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Austin's Painted Advertising

By Austin Explorer

Compared to many cities, Austin is a relative newcomer. Its infancy coupled with a forward looking mindset means that the signs of the past are few and far between, all things considered. Signs of the past can be found here and there in the faded paint specs that cover the brick walls of some of the older business edifices in Austin. Blasted by the Sun for decades, at times they only offer a small clue about the people and businesses that once worked here.

The Grove Drugstore on 6th used to go by another name.
Grove Drugstore on 6th Street was an Austin landmark for many years. It's lighted facade was a novelty in its day and drew a crowd. However the drugstore's history goes back further than when Vernon Grove bought the business in 1933. The Morley Brothers set up shop at this location in 1871. By 1933 painted brick signage must have been passe since Grove left the signage that is still visible today from the street. One can still make out
Grove didn't paint over the old Morley sign up front, but he did have this painted at the back of the building.
the name, "Morley Bros. Drug Store", and at least one of their products listed below, oils. There is a similar sign on the opposite side of the building that is harder to see because the adjoining building is taller that its neighbor on this side.

4th was the place to go for fine writing materials in the past.
West 4th street has started to become a entertainment district in the last few years. Several clubs and coffee shops now inhabit the area that was once dominated by small businesses, several of which seemed dedicated to provided services for other businesses. Within a couple of blocks of this location lies Miller Blueprint, evoking the possibility that this area was once a center for printing in Austin. The building hosting this old sign at 4th and Colorado now houses non-descript offices.

There is a long history of furniture sales at Congress and Riverside.
On the corner of Congress and Riverside sits a curiously placed building separated from the street only by a sidewalk. This placement and the look of the structure provides some evidence that it has some history behind it. We actually found more than one interesting sign attached to this building, two paintings and one neon sign that we'll highlight on another page. The building's main occupant is the Casual Living furniture store. Long time Austin residents might know this area better as the Tropic Shop furniture store that sold tropical, wicker and rattan furniture from this location for many years. The sign on the western wall has not been used in ages and it has deteriorated to the point that several layers of paint are being eroded away exposing older ads beneath it. Some of the words that can be made out from top to bottom include, "Casual Living" (inspiration for the current business' name perhaps?), "Furniture", "Outdoor Furniture" and "Manufacturers of DEN - PATIO - LIVING ROOM FURNITURE".

Badly faded, but a sign remains of the Southwest Body Works that used to do business here.
On the north side of the building that houses the old Tropic Shop is office space that currently is in use by a union. On top of the building is an imposing billboard which draws the attention of many driving south on Congress Avenue. If you look below the billboard, just below the roof line of the building you can see the badly faded ad of a business long since gone. Upon first seeing it we though that its secrets might never be revealed without some background research. But after concentrating for a few moments the words, "Body Works" could be discerned on the right side of the sign. The first word is not only faded, but it's also half removed. Some damage must have been done to the building in the past after the sign was in place and the replacement brick, lighter than the original, prevents further identification. A photo from a book about Austin included a shot of a building when the Colorado River flooded probably in 1935. It was this building and the top of it clearly showed the name, "Southwest Body Works". Mystery solved!

Layers of paint on Congress indicate a changed downtown.
Oscar Snowden's on Congress had been selling appliances for decades before closing in 2001. The building at 413 Congress where is resided contains the signs of previous use though the exact nature of that use is partially hidden by the faded paint on the southern wall. This large area contains several ads that were placed there at different times. The latest application appears in the upper left corner of the rectangle that uses lighter paint. It appears to include the name "Yarings" at the top, consistent with the Yarings clothing store that used to do business downtown. The larger area that was painted before the Yarings
Oscar Snowden leaves its own mark behind.
sign is harder to decipher, though a few hints remain. Prominent among the lettering is the five cents wording that probably indicates the price a cigar. Five cent cigar signs were very common in Austin and other cities in the early part of the 20th century. "Biscuit" is also visible. Some additional research about the businesses that resided here in the past might be able to fill in some of the blanks.

The wall at Oscar Snowdens also includes a more modern sign used to point customers to the company's parking spaces. It's been kept up over the years, though we suspect that since Oscar Snowdens has closed on Congress this sign will follow in the footsteps of its earlier siblings and being to fade away under the intense central Texas Sun.

Sources: Austin, by Richard Zelade

Photos

Cothrons Cothron's Key and Lock used to be known as Cothron's Key and Bike. The sign in the back was never fully changed, with the word "Bike" simply painted over. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Central Homegoods This home furnishings store has been here for only a year. They achieved a lived in appearance due to some masterly applied painted advertising. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Maxey Glass Maxey Glass, Inc. at 305 East 5th Street continues to operate to this day. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Austin Builders Supply Austin Builders Supply near 5th Street and Shoal Creek does not appear to be in business any longer. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Capital Bearing Service Capital Bearing Service. (Photo by Austin Explorer) What One one side of the Capital Bearing Building lies this unreadable painted sign. Anyone care to guess? (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Austin Motel The Austin Motel has been open on South Congress since 1938. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Ice Cream This bulding sits across the street from the old Austin High School Building. The ice cream must have been a favorite decades ago. (Photo by Austin Explorer) Schneider Store The Schneider general store operated until the 1930's next to what is now the CSC Building. The paint must have been touched up since then. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
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