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Raleigh’s Forgotten Painted Ads [Updated]

Side Street Cafe in Oakwood

The painted advertisement on the side of a building is a rapidly fading artifact of urban life, much in the same way that entryway mosaic is a disappearing commercial art form. There seem to be fewer remaining examples in Raleigh than in other similarly-sized cities, probably due to the historical propensity to demolish rather than renovate and recycle the buildings in the city’s core.

[skip to the 6/14 update]

The Hargett Street Treasure Chest



Hargett Street
is home to the largest concentration of fading painted ads. My favorite remaining example is the Raleigh Furniture Store mural above.


Aerial view of the same mural.

A puzzling ad is above Holly Aiken’s store on the corner of Hargett and Wilmington Streets. Most is unintelligible, except for the top letters which spell out Cyclone. I am unaware of what product this represented, or if it has any ties to the old G&S Department Store that was once at that location.

The Heilig-Levine Furniture Building in 2008

Chances are you’ve seen the most prominent example, the painted advert on the Heilig-Levine Building. Its location at the near center of downtown’s hot spots could make it the most memorable.

S.H. Kress & Co

Barely visible Kress mural visible from Salisbury Street

I recently spent a small amount of time wandering around downtown in tourist mode–looking up rather than straight ahead. In the process I discovered something new: Raleigh once had a Kress department store.


Kress Department Store in Asheville. Image credit: Jesse Dotson

I was familiar with the store as there is beautiful neoclassical Kress building in my hometown of Asheville. The Kress department stores were known for their unique appearance. The founder  viewed the buildings for his five-and-dime stores as works of art that beautified the urban landscape. Compared to other examples across the country, Raleigh’s Kress store seems rather plain. It is located next to the State Supreme Court Building on the corner of Morgan and Fayetteville Streets.

The Industrial Remnants

A couple of the Dillon buildings in the Warehouse District have green and yellow painted signs. The company has since relocated out of downtown.

The Melrose Knitting Mill is one of Raleigh’s few remaining former textiles buildings. Barely visible in the image above is “Melrose Knitting Mill Co.”. On the right appears to be the word “underwear”. The space is currently being transformed into a nightclub and office space.

Painting Over the Past


Image credit: Ian F.G. Dunn

As businesses relocate, go under, or simply change tastes, these artifacts get painted over. Just recently one such example was painted over on Peace Street (above).

North Carolina Equipment Building in 2007

The North Carolina Equipment Building on Hillsborough Street once had a painted rooftop sign and facade advertising the business once at the location. City ordinances once had the rooftop tractor in jeopardy when ownership of the building changed, but in the end it got to stay. Unfortunately, the original typography and colors of the business name have since been painted over.

No Longer Around

Lawyer's Building Mural, Upper Left

Lawyer’s Building Mural, barely visible in top part of the left building

The Lawyer’s Building (former State Theater) was painted as well. It was destroyed last year to make way for the new Wake County Justice Center.

Bringing It Back

Despite the move toward vinyl or other forms of advertisement (heavily restricted by city zoning laws), there are a few who still use paint as the medium of choice. 518 West on Glenwood Avenue has a beautiful modern painted sign.

A bit more minimalist, the Oakwood Cafe sign announces it presence to motorists going down Person Street.

Lincoln Theater during an outdoor Disco Biscuits show a few years ago

The grandest example may the Lincoln Theatre, with a mural of President Lincoln driving a Lincoln automobile.

Side Street Cafe before the Coca-Cola ad was restored

Side Street Cafe before the Coca-Cola ad was restored

Side Street Cafe after restoration

Side Street is a cozy yet spacious cafe in Oakwood, about a block away from the Governor’s Mansion. A little over a year ago the exterior got a makeover, breathing new life in to one of Raleigh’s oldest restaurants. It occupies a rather unique spot – both a historic advertisement, and in great condition.

I’m fairly certain that there are more examples of these fading ads in Raleigh. What have I missed?

June 14th Update

I missed quite a few. Below are a few historic and several contemporary examples of hand painted commercial art.

An ad for the Carolina Cafe and Coca-Cola

One particularly dated example is the Carolina Cafe above the Berkeley Cafe.

The Village Subway

Above are the painted commercial advertisements for the businesses in the Village Subway. It was an underground series of stores, music venues, and night clubs in Cameron Village that hosted national acts in the mid 70s to early 80s. Some of these included R.E.M., the Police, Pat Benetar, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag among many others.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you should check out a fantastic flickr set of a series of hidden subway posters recently discovered in the London Underground.

After Sanders Ford dealership left downtown for the suburbs in the late 60s, the building sat empty  until Artspace took over in the 80s. They incorporated their logo into the historical painted one.

Clearscapes occupies a building in the warehouse district, with “Water Works Supplies” over their main entrance. Their business name was incorporated to the facade in the same style.

The image above was taken through the prototype for Thomas Sayre’s rings that are currently on the grounds of the NCMA.

Another one of the Dillon Buildings in the Warehouse District

Center Line, in the Warehouse District

Center Line, in the Warehouse District

Legends Night Club

42nd Street Oyster Bar

The Dive Bar

William Cozart in the Warehouse District

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