Signs of the Times

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Spencer Sommers Emerging City Champions Fellowship Aberdeen, SD

Signs of the Times Aberdeen, also known by its moniker ‘The Hub City,’ was a thriving railroad town from its beginning in the 1880’s to the 1960’s. Like many small towns, the 1970’s – 1990’s saw a downfall in the Downtown’s utilization. Fortunately, unlike many towns, most buildings were spared demolition and little voided space appears throughout the blocks. Beginning in the late 2000’s, Downtown began a slow but noticeable resurgence. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved since 2012 as a student intern where I’ve been able to work on many design options and proposals for facade grants that helped improve the existing buildings, something I find that incredibly satisfying. In that short period of time, I’ve seen a huge increase in the quality of life, so much so, I now live there myself. Downtown needs to continue this momentum rather than settling and plateauing out. It has done well attracting small businesses, however in order to become even more successful, it needs to begin to invest in apartments and new restaurants, bars, and other amenities that keep it bustling outside of that 8-5 work day. Having people live and truly utilizing Downtown to its maximum potential is the real goal, but it takes many incremental small steps to get there. My hope is, bringing art and history to this area is one of those small steps.


E-A CO Flour Advertisement Richardson Law Building


Ghost Signs This project proposal builds off of an existing project that I introduced and helped spearhead as part of an organization called Leadership Aberdeen. ‘Signs of the Times’ identifies, recreates, and restores Ghost Signs, (the faded advertisements painted on the exterior walls of many downtown buildings). These Ghost Signs were a major form of advertising for both local and national businesses throughout the late 1800’s to mid-1900’s but are all now nearly faded to a point, where if nothing done, could be gone forever. After recreating the ads based of historical photographs, we coordinate between the State Historical Society, Planning & Zoning Board, and City Council to ensure everyone is informed and approves of everything going on. With the help of local artists and community volunteers, we’ve restored six ads to date (each approximately 150 SF). However, all of these past ads were located at ground level and the remaining downtown Ghost Signs are anywhere from 2-6 stories higher and require professionals with the proper equipment, skill, and liability coverage to safely accomplish a restoration. This added height, scale, and safety means each remaining Ghost Sign will cost much more than the ground level signs we’ve previously restored.

Occident Feeds Advertisement Richardson Law Building


Witte Hardware Sander's Sew n Vac


Restoring Downtown One hope at the start of this project was that it would lead to a more cultured and visually appealing downtown, and that goal is already being realized. An artist working with a local downtown building recently contacted us on how they can get the ball rolling on a custom exterior mural of their own. Long term, we’re hoping Aberdeen could implement an ‘Art Alley’ based off the success of this project. Secondly, this project is about preserving Aberdeen’s history. While researching advertisements for this project, we’ve learned about people such as W.H. Wilson, a local undertaker who performed services for the homeless or poor in his Main Street Chapel, and August Witte, a German immigrant who in 1881 opened one of the largest hardware stores in the state and who would eventually become mayor in the fall of 1892. Finally, the main goal of this project is to get people downtown. An increased interest in Downtown leads to more people spending time there, which leads to an increase in revenue and taxes, which then leads to an overall stronger Main Street where people want to spend time and business want to be. In the end, we see this project as just one piece of the overall puzzle.

Oshkosh B'Gosh Advertisement Dakota Territory Brewing Building


18-K Food Products Advertisement Richardson Law Building


Montgomery Ward Sign Dacotah Bank Building


One Step at a Time Signs of the Times leverages assets in the Aberdeen community by building on the existing work of the past. The group is solely run by volunteers and its funds come from private donations. This means we can approach building owners who may not have the means or the motivation to improve their property and help them out at no cost to them. This improves the overall aesthetic of downtown, one small step at a time and may help those who were less motivated to make other small improvements. So far, it’s taken approximately $3,650 to restore six separate ads. However, local artists were very generous and volunteered a large portion of their time. Current estimates suggest that without volunteers, it would have taken at least double the cost.

Occident Flour Advertisement Richardson Law Building


JC Penny Co Revive Day Spa


Witte Hardware Company Advertisement Sander's Sew n' Vac Building

Going Forward This ad, along with those below, are the next Ghost Signs on our list to be restored. Using Adobe Illustrator, we examine historical images, as well as existing photographs, and trace the ad as close as possible. Local artists offer insight on the proper color schemes, based off their best guess what originally was there. As mentioned earlier and evident in the attached photographs, the heights of these ads are much higher than previous. In order to reach these ads, we will need to hire those with the skills and equipment necessary to safely accomplish the task. Local artists will continue to help identify colors and paint.


EST. 1909

WH Wilson Undertaker Malchow's Building JC Penny Co. (verticle) Revive Day Spa Building


Montgomery Ward Dacotah Bank Building Ward Hotel The Ward Hotel Building