Ghost Signs, Bygone Ads Painted on Buildings, Are Fading Away—Should We Let Them?

Celebrating the old timey advertising and the character it brings to cities before it disappears

Collage of ghost signs
There's debate among artists and designers about whether to restore ghost signs or leave them alone. Courtesy of Nikki Villagomez, Amber Thompson, Tobias Frere-Jones

Take a walk through any city, and you’ll spot bygone advertising on buildings, walls and in alleys. Usually, you’ll come across it when a building’s outer wall sees sunlight for the first time in decades when a building next door gets torn down. It might be the name of the hardware store that used to be there, or hotel, or seafood restaurant, or restaurant near a hotel.

Jason Tselentis is an associate professor of design at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.