‘Ghost Signs’ Haunt Ingleside If You Know Where to Look

Neighborhood ghost signs (clockwise): College Pharmacy at 1501 Ocean Ave.; The Reef Restaurant at 1923 Ocean Ave.; and Turko Persian Rug Co. at San Jose and Niagara avenues.

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They can be seen downtown painted on the outsides of tall buildings where they advertise the products and services of companies from bygone eras.

In Ingleside a few remain.

“Ghost signs” — vintage signage remaining in place despite a business shuttering — are a dwindling cultural resource that connect residents to the past.

The San Francisco Ghost Sign Mapping Project, a historical research project dedicated to mapping historic hand-painted advertising signs, keeps a database with information and photographs of more than 450 signs.

“Once you start to see these signs, it’s hard to unsee them,” according project founder and artist Kasey Smith. “A glimpse down an alley here, a glimpse high on a wall there. They become a piece of viral knowledge, an interloper or perception shift that changes how one understands urban space and parses their travels through it.”

This reporter can only point to two ghost signs in Ingleside proper with one lying just on the other side of the neighborhood’s boundary with the Outer Mission. 

Turko Persian Rug Co.

Beneath tree branches stands the remains of the Turko Persian Rug Co. neon sign on San Jose and Niagara avenues. The factory now houses studios for artists along with an office for Performing Arts Workshop, the tenant of the recently restored Geneva Powerhouse.

Neighbors in Mission Terrace have asked the Planning Department to consider restoring the neon sign.

College Pharmacy

Customers of Lucky Ocean Cafe on the 1500 block of Ocean Avenue step over the words “College Pharmacy” every time they enter or exit the coffee shop. The name is set in tile on the threshold.

The college in the name does not refer to City College of San Francisco. The small business was in operation there from 1924 to 1975, predating City College by 11 years.

College Pharmacy, seen here on Jan. 9, 1920, was located at 1501 Ocean Ave. Courtesy of the Western Neighborhoods Project

The Reef Restaurant

Emmy’s Chinese Food on the 1900 block of Ocean Avenue occupies a handsome building with tripartite arched window openings and the spiral columns, and the decorative modillion at the parapet. But what really stands out is the neon blade sign with the faded name of The Reef in maroon.

El Rey Coffee Shop occupied the space from 1940 to 1970. The Reef was founded in 1980.

Rexall Drugs

In March 2020, one of the largest ghost signs in the neighborhood was quietly removed from the 1900 block of Ocean Avenue.

The orange and navy billboard-sized Rexall Drugs sign affixed to the second floor side of Dri-Clean Express was taken down. 

From 1936 into the 1980s the storefront housed the Russell Richards Drug Store.

The Ocean Avenue Association, a nonprofit organization charged with maintaining the Ocean Avenue Community Benefit District, sought to restore the sign

“Our commercial district has lost one of its most historic signs, the Rexall Drugs sign. It should have been landmarked,” Weaver said.

A painter working at the site, who did not wish to be identified, said the sign was old and covered with too much paint to ever be used again.

Rexall Drugs
Image courtesy of OpenSFHistory