San Francisco

San Francisco Ghost Signs: A Tour of SF's Historical Advertisements (PHOTOS)

San Francisco is a city with history. And while the Wild West and the Gold Rush may be over (and possibly even our iconic bars, too) our streets still feature one reminder of the good old days: ghost signs.

Whether it’s a Levi Sign hand-painted on the side of the first factory site in the 1870s or an advertisement for room rentals peaking at 35 cents a night (including a free bath!), the presence of the past permeates this city.

Our friends over at local ad agency Traction are on a mission to compile a Google map of all the ghost signs in the city.


These hand-painted advertisements can be found haunting the city in side alleys, under modern signs and on Market Street. Said signs were used as permanent and bold advertisements from the 1890s to the 1960s, and were most common in the decade before the Great Depression, a period when consumer culture was reaching an unrestricted peak. And, while California remains a consumer culture, our current paper and ink advertisements will be hard-pressed to survive another century.

So why keep these vintage signs around? Nostalgia? Indifference? Aesthetic? We don’t know, and we don’t care: They help make San Francisco what it is today. So put down your iPhone and take look around the city.

Scroll through our slideshow below to see some of the best ghost signs our city has to offer, courtesy of Traction's Kasey Smith. Recognize a few? Let us know where they are in the comments section:


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