Grandview-Woodland: 'Ghost' sign resurfaces at pizzeria

Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana only opened its doors at 1190 Victoria Dr. in Grandview-Woodland in March 2012, but the building in which it's housed still harkens to times past thanks to an unexpected find on an exterior wall.

A painted advertising sign from the mid-1930s promoting Shelly's 4X Bakery Products was exposed in 2011 as stucco was peeled off during renovation work. Exposure of such historical signs, often called ghost signs, is rare and word travelled fast in the neighbourhood.

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William Curtis Shelly (1878-1951) was born in Ontario and moved to Vancouver in 1910 to expand his bakery business and made his fortune from his famous 4X bread. In 2011, Patrick Gunn, a director on the Heritage Vancouver Society board, told the Courier it earned its moniker because Shelly had little more than $40 to his name when he started his business.

Grandview Heritage Group (see story about the group on page 9) and the building's owners Domenic and Giorgio Morra are responsible for restoration work to save the sign, which was recently completed.

The Morras agreed to save the sign when it was first discovered and ultimately paid for most of the restoration costs. A neighbourhood small grant also covered some costs.

"We're a neighbourhood-driven restaurant," Domenic Morra told the Courier, noting they also kept and restored the building's "Doctor Vigari" sign, which is displayed inside.

Morra called the restoration of the Shelly's sign "perfect."

"It doesn't look like it's new by any stretch. It's touched up just enough to shows its age, but pop colourwise. It looks really good - maybe just a little bit brighter than the way we found it."

Artist and author Michael Kluckner, artist Penny Street - members of the Grandview Heritage Group - and artist Victoria Oginski worked on the project.

Kluckner , who was worried about the sign's deterioration after it was uncovered and no longer protected from the elements, instigated the effort.

He describes the sign as a "window back onto an earlier landscape."

"To me, there's just such tremendous interest in the graphic quality of the sign - the happy baker character that went through quite an evolution over a period of time. We haven't been able to figure out who would have painted the sign or created the advertising campaign, but we know of a later one that was done in 1939. It's interesting typographically. It's interesting in every respect," he said.

Kluckner added that Shelly was a significant Vancouverite who he wrote about in his book Vanishing Vancouver.

Kluckner is pleased with the result of the restoration.

"All in all, it looks pretty terrific - the patina of the old sign, all the wonderful old aligatored parts and [the] mix of colours," he said. "It's a classic bit of the old and new standing together. You've got the state-of-the-art pizza place that's in its own right a neighbourhood landmark, but it's incorporating something that goes back to a much, much earlier Grandview - one before it was the Italian Grandview, when it was just this little working class Vancouver area with a grocery store in it."

Street recruited Oginski because of her artistic and technical expertise. Oginski said it took four days to finish the sign.

After scrubbing off loose paint chips, a mixture was applied to glue down the remaining pieces.

"We put three coats of that on. It was then quite stable - nothing was moving on it anymore. Then we began the colour," she explained.

Oginski mixed colours that would have an aged quality to them.

"We added colour to the mural and tried not to put too much colour on, so that the beautiful aging process was not lost, because that is part of the beauty of the sign. That's what everyone loves," she said. "So the aim was to revive the colour and bring back some degree of it, but not paint out all of the crackling and some of the beautiful missing spots."

A coating to protect it from graffiti and the elements completed the restoration.

A celebration of the sign's restoration is planned for 1 to 4, June 23 at which time a plaque will be unveiled.

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