Developers who rehab homes often come across some of the most interesting things from the past. Oftentimes, it's coins, maps, newspapers and other treasures. How about finding a ghost sign the size of the entire house? That's exactly what happened to James Roletter, who is busy rehabbing a two-story rowhome at 2661 Martha Street in Fishtown.
"So before I purchased 2661 Martha, I was rehabbing 2663 Martha," said Roletter in an email. "It was a mess. So once we got started on 2661 Martha we figured it would be pretty much the same, until we notice what seemed to be a letter H at the top of the stairs. We were doing some demo and my buddy said 'look there is an H at the top of the stairs.'" That letter H turned out to be something special: an enormous interior ghost sign long hidden from the world inside a little house in Fishtown they've dubbed "The Ghost Sign House." The soon-to-be-completed rowhome will be 680 square feet and feature two bedroom, one bath and one glorious ghost sign, which Roletter said they'll integrate into the finished product. So, what's the significance of the sign? The thirst to better understand the sign was difficult to quench for Roletter and company. Once they recognized the H, they needed to know what it meant. "We started chipping away as fast we could and we couldn't figure it out. We even removed the chimney just so we could see a couple more letters." In what seems like an Indiana Jones moment (this time, H marked the spot), Roletter and crew figured out the mystery of the ghost sign. Roletter explained:
Finally, my cousin figured out by way of googling and we figured it out said "Snellenburg's Clothing Co on the 2nd floor and Passyunk Av. on the 1st floor." Snellenburg's was at one time the largest clothing manufacturer in the world, and it used to reside right at that wonky intersection of South Street, Fifth Street and Passyunk Avenue. Later on, it had a huge store at 11th and Market Street and rivaled the well-known big boys of Gimbels, Wanamaker's and Strawbridge and Clothier. But, how did it get inside the home at 2661 Martha Street?
Roletter mentions that 2559 Martha Street is taller than the 2660's, noting that it probably was the end-cap of the block before new houses were built. "If you look at Google street view it is clear the last 6 houses on the block from 2661 to the end of the block must have all been built at the same time, and prior to that 2659 Martha, with its full side wall painted with the Snellenburg's advertisement, probably faced the busy Lehigh Avenue, which I'm sure was bustling with traffic."
· Delorean Time Machine: Snellenburg's [Naked City]
· Ghost Signs [Curbed Philly]