150 Boise icons: Hotel Manitou 'ghost sign'

awebb@idahostatesman.comJune 21, 2013 

boise icon, hotel manitou, downtown boise

Did you know? “Manitou” is an Algonquin tribe word for a spirit of the natural world. Manitous can have both good and evil influences.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

"Ghost sign" is the term for a hand-painted advertisement that has remained on a wall for so long, it's faded to the point of resembling a phantom.

The ghost sign at the former Hotel Manitou on Main Street between 10th and 11th may be faded, but it's one of the most recognizable sights in Downtown Boise.

Like so much old advertising - cigarette ads from the 1940s that tout tobacco as a health and digestion aid come to mind - the wording is wonderful. The Manitou ghost sign offers what appears to read "strictly modern" rooms for 75 cents a night.

The Dec. 18, 1910, issue of the Idaho Statesman reported the news of the opening of the Hotel Manitou alongside brief items about a young woman searching for her missing brother, a call for Christmas dinners donated from the "housewives of the city," and a note that despite a recent frost, plums left unpicked had not fallen from the limbs of a small tree at 6th and Idaho.

The hotel was set to open Christmas Eve, according to the newspaper, "equipped with a well-lighted white marble entrance and a well-appointed lobby." The hotel had 38 rooms, "many equipped with private baths."

Noel Weber Sr. from Boise's Classic Design Studio says ghost signs like the Manitou have lasted so long because painters used white lead to mix their paint. They worked fast, said Weber, because they were usually paid by the square foot. They worked suspended by block and tackle (or ropes and pulleys) on bosun chairs like those window washers use today.

Among Boise's other notable ghost signs: the C.C. Anderson Department Store sign in the alley next to Red Feather on 8th Street. It boasts dry goods, millinery (hat making) and "etc." among its wares.

Another ghost sign with a massive, round target is still visible on the former bow and arrow shop just north of the Central Fire Station building at 6th and Idaho Streets.

Downtown Boise also has a couple of antique advertising signs that look new again. Classic Design Studio restored the Eagles sign on the Jones Block at 6th and Idaho and the 1912-era Stearns car advertisement on the east wall of the Adelmann Building on Idaho Street at Capitol Boulevard.

Ghost signs attract fans who travel the U.S. and abroad to photograph them before they disappear. Groups like the Society for Commercial Archaeology (sca-roadside.org) document antique signs as well as other aging roadside attractions, such as gas stations, amusement parks and hotels.

Ghostsigns, a British group (ghostsigns.co.uk), does similar work in the U.K. and Ireland.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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