Goodbye Schenectady’s Coca-Cola ghost sign…

Last August, I drove by a building on 412 Broadway in Schenectady – only to see hazard tape surrounding it.  Construction crews coming in and out of the facility.  I really hope it isn’t what I think it could be… but then again, I won’t know if I don’t ask.  Hey, there’s a hardhat construction worker.  Let’s ask.

[hdnfactbox title=”Coca-Cola Ghost Sign”]

  • This ghost sign was hand-painted on the building at 412 Broadway in Schenectady.  This building was once a clothing store, and later tenants included a typewriter repair shop and a tool rental facility.
  • The street also had a building with two Uneeda Biscuit hand-painted signs on it; that building was demolished in 2012.
  • Ghost signs were old brickface painted ads that have, in most cases, outlasted their original advertising products.[/hdnfactbox]

“The building’s coming down,” the construction worker said to me.

Oh crap.  Not again.

Now I’ve fallen for the “construction worker doesn’t know what he’s talking about” before, when I was told that the old Uneeda Biscuit sign along State Street was due for a removal, only to later find out that the owner of the building – the new Mexican Radio restaurant – was going to preserve the structure rather than erase it.

But no such dice.  The construction workers told me that the building was being demolished; the tool rental place was closed; the residential tenants inside were evicted; and the only thing left to do was to remove all the asbestos before knocking this bad boy to the ground.

Well, you say that’s the only thing left to do.

Me… I’ve seen these buildings come down in the past.  The Latham Water Tower.  Trinity Church.  St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I’ve chronicled their demolition and erasure.

This time, however… it’s personal.

See, this Coca-Cola building, with its 100-year-old hand-painted ghost sign, was an excellent subject for my burgeoning photography experiments.  And with that in mind, I’m kinda saddened that the structure is coming down.  Yeah, I wish that the building could remain standing, or that the façade could be relocated.

But I wasn’t asked to be part of those decisions.  I’m not the building owner.  And I’m not in a position to buy the building.  And would the building matter if it DIDN’T have a Coca-Cola advert on it, if it was just a nondescript building along a nondescript section of Schenectady?

My mind flashes back to the first time I encountered this building.

It’s 2010, and I’ve started experimenting with my splitfilm technique – cramming two rolls of 35mm film into a 120-format plastic Holga camera and shooting.  My target?  An old ghost sign in Schenectady.

You might recognize it.

Coca-Cola Relieves Fatigue 5 cents - Schenectady, N.Y. - sprocket hole and layered film
Coca-Cola Relieves Fatigue. Holga 120 camera, Fuji 200 film (two rolls, one flipped in redscale). Photo by Chuck Miller.

Yep. That one.  This was my first truly successful “splitfilm” photo, and it would later claim an Honorable Mention ribbon at the New York State Fair. I’ve gone back to photo this building several times, using different films and different photography techniques.

Coca-Cola Relieves Fatigue 5c, Schenectady NY - Kodachrome shot
Nikkormat FTn camera, Kodachrome 64 film, Nikkor f/4.5 50-300 telephoto lens.

A Jolt of Coca-Cola
Shot with Revolog Tesla 2 film.

Coca-Cola building, Schenectady, N.Y.
Shot with Kodak 2254 ultra-slow print film.

Coca-Cola ghost sign, Schenectady, N.Y.
Shot with Kodak HIE infrared film.

Coca-Cola Relieves Fatigue - color-boosted sign
Shot with Nikon D700 camera and color-boosted.

So after I heard that the building was to be demolished, I tried to take a few more pictures of it – at least to continue doing so until the building was finally on its last moments.

AUGUST 26, 2015: Kodak HIE infrared film, shot in Minolta x370s camera.

Coca-Cola ghost sign in Kodak HIE infrared//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsAUGUST 31, 2015: Nikon Df with 28mm f/2.8 lens, shot at night with long exposure. Coca-Cola at night//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

SEPTEMBER 5, 2015: Afternoon shot with Nimslo 4-lens camera, Kodak expired 100 film.

Coca-Cola sign shot with Nimslo camera//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsSEPTEMBER 2, 2015: Morning shot with Nikon EM camera, 50mm f/1.8 pancake lens, Revolog “Volvox” film that produces little green bubbles on the print.

Coca-Cola ghost sign with Volvox film//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

And then… at the end of September… the building was gone forever, like the last warm days of summer.  The demolition was complete.  All that remained were a heap of century-old painted bricks and the memories of an old advertisement.  Yeah, try to get Coca-Cola for five cents these days.  What’s that the equivalent of, a couple of teaspoons worth in 2015 dollars?

Still, I got my photos… I wish I had taken more.  Heck, the shots with Volvox “green bubble” film was still in my camera, undeveloped; waiting for a few more last-minute photos to be captured on that roll.

But even if I wanted to take one more image… one more ultrawide, one more infrared, one more HDR photo… there was no more “one more” for this subject.

Still, after all the years of capturing this century-old advertisement, I still had the photos that I was able to finally capture.

And in the end… I suppose that’s all that matters, doesn’t it?

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8 thoughts on “Goodbye Schenectady’s Coca-Cola ghost sign…”

  1. They day I drove by and saw the building gone, I immediately thought of your pictures. I pass this every morning and am so sad to see an empty lot now.

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  2. You have these memories captured on film forever. (I hope you’ve scanned them as well so they will be preserved forever if my sister has family photographs from the 1948 State Fair (I would’ve been almost 5–cute little thing–blond no less!!!) 🙂 that seem to be almost indestructible along w/one from the Freddy Freihofer “Breadtime Stories” WRGB show 1953. Somehow, these things have stood the test of time. But today, who knows….

    I mentioned this to Al Quaglieri, don’t know if I told you. There’s a “ghost sign” on the Lark St side of the former Subway (Branches) on Lark & Washington. Maybe you and/or Al can discern its history. I remember it only as Branches.

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  3. Thank you for your story. I enjoy old buildings along advertising like this and I also do some photography, and this is a pleasant change from the death and robbery news I am used to.

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  4. Hey, i’m right there with you. This pissed me off to no end. There are a LOT of buildings in much worse shape that NEED to come down, why aren’t they focusing on those?

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  5. So sad. Thank you for sharing the photos,because I never had the chance to take any. I did,however,take many of the Latham water tower and St. Patrick’s in Watervliet.
    I’m never stepping into THAT grocery store. Bad vibes…

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