Do you know what a ghost sign is?

Lauren Fox

Ghost Signs
Photography by Katie Henrichs

1. Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company Corner of N. Sixth Street and Sandusky Avenue in KCK

“Why not Takhoma Biscuit?” asks a ghost sign in Kansas City, Kansas. Why not, indeed. At only five cents a package, it’s a great deal. Large advertisements for the former Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company are painted on the north and south sides of a building in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood now occupied by OG Cutz Barber Shop and Tarahumaras Mexican Restaurant.

Matt Tomasic, owner of the building, says that when he purchased it about twenty years ago, he removed the faux stone facade that had covered the building since the late 1940s. Underneath, he discovered faint outlines of advertisements. Tomasic’s brother, an anthropologist, found images of buildings in Chicago and New York with the exact same advertisements. Tomasic hired a local artist to repaint the ghost sign.

“I love history,” he says. “It’s how it looked a hundred and twenty years ago. It’s supposed to be there.”

According to records from the Kansas City Public Library, Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company was formed in 1902 by John Wiles and John and Jacob Loose, namesakes of Loose Park. The company changed its name to the Sunshine Biscuit Company in 1947. It was later acquired by the Keebler Company.

2. Westhaven Hotel Broadway between W. 75th Street and W. 74th Terrace in KCMO

Photography by Katie Henrichs

History has almost faded off the side of a building in Waldo. But in the right light, you can make out the remnants of a sign for Westhaven Hotel, which once occupied the second floor of the building that now houses Waldo Pizza. The Westhaven Hotel opened in 1926, according to local writer LaDene Morton. Morton, author of The Waldo Story: The Home of Friendly Merchants, said the hotel had both permanent and short-term guests during its existence. It also served as a regular community gathering space. Morton found newspaper notices advertising meetings at the Westhaven Hotel for a local elementary school PTA, a Republican club and a citizens’ group petitioning for the extension of the bus line to 75th and Wornall.

At the end of its run, Westhaven Hotel functioned as long-term, single-occupancy housing. Jim Birt, the former owner of the building, said the space had about two dozen bedrooms and a common space for the residents. The basement was rumored to have been a speakeasy. The Westhaven closed its doors in 1991.

3. Linden Pharmacy Corner of Westport Road and Bell Street in KCMO

Photography by Katie Henrichs

The past meets the present in Mid-town. Café Corazón, a coffee shop on Westport Road, kept the ghost sign for Linden Pharmacy on the side of their building while adding a mural that celebrates Latin American culture.

The history of Linden Pharmacy is unknown—some ghost signs remain mysterious. Dan Weindling has owned the building since 1978. When he purchased it, it was a bike shop. Miel Castagna-Herrera, co-owner of the cafe, said they wanted to add something that would speak to their business: “The idea wasn’t to cover it, but to show new history.”

The ghost sign is white, a stark contrast to the bright colors that represent Latin American culture below it. According to the cafe’s website, artists Rodrigo Alvarez and Isaac Tapia sought to paint a portrait representing the strength of people from different Latin American countries who have found a home in Kansas City. In the new mural, the turquoise foreground on the left is the skyline of Kansas City, with the dark blue skyline of Mexico City behind it.

Similarly, the foreground on the right shows the dark blue skyline of Buenos Aires with the turquoise skyline of Asunción behind it. In the middle, Frida Khalo is surrounded by the respective national flowers of Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay and Mexico.

4. Abernathy Furniture Co. Corner of W. Ninth Street and Wyoming Street in KCMO

Photography by Katie Henrichs

Kansas City’s West Bottoms is a hot spot for ghost signs. On W. Ninth Street are signs for a company so old it was established while Kansas was still a territory. According to records from the Kansas City Public Library, Abernathy Furniture Company was founded in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1856 and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1878. Throughout its existence, the company amassed eight buildings that totaled more than 300,000 square feet.

Abernathy Furniture Company came to an end in 1950, when it was acquired by another furniture company. The Kansas Museum of History in Topeka has a few pieces of furniture from Abernathy Furniture Company, including an oak sofa bed, maple crib and office chair. Today, “Abernathy” is the name for a new apartment building in the West Bottoms.

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