Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Signs out of time

One of the commenters on last week's post about the ill-judged (and hopefully stillborn) Q on Taranaki development noted that what he or she would miss most about the old Murdoch factory is "the very cool icing sugar advertisment in very faded paint on the north side ... that, along with the Champion Spark plug mural in Vivian Street are my two favorite signs in town". That got me thinking about these old painted signs, and the connection they give us to the not-so-distant, yet already nostalgic, past. Perhaps the unexpected survival of what was intended to be ephemeral, combined with the often ghostly appearance of the washed-out and peeling paint, adds to their emotional impact.

They're even more vulnerable than the heritage buildings themselves, since all it takes is a coat of paint or a new billboard and they'll be gone. So, here's a quick photo-essay on the antique advertising of Te Aro, before any more disappear.

Old signs in Wellington - Murdoch's, Taranaki St"Murdoch's Icing Sugar, Spices & Pickles", near the corner of Taranaki and Frederick streets.

Old signs in Wellington - Watkins, Vivian StThe Watkins building, on the corner of Vivian and Cuba streets. You should be able to work out the name of printers L. T. Watkins, as well as the ads for tyres, batteries and spark plugs.

Old signs in Wellington - Laundrette, Abel Smith StA slightly more recent, though still dated-looking, laundrette sign on Abel Smith St near Cuba St.

Old signs in Wellington - Memory Lane, Ghuznee StSome much more recent signage in Ghuznee St, between Cuba and Leeds St. It probably doesn't count as an "antique sign", but I like the irony of the "Memory Lane" antique shop itself becoming a memory. Just above it, you can just make out a painted-over sign for the "Casa Nova", one of a long string of massage parlours in this building.

Old signs in Wellington - Cadbury, Ghuznee StA very faded Cadbury's ad in Ghuznee St, nearly opposite Glover Park. It looks like one of the oldest examples, but does anyone know when this was originally painted?


At 6:35 pm, January 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think from memory the building was constructed for Cadbury's, around 1909, or else they moved in soon after that, can't remember for sure. It could well be the oldest painted sign left in Wellington. Presumably someone expert in design/advertising history would be able to give an approximate date - is any such person out there?
I've noticed a painted sign on the Mayfair Hotel next to the front door, though only from across the road, so not sure if this is authentic. Another one appeared when the Paramount was renovated, but alas it was painted over before long.
On a related note, one sign or perhaps more appropriately, piece of grafitti, I'd like to see stick around is the 'Will Tobias' on the Moran building now on the corner of Cuba St and Karo Drive. It used to say 'Will Tobias Defect' (the last word was on the pavement) and referred to the question of whether the only black player (I think his name was Errol Tobias) in the Spring Bok's rugby team would defect to NZ in 1981. In my ignorance, I used to think Will Tobias was the name of some joker who saw fit to leave his mark in Te Aro, so it was really nice to learn about it's true meaning. But, maybe it won't be pretty enough for Karo Drive.

At 2:48 pm, January 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Thanks a lot for the info: I know the Cadbury's sign looked old, but chocolate advertising often plays on nostalgia, so I wasn't sure whether it was really that old. The council's heritage inventory has some useful info about the building, but doesn't mention the painted sign.

And thanks also for the "Will Tobias" story: I'd also assumed that it was someone's name! There are a few graffiti still around that date from that era, and it would be great to collate all their stories somewhere.

At 8:36 am, January 24, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

Nice shot of the laundrette. I was remarking the other day how all laundrette signs seem to have been created in the 1960s.

On a recent trip to Rotorua I noticed a large number of the older motels still have their original 1960/70s signs. Looking at these signs lining "the strip" (Fenton St) it really did look like Roto-Vegas.

At 9:03 pm, January 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you see the sign on the old deka building? underneath the new cladding, there's painted signs for old businesses e.g electricians, plumbing, builders... looking authentic 50s, and glossy like new.

At 10:52 pm, January 24, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

There is a bit of hidden history under the layers of signs, awnings and hoardings... it gets revealed from time to time (for example, and trivially, here).

At 9:19 am, January 25, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Brenda: yes, I think I saw those, but only after they'd been painted over. You could just see the signs as raised outlines in the paint.

Alan: I always love it when old signs get revealed, or old ones are left as a kind of palimpsest of the recent past. There are some great examples around Te Aro.

At 4:11 pm, January 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear the signs on the Watkins building are threatened by gentrification! if so it would be a dam shame, probably the best and most visible signs of their type left in Wellington...


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