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Restoration option for Uptown Butte’s many ghost signs

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Restoration — or professionally repainting — is the best option for the future of the Butte’s treasure trove of historic ghost signs, the county’s preservation officer said Saturday.

Jim Jarvis laid out three options for dealing with the ghost signs during a 30-minute presentation in the Butte Archives: A hands-off approach that enjoys them while they last, a restoration approach, or a conservation approach.

Restoration is an attempt to professionally repaint the signs, while conservation would stabilize them to avoid further deterioration. He thinks the best option is restoration.

“I don’t think conservation is a viable option,” he said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but after our research, restoration by professionals seems like the best option. Our next step is to reach out to those who expressed interest in the project and can offer technical advice.”

Nancy Bennett and Jim Oskam, two members of the Walldogs, a national group of artists and muralists who restore ghost signs, toured Uptown Butte this past week at the request of the county preservation office.

Their visit culminated with Saturday’s gathering. About 30 people, including business owners, sign painters, artists, masons and architectural enthusiasts, showed up.

Many voiced hope that something could be done to save the faded advertisements. Ghost signs are hand-painted on the side of buildings, typically dating from 1900 to the 1950s.

Bennett and Oskam said Butte has more ghost signs than any place they’ve visited since their involvement with Walldogs.

Of course, restoration costs money. Possible funding sources, said Jarvis, include the Urban Revitalization Agency, grants, corporate sponsorships and ARCO’s redevelopment trust fund.

Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive-elect Matt Vincent voiced support for preservation of these signs.

“This has been on the city’s radar for the last 20 years,” Vincent said at the meeting. “It deserves further analysis. I don’t think doing nothing is an option.”

Business owner Chuck Schnabel, who owns the Grand Hotel building, which has two ghost signs, expressed interest in lending financial support to the project because of the opportunity of attracting tourists who might find the signs interesting — a peek into the past.

“We would like to preserve the buildings and the signs, and keep its history,” Schnabel said. “And it’s about economics. It’s about bringing people to Butte.”

— Reporter Francis Davis may be reached via email at francis.davis@lee.net

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