As some people may have seen on the MMPartners Facebook page, we have been posting photos of old painted signs and asking people to guess where they are. We figured it made sense to give a little background on why we like these painted signs so much, so here goes:
In this era of globalization where the majority of products we buy are made halfway around the world it's interesting to reflect back on the early and middle part of the twentieth century when most products were made locally in urban factories.
These factories were located in the urban core of American cities such as Philadelphia, New York, LA, San Francisco, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit (to name just a few). These factories typically operated out of multi-story loft warehouses. Quite often these factories and the products they produced served as a great source of pride for the city, its citizens and most importantly the work force that produced the goods. This arrangement created a bond between the consumer and the products that they purchased and used. Most importantly these factories/companies were economic generators for the city they were located in creating jobs and generating taxes both of which contributed to making cities vibrant and successful. Many of these factories employed multiple generations of families working together, thus creating a bond with the employees, the owners and the city at large.
These buildings not only served as the factories where these goods were produced, but they were quite literally the companies’ identity. Most of these factories would have large hand painted advertisements for the company painted directly on their buildings, or the exterior wall space would be rented to other advertisers, usually other local companies.
Toward the latter half of the 20th century as manufacturing shifted from a manual labor centric process to an automated process these buildings could no longer accommodate the new automated manufacturing equipment required in order for these companies to stay competitive and thus these buildings became obsolete. Most of these companies were either forced to move to the suburbs into large modern one story manufacturing and distribution facilities, move manufacturing overseas to low cost producers or they simply went out of business as they could no longer remain competitive. Once these factories began leaving the urban core most of the buildings were left vacant due to their obsolescence. It was the movement of these factories out of city combined with the suburbanization of this country that were the main catalysts for the downfall of cities in this country from 1950s to the early 1990s.
Today, this country is experiencing a re-urbanization with cities from coast to coast undergoing a renaissance which first took root in the early-to-mid part of the 1990s. There is renewed interest in downtown living from all types of people ranging from young professionals to empty nesters and ironically they all share one thing in common: their new home of choice is often a loft. I say ironically because these lofts are housed in the same buildings where factories once existed that were the original economic and social drivers of cities. Today it’s the adaptive re-use of these same factories that is once again driving the growth of cities and making them desirable places to live, work and play.
Anyone who has ever spent time walking around some of the older cities in this country surely has looked up and noticed faded advertisements painted on the side or fronts of early 20th century loft buildings. Now instead of being factories these same buildings are high end homes or offices for companies that create a different kind of product such as software, content or other creative endeavors.
As real estate developers specializing in urban redevelopment we love these signs because they illustrate the story of what once drove the seemingly endless growth of American industrial power in the early 20th century and the urban places these factories were located in followed by the subsequent downfall of cities as the first stages of globalization began. Today these same buildings tell the story of the re-emergence of cities and as history always repeats itself, bringing businesses and residents back to cities is what will drive the continued rebirth of cities.
We hope everyone enjoys these photos and if you keep an eye out when wandering around your favorite city you will be amazed at how many of these signs still exist.