On the Ritz

I failed to mention something when I was talking about the trip I made to Montoursville a few weeks ago: one of my main reasons for going out in that direction was to see The Ritz Theater, a 1923 one-screener located in Muncy, PA. I stumbled upon it in my research about a month ago, and was amazed that I hadn’t heard of it before! Their website revealed that, like most theaters of its kind, it is in danger of closing.

I got there at 6:30 and the sun was due to go down at 7, so I waited patiently for the darkness to fall on Muncy. It was quiet, and I figured they probably wouldn’t light it up on a weekday, so I snapped off a few shots in the meantime. The shot above was an easy one to get, but I wanted to get the other side. A little difficult because the marquee kept getting in the way. I rattled off a few, but the “Z” kept getting obscured.

In case you didn’t know, I’m part goat. If you see some nut standing on something while taking a picture, that will be me. I have a stool in my trunk for just such a purpose, but my car was across the road. There’s an old trash can just down the way from the theater, one of those old fortified-with-concrete guys, in the perfect position. Up I went.ritz-on-a-trash-can

Oh, he may be crazy…but he gets results…

Well, the upshot of it is, the lights never turned on. I guess I can hardly blame them if they’re having trouble. If you get a chance, help support this theater, because goodness knows there aren’t enough of these local gems around anymore.

I’ve put together a grouping of my favorite movie theaters here.

The Danger of the Everyday

For four years I lived on Lookout Mountain, just south of Chattanooga. All throughout the South, there are (or used to be) signs and barns and birdhouses with “See Rock City” painted on it, and I lived within easy walking distance of that fine tourist attraction. Despite that fact, I never visited it. Not once. I walked over to it one afternoon when I was fighting boredom, but it occurred to me that I would be paying some exorbitant fee for a view that I pretty much saw every day.

I have no pictures of that spot.

And why? Because I felt like I didn’t have to. The view was always there.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when we were tooling around Reading with our friends Denise and Lynn: we’re on our way to the Pagoda, driving along old 422 up to Mount Penn, when off to the side of the road, I spot Effie’s Charcoal Chef, an old beaut of a place that’s been around since 1952. I kindly ask Lynn to pull off before my heart bursts out of my chest.

I got out and snapped off a bunch and got back in the car. When I do, Lynn says something to the effect that he’s passed by here a ton of times and never thought about it one way or the other. It surprised me until I thought about it: Lynn’s lived in the area his entire life. This place is a part of the scenery, someplace you pass by to get to somewhere else. The idea that I would want to take a picture of this sign didn’t even cross his mind.

The fact is, we’re all guilty of it. This last week, I missed out on a bowling sign that used to be on route 100 on the way out of Emmaus. I had always dismissed it because the top of the sign was all nasty and modern and plastic, but the rest of it was half-rusted with arrows and neon bowling pins and everything I could ask for in a classic sign. I passed by on Thursday and it was gone, another painful reminder of how quickly these lovely old relics are going by the wayside.

The moments pass quickly. Seize them.

Some more shots from Reading:


Arthur Bloom and Son Furniture on Penn Street in Reading. I spotted this in Seth Gaines’ excellent Flickr feed; his shot was from 2008, and I didn’t have high hopes that the sign would still be standing there after eight years, but there it was, even though the business was long gone. Couldn’t have been more pleased, although the sun was against me, and a tree blocked the sunny side of the sign from the best shot possible. Still, I’m pretty happy with this one.


Victor’s Cafe in West Lawn. I shared this one on Instagram and got a great response. This sign is pretty small, but the beauty of it is you can walk right up to it and get magnificent close-ups, as you can see below.



Stoudt’s Auto Sales in Reading. It seems funny to mention this, but the reason I know about this sign is the local weather channel in Allentown. Periodically, in between giving faulty weather and traffic reports, they will show outdoor shots of various locations: on top of the PPL building, on top of the Eastonian condominiums, etc. The shot in Reading is along the Warren Street bypass, and in the shot is this sign. I think they’ve restored it recently.


While I was there, I noticed a couple of 60s Corvettes on the lot, which I couldn’t resist. And after I had snapped my fill and went back to the car, what did I see but a tricked-out old Chevy coming down the road.


They came to look at the Corvettes. I can’t say as I blame them, but at the same time, if I had this bad boy in my garage, I don’t know if I would need anything else!


Looking for History

Still in Reading last Sunday. Lynn and Denise had driven us all over the city, and we had come to rest on Penn Street, the main drag of Center City Reading. We rounded a corner and I spotted this one right away: crumbling neon and gray, probably 50s or earlier. Lynn pulls the car over and we get out. It’s high up on the building and I half wonder if anyone notices it anymore. Zipf’s Candies, it says. The sun is hitting it square from the west at this time of day, so I wander over to the other side.


