Faded signs move me. With faded as the operative word, let’s see who that is coming down the road:
When I worked for the United Farm Workers, I spent a great deal of time in the Imperial Valley. My friend Gabby from Wisconsin was down there a lot too. The county seat of Imperial County s El Centro.
When I started going to the Imperial Valley in 1972, El Centro didn’t look all that different than this postcard. At least to my young romantic imagination it did not. A little north was Brawley.
Brawley’s City Hall looked pretty much like this. Do you get the picture? And do you wonder why I mention any of this? Be patient.
Over the years I got to know and like Oren Fox, long-time Imperial County Sheriff.
He was older than this when I knew him. We usually talked business – judges and sheriffs and temporary restraining orders and contempt of court and preliminary injunctions and lawyers and lettuce – but once in a while he’d soften up and reminisce. He would tell stories about the 1961 lettuce strike – before the United Farm Workers – and stories he had heard about strikes in 1928 and 1934, about the never-prosecuted theories about the fire that destroyed the Barbara Worth Hotel in January 1962, and about the Brenda Sue Sayers murder in Brawley in 1965.
He really softened up when we started to talk about music and the fact that I could hold my own talking about the Maddox Brothers and Sister Rose, Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies, the Hi Flyers, the Mayfield Brothers, the Light Crust Doughboys, Moon Mulligan etc. helped.
He told me stories of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys coming through El Centro and Brawley in the 1940s, stopping to play for a dance on their way to Los Angeles. So there it is:
United Farm Workers →
Imperial Valley →
Sheriff Fox →
Stories of Bob Wills →
Playing “Faded Love” →
Makes me think of faded signs →
Without further ado, to the signs. First place for faded sign of business no longer in operation goes to …. we have a tie. First, on Rose just above Oxford is the former Hundrick Grocery. It once looked like this:
For my first 20 years in Berkeley it looked like this and perfectly fit this category:
And then they did a huge rehab of the property. I fantasized that an intact 1940s grocery store was behind the boarded-up exterior. Nope. Just a very old building. It ended up like this:
And say with me – “Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant.” I know – the Rose Grocery doesn’t really fit the category because it isn’t really still there. But great old faded signs while they were there.
Tied with the Rose Grocery for first place on faded signs is Iceland at 2727 Milvia. What a set of signs!
You see the fadiing sign and you think of what it was here:
Nice job Sports Basement! Very quirky.
There is a corner grocery store, a bodega, on the southwest corner of Sixth and Camelia.
They are rehabbing the building. The grocery store is open. It appears to me now, in the fall of 2014, that the signs are being painted over. Sic transit gloria. It appears to me further now, in the late fall of 2014, that the signs have been painted over. Too bad.
Sticking with grocery stores for another minute, on 9th Street a block south of University is a former grocery store with a former, faded sign on the side.
Nehi you ask? Pronounced, by the way- “Knee High.” It was a soft drink introduced by Chero-Cola in 1924. It was Very Big in the 1940s. Your Favorite Drink in Your Favorite Bottle!
I have a certain weakness for roadside vernacular architecture and apologize if the photos of the giant Nehi bottle in Alabama bore you. In 1955 Nehi rebranded as Royal Crown.
RC was their most popular brand. Nehi is now a Dr. Pepper / Snapple company. I can’t really follow exactly how they got there – something about Cadbury Schweppes and then Dr. Pepper? Not necessary to know exactly how here, so – moving on…
Why Nehi pronounced “knee high?” Early advertisements often featured a woman with her skirt knee high.
They dispensed their sods from vending machines that looked like this:
There was one in Christmas Cove, the resort end of Rutherford Island in Maine. We spent a few weeks each summer in South Bristol, the lobstering end of the island. My sister and I took swimming and tennis and sailing lessons at the Christmas Cove Improvement Association. On hot August days I’d buy a soda. You put in a dime and slid the drink you wanted down to end of a rack holding the bottles and pull up.
I remember the grape soda. And – I swear to God – there is a point to this story. In December 2011 I had a few Very Bad days in critical care at Alta Bates. I was on a respirator and sedated. I was more asleep than awake the whole time, and certainly closer to the other side than I wanted to be, although that was never a conscious thought. In my effort to find peace and calm, I thought of every detail I could of my boy days in Maine. And in that effort I fixated on the Nehi grape soda. I promised myself I’d have a grape soda that summer. I did, on our porch on Vashon.
World record digression! Time to catch up though on signs. Speed round:
Addison has several:
There is a spectacular mural on the Alcatraz side of the closed liquor store at Alcatraz and Sacramento. I will post it soon with other murals. On the Sacramento side, the faded glory:
There are several ghost signs – what a great term! on University, speaking to hotels and office buildings of the past.
I know that there are more. I haven’t walkedShattuck yet, and there will be a big bunch from there. Think of this as a down payment on the idea of signs of the past. And let’s finish big. On San Pablo, a reminder that Union-Made used to Mean-Something:
And on Murray Street, behind Urban Ore, is the Hygenic Dog Food buildling, now housing artists of the Wild West Berkeley variety.
What a sign!
As I said very recently, this is a down payment. More to come.
I showed these photos to my friend. He got pensive about the early Imperial Valley digression. “I miss those days,” he said. “I remember breakfasts at the De Anza Hotel in Calexico with Gabby. He’d have melon and tea.”
Yes, he did. I steered my friend back to the photos. What did he think of all the faded signs?