. They usually were placed high and written large so pedestrians and the growing number of motorists in the early 1900s could see them.

Monisha Singh, events and programs manager, for the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, said her organization has identified ghost signs it wants to restore if it gets the $150,000.

She said those signs are not blocked by other buildings, in good enough condition and are located in heavily trafficked areas.

With Seattle changing so fast, especially in the last few years, Singh said it is important to preserve elements that identify neighborhoods, such as these signs. They reflect the past and the people who once lived in the Chinatown-International District, she said.

“It's really up to us to preserve these snippets of history,” she said.

Singh said funding would be used to hire an artist to restore the signs, rent equipment such as scaffolding and apply for permits. Work could start next year.

Since 2006, Partners in Preservation has awarded over $19 million for more than 200 sites across the country.

Each of the groups vying this year received a grant of $20,000 for marketing their project.


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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