My mouth falls open. From the angle that I’m standing underneath the Zipf’s sign, I can see a ghost sign behind it.

Ghost signs, for the un-initiated, are the advertisements that were painted on brick that have (chances are) faded to the point that sometimes you can’t read them. They’re rare and good finds, but you hardly see them so close to another sign that you can get both in the same shot. So I couldn’t hit the shutter button fast enough:


The ghost sign says “Paper” and there’s some more of it visible if you step back a few feet.

When we got back to Denise and Lynn’s house, we started going through a set of books Lynn has that covers the history of Reading, mostly through old pictures. There are plenty of shots of Penn Street, so surely there would be one of this sign, wouldn’t there? We go through book after book. Plenty of shots of Penn Street, great shots of the Loew’s Theatre, many signs I wish were still around, but no Zipf’s. And here’s why: whoever took these shots (I’m guessing) worked in a building on the side of the street Zipf’s sits on, because each shot was taken from the same location.

I have no idea how old this sign is. Interestingly enough, some internet research has shown me that there is a Zipf’s Candies still operating in Philadelphia. They’ve been going since 1968, according to their website. No mention of Reading. And this sign looks older than ’68 to me. Anybody out there have any information?

Another Humdinger

Back to my Reading trip momentarily, but first…

Last year I made a trip to Williamsport which yielded a few good ones: the Plankenhorn, the Old Corner, Helmrich’s and a few others. I decided to leave by way of South Williamsport and in so doing stopped past the Humdinger. Jones’ Humdinger, as I showed in a previous post, was my hometown ice cream fixture, so when I mentioned that, Sue Nicholls, an artist who lives in Tennessee but was from Williamsport, asked me if I had gotten this one.

So here it is, Sue!
By the way, you can see Sue Nicholls’ artwork at www.fivecentride.com

A Sunday in Reading

Sometimes it’s planning. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Picture two people tooling about in a Hyundai on a Saturday in early spring along New Jersey 29, skirting along the Delaware, escaping the city for a brief and wonderful moment. That should be enough for anybody, really, but stupid me, I have this idea that I might find a sign or two to capture along the way.


Oh, we did spot a decent 50s number on the other side of the road that made us go back and forth trying to decide if it was really a good old one or a facsimile, but other than that, not a sausage. No lovely old diners. No old motels. Bupkes.Really, New Jersey? Really?

So even though we had a nice day, I couldn’t help feeling like it was a bit of a washout.

Late in the afternoon we get a call from our friends in Reading, Denise and Lynn. They just had their pastor and their family over to their house, and had grossly over-estimated the amount of food they needed to prepare, so would we mind coming over tomorrow. Lynn was aware of my affliction, and that, for some strange reason, even though we lived only a handful of miles away from that very city for three whole years, I had failed to explore Reading for old signs. We heartily agreed.

pagoda pagoda-below

First off, no trip to Reading is complete without visiting the Pagoda. Reading, sad to say, has very few reasons to visit, but this is a biggie. It was built in 1908 by a man named William Witman who had an eye toward creating a resort on top of Mount Penn. There’s even a temple bell on the top floor. Unfortunately, he failed to get a liquor license, fell on hard times, and had to sell the Pagoda to the city of Reading for the lofty sum of $1. More about it here

“It’s a shame,” my wife said, as we walked out the front door. “What this could have been if he didn’t sell it to the city.”

“Not to be contrary and put down private enterprise,” I replied, “but chances are, if he had continued on with his plans, this place would probably be a distant memory, one of those things you only see in old postcards.”

But on to the signs. In all, we found seven of them.

The first one I knew about. We used to pass by Schell’s, a 50s era restaurant, when we lived in the area. My sign fever had not yet reached its boiling point, but I remembered it well, and hoped that it was still there. Before we got to Denise and Lynn’s, I had passed through on old US 222 to see if Schell’s still had their sign.


Yep, not only there, but in great shape. Not only that, but I had forgotten about their ice cream shop next door, and the Schell’s sign on top of the restaurant.


But this was just the tip of the iceberg. There were plenty more signs to be had that afternoon, including one that I had never seen in any research on signs that I had ever done, none of us knew anything about, but it maybe my new favorite!

So planning helps, but improvisation can be your best friend. More from Reading to come…

Road Trip

Last week at about this time I was walking out of Target, looking up at the sky, thinking this would be a good night to get some magic hour shots.

Earlier on, I had done some research and stumbled on to a sign shot someone had taken of Rosencrans’ Bakery on Broad Street in Montoursville. I had somehow skipped over Montoursville during my sign-finding tour I had made through the Williamsport area, and about all I knew about the place was that former Orioles and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina was from there, but when I saw Rosencrans, it immediately found its way on to my “must” list. Their sign is straight out of 1956: a color turquoise I’m convinced they don’t make anymore, red puffy letters spelling out ‘Rosencrans’, and yellow diamonds spelling out ‘Bakery’.

