Halloween is past but ghost signs linger in downtown Greensboro. These are signs for long-gone businesses that remain on buildings. Silver’s Five & Dime closed in the 1950s. Its sign remains faded but visible on the wall of its former building on the southwest corner of South Elm Street and West Washington.
One of my favorite signs is political. On a door along Lewis Street, just off South Elm Street across the railroad tracks, is bumper sticker. “Johnston Congress,” it reads.
It dates to either 1980, the year Eugene Johnston ran for and won the area’s congressional seat. Back then the city had only one congressional member. Now three congressional districts touch the city. Or the sign may date to 1982, when Johnston lost his seat. He never saw to regain it.
Yet another favorite, and only because I’m so old I can remember the business being there, is “Ellis Stone, ” a reminder of the old department store by that name. It’s one the south and east sides of the store’s former building that extends from the 200 block of South Elm Street to the 200 block of South Davie Street.
In 1949, Ellis Stone moved from a small storefront across the street to a huge department store structure especially built for it. Not long after that, Ellis Stone was bought by a Richmond, Va., chain and became Talhimer’s. In the 1970s, Talhimer’s vacated the building and moved to Friendly Shopping Center where it later became Hecht’s and now Macy’s. The building with the Ellis Stone sign is now the home of the Empire Room, a huge French style room for weddings and social events on what was the department store’s second floor. The downstairs includes Churchill’s, a martini bar. A large hotel is proposed for the site, with the Empire Room serving as the hotel’s ballroom.
There are others ghost signs, including Wade’s Dry Cleaners on South Elm Street. It has been gone at least since the 1960s. One of the most decrepit signs is next door, saying Gate City Auto Parts. It overhangs the back and is coated with rust.
Looking for ghost signs and other left- behind relics is fun. Former bank night deposit boxes remain on the Jefferson Standard (now Lincoln National), Southeastern Building and Guilford buildings. The banks, Security National, Bank of Greensboro and Guilford National Banks were devoured by mergers decades ago. Until a few years ago, at 338 N. Elm St. ,one could see tiles left from what was apparently an operating room of Wesley Long Hospital. The hospital occupied a brick building, with a solarium on the top floor, that extended at least 100 yards eastward from North Elm. After Wesley Long moved to its present site on Elam Avenue, near Friendly Shopping Center, in 1961, the hospital building was two-thirds demolished. The surviving one-third, the front portion, was greatly remodeled and today is an office building.
I’ll have more about ghost signs in future blogs.