signs and signage

Pride of place

Pride of place (Chicago), © 2014 Celia Her CityThe number of small businesses in Chicago is dizzying.  They line the long, unbending commercial streets, small fibers of a gargantuan economy.  Some are thriving and cheery; others ugly, halfhearted, even sinister.

This place, Lee’s Foreign Car Service, is a standout on the bland stretch of South Jefferson between Roosevelt Road and the Loop.  Regardless of what the service is like, the meticulous fusion of paint and signs on its exterior is impressive.

Acme factory

Acme factory

Driving around a strange city, Celia finds herself near the Acme factory.  Is this the place where all those Road Runner contraptions were made?  The opaque factory, with its peeling paint, unreadable purpose, and everyman name teases us to react, whether with curiosity, amusement, or self-righteous dismay.  Acme has the effrontery to operate in America, thriving on entropy, mystery, and decay.

Acme factory xray (Minneapolis), © 2013 Celia Her City

‘I should not be’

The octophant, © 2013 Celia Her City

You think you know Grant Park, and then. . . .

I was leaving the park the other day when I noticed this amazing sign, positioned atop the Art Nouveau-style entrance to the Metra train station at Van Buren.  Has it been there forever?  Perhaps my readers can say. . . .

The Octophant, proclaimed here as “real and alive,” was ostensibly an “exhibition of the impossible” at the Century of Progress, a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1933.

The sad melange of the animal form, coupled with the 3-D exuberance of the sign, produced a powerful effect on me.  I felt as though to descend into the Metra would be a venture into the surreal, a venture best undertaken by those far more stalwart and steady than I.

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A sewing-machine store

A sewing-machine store

I admire the old businesses that just keep going.  This sewing-machine store in Wicker Park was probably discovered by the young, do-it-yourself crowd just in time.

We write a lot about the dynamism of cities but less about the things in them that do not change.  The hoary businesses that go undusted for decades; the narrow buildings that are home to the same people for generations, that own their inhabitants from cradle to grave.  The old wooden doors locked and unlocked at the same time each day.

Mysterious diplomat

Mysterious diplomat

What was the past of the Diplomat Hotel?  Was it always run-down, precarious, disreputable, as it now looks to be?

The city is peppered with such mysterious hotels, looking like they would rather not be occupied, not for long at least.  Their mute faces will never spill their histories.  Too bad—they are probably more intrigue-laden than a Dashiell Hammett story.

The Diplomat, silent to the last, has since been gutted, though the facade is still there, with its world-weary sign.

Beneath the facade

Under the facade (Credit: Celia Her City)

This old building had been vacated and was in the early stages of a gut re-hab.  The businesses on the first floor had all been kicked out, and their facades and signs removed, revealing an old sign—’SURGICAL SUPPLIES – FINEST CUTLERY’—from an earlier time.

What would it have been like to step into that shop, say, a hundred years ago, with its glistening displays of knives and . . . saws?

The sign was visible only for a short period.  Whether it was thrown out, preserved, or papered over with today’s new sign, I do not know.  Sadly, the only picture I have of it is this poor one I took with my cell phone as I was rushing to an appointment.

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