When you visit Detroit you’re likely to see at least one old hand painted advertisement on the side of a building. The Motor City has become notorious for them. No matter what area you’re in, east side, west side, downtown…remnants of a once bustling retail area can be seen on the exterior brick.

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My favorite ghost sign

These nostalgic advertisements are called ghost signs. The fading illustrations now blend into the buildings, some barely visible. As Detroit continues their blight removal spree, many of these signs are being uncovered when neighboring buildings are torn down. Check out some examples in this 2012 blog and this 2015 article in the Detroit Free Press.

These once vibrant paintings weren’t just in the big cities. Little ‘ol Redford has one of its very own! As soon as I saw it I had to go in and see if the owners had any information on it. Located at 25044 Grand River (just north of 7 Mile), the Fireside Inn Dive Bar is ridiculously easy to miss among the constant activity on Grand River. Its black, windowless storefront is far from enticing. Not to mention the cedar shake style awning. These facades are the death of old buildings – they are always hiding something fun under there.

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View from Grand River

conkeys-16And try explaining to someone that you’ve been at the bar all day “…for historical research” – volunteering has some really great perks!

In all honesty, I had zero hope that anything cool would be inside this little brick building. Sometimes I’m glad that I set my expectations low because this place has all kinds of treasures! The first thing I noticed when I walked in was a small section of tin ceiling where the pool table is. “Is this new?” I asked an employee as I pointed overhead. “Oh, you’re gonna love this,” she responded. I followed her into the bar’s storage area and when I looked up, I swear I heard angels singing. The entire room, which spans the depth of the building, also had a tin ceiling. “What a minute…does this entire place have this?” I’m not proud, but I threw up in my mouth a little when she said yes. Except for that little part above the pool table, the rest of the bar has a drop ceiling that, you guessed it, covers up the tin ceiling.

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When the owners came out to meet me I asked if there was anything else unique or original to the building. Not only did that end up being a loaded question, but they knew some of the history of the building, which was key in researching this place.

conkeys-12Into the office area we went, where more clues were present. A tile mural of a dog is inset in the floor. As a real estate agent, I’ve been in A LOT of homes. I’ve seen shuffleboard designed right into basement floor tiles, but never anything like this.conkeys-13

An original exterior door (covered up on the outside) is also exposed in this room. I couldn’t help but notice the lettering on the glass – its got a killer vintage vibe. There are at least 3 exterior doors along the storefront, indicating a division of the building into 3 spaces for separate retailers.

“The Conkeys Building”

During my search to find the name of the feed store that occupied this building, I referred to it as “The Conkeys Building”. The name haunted me until I figured out what the store was called. But now the nickname has stuck, kind of like how I will always call the DTE venue “Pine Knob”.

God bless the owners, Russ & Kim, for not painting over the ghost sign when they acquired the building. As it turns out, they love it just as much as I do. I thought it was remarkable how clear and vibrant the advertisement was, given that this building has a 1929 birthday. But this sign, like so many in Detroit, had been preserved when the building was added onto in 1933, which looks to be another retail space & garage from the assessor’s sketch. A 2nd story loft was also added on the east part of the building. For almost 60 years the advertisement was hidden and kept safe from the elements.

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In 1990 the addition met with the wrecking ball, due to its poor condition. The Conkeys painting was revealed, much to the surprise of the community, and board members of the Historical Commission went to work to see what they could dig up.

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Redford Observer, 9/24/1990

Now if I could only see what’s under that awning…

Documented Businesses

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1949 Redford Twp Phone Directory

?: Jim’s Barber (25044 Grand River)
1933: Superior Feed & Malt Co (25048 Grand River)
1949: H.K. Coleman’s Feed Store (25024 Grand River)
1952-61: EL-Joe Bar (25044 Grand River)
1962: Christy Hair Fashion (25030 Grand River), Grandview Cleaner (25032 Grand River), Bob’s Barber Shop (25036 Grand River)
1973: Mahons Bar (25044 Grand River)
Late 70s to mid-2000: Double OO Pub (25044 Grand River)
Current: Fireside Inn Dive Bar (25044 Grand River)

Know of any other ghost signs in Redford? Let us know!

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2 thoughts on “Redford’s Ghost Sign

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