Oh, yeah. Come to Papa.

Not only that, but just down Broad Street was another likely candidate: the Cellini Sub Shop. Probably just as old, with a sign that has a fun bulb-y arrow. Topping all that, both places get rave reviews for the food. I’ve been bad about eating at the places I get sign pictures. It was about time I gave back.

So back to Target. Standing there looking at the sky. 6:00. Montoursville is 30 miles away. I hesitated for about a second and a half, shrugged my shoulders and got in the car.


Unfortunately, it was closed. But they had me at Sticky Buns.


Oh, did I mention the plump cartoon baker? Yeah, that’s how awesome this sign is.

On to Cellini’s. Since I’m still in pursuit of the perfect Meatball Sub, I figured I would put them to the test. (So far, my winner and still champion is Pancho’s Pit in Johnson City, NY, in case you were wondering. Maybe it’s my hometown bias). I snap off a few shots and wander in with my K5 hanging around my neck.


I’ve come to grips with the fact that when you have a camera someplace you shouldn’t, you are immediately the center of attention. Just walk into a room of schoolkids with a big old Panasonic video camera and you’ll see what I mean. People are usually curious why I’m taking a picture of a sign. I walk in and order. The girl behind the counter doesn’t say a word about the camera. Didn’t even glance. Caught me off guard a little bit. Just toddled off and put in my order. So I’m standing alone in the place. So I snap off another few shots inside.


She comes back in with my meatball sub, which by the way, was one of the best I’ve ever had. But still, the camera and why I have it never gets mentioned.

This bugs me somehow.

Cruiser’s Cafe

cruisers-instagramSo I started my Instagram addiction about a year ago now, and when I looked back over it, the picture to the left has been one of my best received. The subjectivity of art always amazes me, and this picture, in my opinion, is the chief example. I don’t like it.

Well, maybe that’s a bit strong. I think it’s okay. It was a cloudy, half-rainy day when I took it. I had it in my phone for a good three months before I had the courage to post it. I took it with the regular old iPhone camera. I didn’t frame it that well. Blah blah blah, I post the darn thing and everyone raves over it.

Maybe it’s just stubbornness, but I always vowed to go back out to Mount Pleasant Mills, PA and right my (perceived) wrong. I wanted to go back on a sunny day, get a shot from the other side of the sign, and frame it better for a square image, so a week or so ago, I trekked on out PA 35 to Cruiser’s.

And here’s the result, taken with the K5:

I’m posting the new shot on Instagram, and I’m really curious to see if you all think the same…

But there’s more. I wanted to post here because the sign is only where it starts. Cruiser’s Cafe appears to have been fashioned out of an old Texaco station (see below) and is enough to make any vintage sign collector go nuts. They have a blogspot site on the cafe which has a history tab, but unfortunately, the history of the place is listed as “Coming Soon.” Oh, well.

So I’m particularly awful for snapping shots and running. I didn’t eat here, which I am terrifically ashamed about. Urbanspoon is overwhelmingly favorable. But I hope to remedy this injustice soon.

Off the Beaten Path

On a couple of occasions I’ve been asked how I find the signs I find. There are a number of ways to answer that, but there’s no real good short answer. Some of them are obvious, some of them you have to search for, some of them are complete happy coincidences caused by taking the road less traveled. The best place to look for the signs I’m looking for are the old U.S. highways, especially the ones that used to be major thoroughfares before the days of interstate highways but are now largely untraveled.

I travel a lot. A LOT. One of my regular routes is the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which not only beats up my car, but has the added benefit of shearing me for nearly four bucks every time I use it. Not that I’m bitter.

This portion of the Turnpike was built at a time when Interstate 80 did not exist, so rather than create a new exit, the powers that be decided that what motorists would want to do is get off at the old exit, hit a stop light, continue through the intersection and then get on the new highway. Again, not that I’m bitter. The stop light is at PA 940, which chugs along through the Poconos. Up until a few weeks ago, I looked neither to the right nor the left, preferring to go straight on to I-80 and my destination, but one morning I had some time and figured What the heck? I knew 940 eventually met up with 80 again, so I might as well check out the old road.

Nothing much for a few miles, until the intersection at PA 534. And here’s what I found:

pegasusThis shot was taken a few days later, during magic hour.

I’m not especially sure the age of this Mobil Pegasus, but the research of done seems to suggest that this is older than most. I’m not sure how long this place has been out of commission, either, but I giggled like a schoolgirl when I saw it.


I must have passed by this location a thousand times, and it was just a half-mile off the highway.

Never NEVER stop exploring.