PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The economic history of a neighborhood and a city is written large in the fading script of “ghost signs” on the walls.

These commercial mosaics are subject to the whims of weather and climbing vines of ivy. Look closely, and you may see one “ghost sign” painted over another.

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One of the best examples of this off-the-wall history is an ad for “Mother’s Bread” on a street in Polish Hill. An apartment building once stood on the site next door, until it burned in 2008.

It wasn’t until they removed the debris that they discovered the wall was abutting an old sign, dating back about a century. Remarkably, the sign was undamaged, until a graffiti vandal paid a visit last week.

Building owner Jim Young and Leslie Clague, of the Polish Hill Civic Association, are discussing ways to remove the graffiti, without hurting the painting underneath.
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“I spot checked a couple of things to see what would do a good job without doing too much, if any damage,” the owner says.

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The Civic Association website has exploded with outrage. But now – what to do?

“It’s in such good shape, that’s really rare,” says Leslie Clague. “People don’t want it painted over in real bright colors, because then you’ve covered what was really special about it. You see a lot of paintings and billboards on the walls, the side of buildings. And that was the working class neighborhoods, so that was a common sight.”

But in a sense, is graffiti also art? Owner Jim Young has the last word.

“Real graffiti artists have the sense not to put their tags on somebody’s personal property, and not over something cooler than what they’re going to do themselves,” he said.

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