Landmarks Commission Hearing

Photo: Frank Jump

Debate over this site for a new painted wall advertisement

Frank Jump over in NYC, USA recently presented the case, on behalf of Colossal Media, for the ‘overwriting’ of an old fading ghost sign with a new Colossal production. ¬†Presumably an application to do so is under consideration and the Landmarks Commission are deciding whether to grant permission. This raises interesting issues with respect to protection. Most interesting I think is whether the survival of the old signs or the techniques used to produce them is more important? Frank rightly cites me in his presentation as being a great admirer of the work that Colossal do and the way this has allowed the signwriting (‘walldogging’ in USA) tradition to continue into the modern era. Their work is exceptional in both design and execution and they and their clients should be commended for their efforts.

The case bears some relation to the recent ruling in London against Clear Channel who wanted to erect a billboard on the site of an old sign, the justification being that it had always served as a site for advertising. The ruling was based on the fact that the old sign couldn’t really be considered advertising since the featured product had ceased to be available for many years. The ruling was therefore not in favour of the old sign but against the erection of a new one. For example, the owners of the building could paint the wall white if they wanted without any problem (as happened in Clapham North). However, the tension between development and preservation exists in both cases. To what extent, if any, should legal measures be taken to protect or preserve signs?

In our recent article Bas Groes and I warn of the dangers of “naive nostalgia” and it is perhaps best to let the signs die their own natural deaths rather than legislate for their benefit. The fact that they have survived thus far suggests that some will continue to do so while others will either fade of their own accord or be consumed with the pace of development as it shifts gradually outwards from city centres. Preservation through photography as Frank Jump in USA, many other across the world and I are doing is a sure way of ensuring that future generations see what went before, whereas the efforts of Colossal Media help to take the craft forwards into new forms.