History

Ghost Signs of Philadelphia: ALCO Clothes in Callowhill

March 3, 2022 | by Jordan Keiffer

A ACLO Clothes ghost sign on the north side of 319 N 11th Street. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer.

Callowhill is full of ghost signs advertising former industrial giants like the old ALCO Clothes sign is located on the north side 319 N. 11th Street. Strategically facing the Reading Railroad viaduct, which is one block north crossing 11th Street, this hand-painted ad has been saved from direct sun exposure and is one of the best-preserved ghost signs in the city.

The Arnold, Louchheim & Co. (ALCO for short) was founded by Samuel Arnold and Henry J. Louchheim. A letter and envelope posted May 24, 1866, shows the business at 113-120 N. 3rd Street. The co-owners declared bankruptcy to the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on February 11, 1870.

A letter from the Jos. Louchheim & Co. postmarked April 23, 1884. | Image courtesy of Penn Libraries, Colenda Digital Repository.

Henry’s son, Joseph A. Louchheim, picked up where his father left off. A letter posted April 23, 1884 shows the “Jos. Louchheim & Co., manufacturers of fine clothing” located at 314 and 316 Market Street. Directories have Joseph listed there through at least 1896. Eventually, Joseph partnered with Philip Arnold, the son of Samuel Arnold, and restarted the business under their fathers’ business name of Arnold, Louchheim & Co. The company’s secretary and treasurer, Gustav Daniel, is consistently listed with the founders in advertisements, of which he was responsible. They became known for their “ALCO System of Clothes Making,” and the company manufactured and sold men’s and boy’s clothing in their stores in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Early ALCO advertisements from 1899. | Images: Clothiers’ and Haberdashers’ Weekly, Volume 14, 1899.

A source from 1898, America’s Textile Reporter, Volume 12, provides the earliest description of ALCO as “the young Philadelphia clothier making an enviable record for themselves in the manufacture of good clothing, which they say will sell very cheap. Their business, though recently established, is growing to such large proportions that they have found it necessary to establish a branch house in New York, at 703 Broadway, where members of the firm and several salesmen will be found in attendance during the entire season.” Sources from the turn of the century refers to ALCO’s main Philadelphia store and manufactory as a six-story building at 1021-23 Filbert Street and extending to 1022 Cuthbert Street.

Left: The ALCO Clothes trademark | Image: The Dry Goods Reporter, Volume 43, Issue 2, 1912.  Right: An ALCO advertisement for salesmen | Image: The Linotype Bulletin, Volume 12, 1915.

In 1900, while writing a review for his favorite publication, Printers’ Ink, Gustav Daniel explained that “I have entire charge of the advertising of our firm and do quite a great deal in direct advertising, booklets, sample cards and the like sent direct to consumers or dealers on whom our traveling men call, supplemented by large ads in trade journals. I can truly say that Printers’ Ink has been a source of great benefit to me, and I am storing up knowledge of advertising and methods that are bound to be of value to me later.” The magazine was the first national trade magazine for advertising, and Daniel had it delivered directly to his home.

ALCO advertisements from 1899 show that the company and Daniel understood the key principles of print advertising. First, a headline to attract the reader’s attention. The “ALCO BRAND” logo along with the tagline “Great Specials in Suits” draw you in. Next, the copy, or selling message. Larger fonts showing the clothing price points, followed by claims of “top notch of cassimere quality” and “high grade fancy worsted suits” lead into longer paragraphs describing the products even further. Classic illustrations are used by showing dapper men dressed in ALCO suits. Finally, a signature is used at the bottom to tell you everything else you need to know: the company’s full name, owners, and retail addresses.

Early ALCO advertisement from 1899. | Image: Clothiers’ and Haberdashers’ Weekly, Volume 14, 1899.

