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Book 'Fading Ads Of St. Louis' Showcases Unique Slice Of History

William Stage first noticed faded ads painted on brick walls back in the 1970s, when he pounded the St. Louis pavement as a public health officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Once you do begin to notice them, it’s contagious, you find more and more,” Stage said.

He began carrying around a camera to document the ads, and in 1989 published a book on the topic, “Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America.”

His most recent book on the topic, “Fading Ads of St. Louis,” focuses on the city where his fascination with wall ads first began. Stage also co-authored “The Painted Ad: A Postcard of Vintage Brick Wall Signs” with his daughter Margaret and posts a blog of the same name.

According to Stage, many of the signs he finds were preserved because they were covered up by new structures built around them. But because they are often exposed when buildings are torn down, the wall ads themselves may be destroyed soon after they are brought to light.

Signs painted on North-facing walls fared best, he added, because they were more protected from the sun. And the lead in the paint also helps the ads last.

“The lead paint has pigment in it that soaked into the brick, and the sign became part of the building,” Stage said.

His favorite ads are the politically incorrect ones, like a guy puffing on a cigar with copy reading “every puff a pleasure.”

Most signs were painted between the 1880s and 1950s, Stage said. After that time, the construction of the nation’s highways led to more billboards than wall ads.

Are you a neighborhood sleuth?

Listener Chris Smith found several wall ads while in the Carondelet neighborhood. He responded to our request for photos of local fading ads on the 'St. Louis City Talk'Facebook page.  We've posted two in the slideshow above.

Do you have photographs of wall ads from your neck of the woods? Share them on our Facebook page.

Related Event

William Stage Signing
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
7:00 p.m.
St. Louis Public Library's Schlafly Branch, 225 North Euclid Avenue
For more information, call 314)-367-4120 or visit the  St. Louis Public Library website.

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer, hosted bySteve Potter and funded in part by the the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.