Ghost signs, the historic ads for businesses that vanished decades ago, are always a surprise when spotted in Brooklyn and Uptown and Downtown Manhattan. While it’s usually clear to see what these signs once advertised, sometimes the message can be a bit obscured. These puzzling messages may be partially covered by new construction or faded from years of exposure to the elements. Others are a downright mystery, such as the ghost sign of Dora’s Bakery in Williamsburg which someone turned into a giant letter tiles puzzle. Here, we decode 10 of NYC’s puzzling and partially obscured ghost signs:
1. Avenue A Street Sign, 1458 York Avenue
New Yorkers know Avenue A as the busy East Village destination that runs from Houston Street to 14th Street and borders Tompkins Square Park. Avenue A, once a spot for young parents shopping for children’s clothing, carriages and toys, is today lined with bars and restaurants. Yet engraved on the facade of Public School 158, three miles north on York Avenue, is an Avenue A street sign.
When Manhattan’s street grid was established in 1811, Avenue A was one of four lettered avenues for smaller sections east of First Avenue. Until the early 20th century Avenue A also ran through the Upper East Side. When it was built in the 1890s P.S. 158, between 77th and 78th Streets, was on Avenue A. In 1928 the uptown section of Avenue A was renamed York Avenue in honor of World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York.