Consistency was key, as this third advertisement shows similar themes throughout. Notably, one advertisement shows a photograph of an African American man holding an ALCO overcoat. This stands in contrast to the previous advertisements where illustrations of white men were used. In 1899, illustrations were cheaper and more common than real photographs, which would have been considered cumbersome to print and more expensive than illustrations. The use of a Black model was not common at the time. This shows ALCO’s attempt to be inclusive and sell to all demographics. ALCO considered themselves to be progressive, as a quote from a 1910 advertisement tells their salesmen, “If you want to sell clothes that are made by progressive manufacturers, sold by progressive merchants, and worn by progressive men, send a postal with a request to see the Fall Line of ‘ALCO System’ Clothes.”

The company’s advertising changed little through the first decade of the 20th century. Consistent fonts and layouts were used. In 1910, the addition of color advertising changed the look and were more eye-catching to the readers of the time. Describing the quality and consistency of their clothing, one of the advertisements states: “It’s repetition that counts. You’ll never get very far ahead unless you sell merchandise that will make ‘repeat’ sales.” Despite the company’s growth, the quality of their clothing remained consisted. ALCO applied the same principle to their advertisements. The consistent use of headlines, a selling message, illustrations, and their signature kept customers coming back to a familiar, reliable business.

Color ALCO advertisements from 1910. | Images: Men’s Wear (Semi-Monthly), Volume 29, 1910.

1910 was a pivotal year for the company. The manufacturing building at 319 N. 11th Street was upgraded, or as ALCO described it, “annexed.” An illustration shows both the old building and the upgraded version, which still stands today. Interestingly, the illustration shows a painted sign on the south facing wall. This sign was painted over by a later occupant of the building, the Frank C. Maurone Co., Inc. Wholesale Distributors, Bazaar and Carnival Supplies, which was in business from 1974 to 2001. Today, both signs are covered by a large banner for the Khmer Art Gallery that was active around 2009. A nameplate can also be seen in the illustration above the sixth floor, of which there are no remnants today. This increased manufacturing space allowed ALCO to expand their output nationwide.

Daniels died in 1913. This appeared to have caused a change in the company’s advertising approach. An illustration for the fall 1915 line was produced by the L.S. Goldsmith Advertising Agency and the Hans Flato Studio. The ALCO image is juxtaposed with other images produced by the firms and were considered modern art at the time.

Annexed ALCO building at 319 N. 11th Street. | Image: Men’s Wear (Semi-Monthly), Volume 29, 1910.

Prior to his own death, Arnold suffered a tragic loss of his son, Philip Jr., in 1915. As his obituary states, Philip Jr. died a “hero,” drowning in the ocean near Atlantic City when he was attempting to aid two swimmers in danger. Philip Sr. died a few years later on November 2, 1918. Despite these losses, the company continued. By 1922, ALCO had 521 employees working at the 11th Street location.

The final founding member, Louchheim, died on July 26, 1929. It appears that none of the founding members had children who wished to carry on the family business. It is unclear exactly when the company closed shop, but directories had them listed through 1930. A Philadelphia Land Use Map from 1942 does not show the clothing company at the 11th Street building. Today, the former ALCO building is thriving and houses several businesses on each floor.



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About the Author

Jordan Keiffer has been documenting Philadelphia’s ghost signs on the Instagram page Philly Ghost Signs since 2019. His goal is to connect people to the forgotten stories of these faded signs through historic narratives and supplemental images. His work was featured in a special exhibition on ghost signs at the Neon Museum of Philadelphia. A native of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Keiffer is a proud Temple University alum and enjoys long runs through the city.

3 Comments:

  1. Benpawson says:

    Thanks! Always wondered what the story of that building was. Appreciate the in-depth research. Rail park phase 2 will have a great view of it, and the ALCO ghost sign…

  2. Tony Farma says:

    Its amazing how many faded signs you can see while riding Philly’s Regional Rails!My all time favorite was ” Morris Fishman Wool Pullers Best By Test!” ,located at Torresdale & Adams ave.. It was alas lost to the wrecking ball over 15 years ago!

  3. Nice article. Never know all about Philadelphia.

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