Some history hides in plain sight.
Old signs are like old soldiers: They never die. They just fade away while having photographs taken of them. And another thing about signs: They almost never lie, with the exception of the “Welcome to Cleveland” guy.
Never mind him. Most of the signs below do not lie.
1) Leon’s Frozen Custard
3131 S. 27th St.
A lot has transpired under these glowing red emblems of a custard cone and a dog chasing some hot dogs. There was the one time the owner instituted an English-only policy. We’d prefer to dwell on the fresh custard and the game of Frogger you get to play in the hopping parking lot.
2) White Eagle Hotel
Northeast corner of S. 8th St. and W. Maple St.
Plans to revitalize this battered 1907 building have yet to gel. A legend in its time, the White Eagle was once a cheap hotel and tavern serving the local Polish community.
3) Grebe’s Bakery
52nd St. and Lincoln Ave.
Dating to 1937 and the home kitchen of Irene Grebe, this busy bakery is one of the friendliest and best-smelling places in town. And the brownie crullers are way too good.
4) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
333 W. State St.
The Journal and Sentinel merged on April 2, 1995, immediately dating these signs. For history’s sake, and probably because the Journal people liked being first, they were never changed.
5) Broadway Theatre Center
158 N. Broadway
Perhaps the most beguiling of the Third Ward ghost signs, which the magazine did an entire feature about in 2010. The ad for Sen-Sen throat lozenges isn’t as old as it seems, however, as it was faked in 1968 for Gaily, Gaily, a musical filmed in Milwaukee.
6) La Perla signs
W. Mineral and 5th streets
La Perla closed in 2016, but we still have these signs, some of which were painted by waiter Craig Pete. Around the corner is the “Ride the Pepper!” mural, and a few others are still left in the neighborhood.
1030 N. 3rd St.
Maybe it’s the old fashioned meat counters. Maybe it’s the happy gnomes offering up mushroom gifts to a fickle god. Whatever it is, it wouldn’t be 3rd Street or the lower Milwaukee River without Usinger’s bold signage.
8) Fein Brothers
2007 N. MLK Dr.
Allegedly, the sign previously read “MERIT” after the previous furniture store. It’s been Fein Bros. since the late 1960s, when the restaurant supply store moved here from its original location at 4th and Juneau.
724 E. Layton Ave.
Amelia’s takes its proximity to Mitchell International Airport very seriously. The building is roughly shaped like an airplane, and there’s a large silver one hanging over the dining room.
W. Juneau Ave. and N. 10th St.
The Pabst sign is a popular spot for wedding photos, and the structure behind the sign is actually a walkway connecting the two buildings. Formerly brewing facilities, they’ve now gone to a hotel and residential units.