A ghostly lumber company advertisement on a retaining wall near Myrtle Avenue in the Rail Yard District
Following the Great Fire of 1901, Jacksonville emerged as the hub of Florida’s commerce. During the transformation from a wood frame city to one built of concrete, brick and steel, buildings came to double as billboards for advertising. Facilitating this were the “wall dogs”, artists armed with brushes and lead paint who dangled off the side of buildings to paint the ads by hand. Made irrelevant by the increasing availability of neon signs, this form of advertising largely died out by the 1960s. Still, their durability meant that many survive even today across the urban core, serve as a lasting reminder of Jacksonville’s wall dogs and the artistic work they left behind from an era long gone bye. Here is a look into the story behind 15 ghost signs in and around the urban core.
1. Now student housing for Florida State College at Jacksonville, 20 West Adams Street was originally built in 1911 as the Southern Drug Company. Southern also found room to include a Coca-Cola sign on their 6-story facade.
2. With seven buildings of ten stories or more starting construction, changing the city’s skyline overnight, 1926 would become known as the year of the skyscraper. The tallest building constructed that year was the 18 floor Barnett National Bank Building. The Barnett Bank story began fifty years earlier on May 7, 1877, when William Boyd Barnett opened the Bank of Jacksonville. Barnett grew to become a Fortune 500 company before being acquired by Nations Bank in 1997. At the time, it was the largest banking merger in American history. 22 years after Barnett’s demise, the bank’s name still lives on.
3. In 1926, R.L. Jones developed this building to house his Standard Furniture Company business. In later years, Jones’ sons purchased their uncles’ competing Jones Furniture Company and merged the two companies together, forming one of the city’s largest family owned businesses. They kept the Jones Brothers name and continued operating out of the Hogan Street building. A plan to convert the seven floor, 39,000 square foot building into 28 apartment units along with a coffee shop at street level is now in the works.
4. The Ambassador Hotel originally opened in 1924 as 310 West Church Street Apartments, the first upscale apartments in downtown Jacksonville. In 1943, it was converted into a hotel by Charles Griner. By the time of its closure in 1998, it had become a crack house. Now this historic structure is in the process of being restored into a boutique hotel.
5. A recent effort to remove metal siding along a building completed in 1908 revealed the remains of a Lee & Cates Glass Company ghost sign in LaVilla’s former red light district.
6. Located at the intersection of West Adams and Hogan Streets, Furchgott’s was a six floor, 60,000 square foot Art Deco department store known for its designer departments. The talk of the town when it opened in 1941, the chain closed its flagship downtown store in spring 1984 before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in early 1985. Although the building has been largely vacant ever since, the ghost of Furchgott’s sign on Hogan Street can still be seen by the naked eye.
7. The Arnold Printing Company operated out of the second floor of the McMurray Livery, Sale & Transfer Company during the 1910s and 1920s.