Ghost Signs Reveal a Slice of Skokie's History
Demolition brings hidden, vintage advertisements back onto the light of day.
Ever heard of Pagliacci Pizza? What about Westpoint Pharmacy? Or the Allen Lee TV Radio Phono Hi-Fi repair shop?
The Skokie businesses are faded memories--casualties of changes over the years. But the recent demolition of a run-down strip mall uncovered the colorful ghost signs that revealed a slice of the village's history.
For motorists heading west on Dempster Street, just pass Niles Center Road, it is hard to miss the slightly faded eye-catching signs.
The five-panel display is painted on the side of a one-story brick building, on the northeastern corner of Dempster and Bronx Avenue. Besides the three mentioned earlier, one advertises Davis Cleaners Shirt Launderers and another pitches the Dempster Kosher Meat Market. Above them in big white letters is a sign that reads "Free Customer Parking In Rear."
There's still free parking at the rear of the building, but nowadays customer traffic is generated by a Western Union branch, not shoppers of the long shuttered butcher or other former neighbors.
While there is no formal research tracing the history of the recently uncovered signs, Amanda Hanson, supervisor of the Skokie Heritage Museum, said they "might be a good source of nostalgia" for residents interested in learning what the village was like during the 1950s and 1960s.
Hanson, who co-authored Skokie: Images of America with lawyer Richard Witry, said since four of the signs still showed the exchange name format used to dial a telephone number, the businesses "most likely" existed in the '50s and '60s.
In many major U.S. cities, including Chicago, the 2L-5D format--two letters and five digits--was the customary way of placing a call. For instance, the vintage sign for Westpoint Pharmacy shows its phone number as OR-6-2535--with the "OR" being an abbreviation for ORCHARD.
"Skokie was developing into a suburb and the population grew and a lot more business were there," Hanson said about the signs being a window to Skokie's past.
What about the offer of S&H Green Stamps advertised by Westpoint Pharmacy?
The reward stamps, also called Green Shield Stamps, were issued by the Sperry and Hutchinson Co. to merchants. In turn, retailers gave them to customers to redeem for products. The stamps, popular until the 1980s, were issued as bonuses to shoppers based on the dollar amount of their purchase.
Like finding an old S&H Green Stamps catalog, information on the signs' sponsors is just as rare. At least a half century had passed before the ghost signs were rediscovered. So where are the businesses now?
The extensive archives of the Skokie Historical Society, housed at the heritage museum at 8031 Floral Ave., did not reveal much information. But a 1955 phone book among its collection confirmed that the other businesses did exist.
Davis Cleaners is the only survivor, and long ago moved to its present location at 4047 Dempster St.
A cursory Internet search revealed that Westpoint Pharmacy was owned by a Mr. Tucker and two partners, who included Louis Maniates, a Skokie resident of Greek ancestry who died in 1985 at the age of 70.
However, no information was available about the Allen Lee electronics repair shop.
A search about Pagliacci Pizzeria reveals that a pizza chain of the same name exists in the Seattle area. A web posting had this comment by a Junior Burger at www.roadfood.com: "Oddo's Pagliacci pizza, Skokie, Dempster and Bronx, first pizza I ever had, thin crust, with burnt edges, loved it. "
Dempster Kosher Meat Market is gone. But right across the street is Kaufmann Bagel and Deli, which has been in business since 1955, obviously outlasting its competitor.