Ghost Signs of Google Satellite View / by Kasey Smith

I’ve used Google Maps extensively during the course of the my Ghost Sign Mapping Project – both as a mapping platform and a research tool. For while I try to keep a written record of where I’ve photographed each sign, sometimes I lose the notebooks or slips of paper or just plain forget to record the information. To fill in these documentation gaps, I’ve turned to a combination of Google Street View and Google Satellite View to Iink signs to buildings to addresses. I’ve chased many, many signs down this mapping rabbit hole and it’s become an invaluable tool in my War Against Disorganized Research (otherwise known as Leave No Sign Behind).

One day, while trying to pinpoint the location of a photograph I’d taken in the Tenderloin, I discovered that one could rotate the viewpoint and observe buildings/blocks/neighborhoods from multiple angles. While fiddling with this feature on Turk Street, I came across this set of signs (as well as an AMAZING rooftop airstream trailer) on 124 Turk Street.



Containing between three and four signs – including an Owl Cigars sign – only the front-facing sign of the sequence is visible from the street. So I started looking at more blocks and then more blocks and then more blocks until I’d collected approximately a dozen signs that are invisible from the street. Viola! Behold the fruits of my satellite enabled research!


How did these signs come to be hidden from public view? Accessible only to immediately adjacent neighbors and those with computer access?

Well, I’d wager that some of these signs were never meant to be viewed from the street. Between the hilly terrain and plethora of tall buildings in the Tenderloin, a sign could be targeted at the view of an adjacent high-value hotel or apartment with little concern for street traffic. Think of it as a proto-targeted ad campaign.

Also, I’d additionally wager that some of these hidden signs are the end result of post-1906 earthquake construction. Leveled by quake and fire, the Tenderloin was reconstructed in fits and starts from 1906 to 1912ish (and in some cases much, much later). Hence a sign that was visible to street traffic in 1907 might have been obscured by new construction as early as 1908 or 1909.

For example: 572 O’ Farrell Street – which contains a MJB Coffee sign on it’s Geary-facing side – was constructed immediately post-quake in 1907. While I’m not sure of the sign’s vintage, I do know the sight lines to Geary weren’t blocked until the construction of 669 Geary in 1922. That means it’s possible the sign enjoyed 15 years worth of high impact visibility – that’s more than enough time to pay off the salaries of the walldogs who painted it.



Have I missed any secret ghost signs only visible through Google Satellite view? Can you get me an up close and personal pic of any of the signs listed on this map? If so, please let me know!