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Committee looking to preserve, restore old “ghost signs” on La Crosse buildings



These painted ads, taken on May 23, 2024, on the Jules Coffee building on 4th Street in La Crosse could get restoration from the city. (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

La Crosse’s Heritage and Preservation Commission reviewed a proposed ordinance to set down rules for preserving and restoring some of the city’s best known works of art: painted business signs on old brick buildings.

Signs for Leithold Music and Arenz Shoes are landmarks in downtown La Crosse and could be restored (PHOTO: Brad Williams)

Large signs for Leithold Music and Coca-Cola are among the so-called “ghost signs” in La Crosse that are disappearing and threatened because of age.

Anna McConahay, an intern with the city planning department, has been researching ghost signs around town. She said at Thursday’s meeting that most of the signs on brick walls probably would not be restored to look new.

“From my research, the best thing to do with any of these signs is to leave them as they are,” McConahay said. “But from a heritage preservation standpoint, these signs are really important to the community.”

She posted an item on social media about preservation and it got about 350 responses — many from people wanting to save the signs.

In recent years, some very old billboards on local building walls have been uncovered and some wound up being removed, while others were covered up again.

Under the proposal, ghost signs could qualify for restoration if they are unreadable or if there is severe damage to the paint on the wall.

The ghost sign rules could come before the city council later this year.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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  1. LG

    May 24, 2024 at 7:24 am

    The heritage preservation commission is basing their recommendation on responses to a Facebook post? That is absolutely not a representative sample from the community. Every sign that is preserved is charged to taxpayers. That is called choosing the audience to get the response they want. Every sign they preserve will be charged to the taxpayers.

  2. Paul

    May 24, 2024 at 8:09 am

    If Lighthold Music wants to repaint their sign, they are certainly free to do so. And if they wanted to improve it, they would’ve done so long ago. It is not the responsibility of taxpayers, heritage preservation commission, to pay for their sign.

    And by the way, City Council closed the south branch library to eliminate the cost. Stop interfering with that. Let the building be sold. Let the developer research ideas for the building, and get out of the way.

  3. Tim

    May 24, 2024 at 5:42 pm

    Jule’s coffee shop hasn’t leased a small section at this location for a number of years.
    Amanda’s Academy of Dance is the main tenant.

  4. David Groth

    May 25, 2024 at 6:01 am

    As a preservationist, I know that painting old brick can take 50 years or more off the life of a building. So, not a good idea.

  5. Ed mader

    May 25, 2024 at 2:23 pm

    Just my own opinion. The Leithold ghost sign is a total eyesore. Either repaint it or sandblast it off.

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