The Ghosts of Newark: Signs From Another Era Still Dot the City

Paramount theater newark
Paramount Theater | Photo Credit: Jared Kofsky

When visiting Downtown Newark, one is immediately struck by all of the development occurring in the central business district, with new high-rise towers and new stores and restaurants opening regularly. However, it is almost impossible to miss what literally are the signs of the city’s past. ‘Ghost signs’ advertising businesses that once operated in Downtown Newark can be found on nearly every block, many of which date back over 70 years. Here is a look at the history behind a few of Newark’s most notable signs.

Paramount Theater

Paramount theater newark history
Paramount Theater | Photo Credit: Jared Kofsky

Located at 193-195 Market Street are what are likely the best known ‘ghost signs’ in Newark. Situated just a few yards from what is currently one of Newark’s biggest attractions, the Prudential Center, these signs, reading ‘Newark’ and ‘Paramount’, advertise what once was one of the city’s most popular landmarks. Although most of the building is vacant today, beginning in 1886, it was used as H.C. Miner’s Newark Theater and the Paramount Theater, which hosted vaudeville shows and concerts.


Bambergers newark ghost sign
Bamberger’s | Photo Credit: Jared Kofsky

Several blocks away on Halsey Street, between Market Street and Bank Street, the last remaining sign for the flagship location of what once was one of the New York Metropolitan Area’s premier department store chains sits on the back of the building at 141-149 Market Street towering over a parking lot. Although the ‘B’, the ‘A’, and part of the ‘M’ are cut off, the sign clearly advertises the Bamberger’s department store, which operated in the building from 1900 until 1912, when it moved to a 14-story structure across Halsey Street. The store operated the WOR radio station from the top of the new building, which later became a Macy’s location. The Macy’s closed in 1992, and the building built in 1912 now contains stores and a telecommunications and data center simply called 165 Halsey Street. The original Bamberger’s building is now home to Gap Factory Store, Pretty Girl, and T-Mobile.

Newark Sunday Call

newark sunday call ghost sign
Newark Sunday Call | Photo Credit: Jared Kofsky

Although none remain in Downtown today, Newark was once home to several newsrooms of local English-language newspapers dedicated to covering happenings in the city. One of these publications was the Newark Sunday Call, which branded itself as ‘New Jersey’s Great Home Newspaper’ while in circulation from 1872 until 1946. Although a copy of the paper has not been printed in over 70 years, a sign for it can still be seen at the side of its former office building at 91-93 Halsey Street, which now contains apartments and retail space.

Coleman National Business College

Coleman National Business College newark history sign
Coleman National Business College | Photo Credit: Jared Kofsky

Although today’s Newark is home to educational institutions such as Rutgers University-Newark, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Essex County College, a small for-profit school called Coleman National Business College operated for over a half-century in Downtown, beginning in 1852. The college later moved to the Strauss Building at 45 Academy Street, which was built in 1890, and a ‘ghost sign’ can still be viewed on the side of the building from the corner of Raymond Boulevard and Halsey Street. The 14,000 square foot school included a typewriting department with over 100 typewriters, a commercial department, and a day school. It was notorious for its racist and discriminatory admissions policy.

Murphy Varnish

murphy varnish sign newark
Murphy Varnish | Credit: Google Maps

Located in the Ironbound neighborhood a few blocks from Downtown Newark, one of the more unique ghost signs in the city can only be seen in its entirety from the air. Atop an industrial building home to American Waste & Textile, LLC at 73-79 Vesey Street lies a massive sign for the Murphy Varnish Company, which operated in a complex that included this building and several other structures a block away from the late 19th century until 1950. Part of the former Murphy Varnish Works is currently being transformed from an abandoned eyesore into 46 apartments and retail space.


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