Ghosts Signs of Philadelphia: Machines and Bread in Olde Kensington

October 30, 2023 | by Jordan Keiffer

The north-facing wall of 500-506 W. Montgomery Avenue. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer

A walk around the two buildings on the southwest corner of 5th Street and Montgomery Avenue reveals an exquisite collection of ghost signs with a varied history. The largest wall on the north side of 500-506 W. Montgomery Avenue was clearly built as a canvas for painted business signs and advertisements.

Two signs can still be read, including “J. NUTTALL. DEALER IN NEW & SECOND HAND MACHINERY” and “Kolb’s PAN-DANDY” with a faded image of the Kolb Little Baker Boy on the sign’s left side. The south facing wall of the attached building at 1750 N. 5th Street also has multiple signs. On top, a layered ghost sign with white letters and a black background is faded, but the word “MACHINERY” can still be made out. Another reads “SIGNS” with remnants of a phone number below. Finally, the two facades, which face east to 5th Street, have their own faded signs. On 1750 N. 5th Street, the word “MACHINERY” is again present, but this time with white lettering on a blue background. It appears that this sign once continued onto the facade of 500-506 W. Montgomery Avenue and was painted over a portion of an older sign that reads “VARIETY MACHINE WORKS/…MACHINISTS.” With so many signs, these buildings, and the block they were built on, reveal a plethora of stories.

The south-facing and east-facing walls of 500-506 W. Montgomery Avenue. | Photo: Jordan Keiffer

The 1875 Philadelphia Atlas map shows neither building at this location and notes that the lot was owned by Charles Baeder of Jenkintown. Baeder was known to have operated a large steam works on this same block. He manufactured glue, starch, curled hair, hide whips, and emery paper at this location. He also had a store at 7 S. 3rd Street. Baeder’s firm was established in 1828 and relocated to Richmond Street, Allegheny Avenue, and Westmoreland Street around 1866, right around the time of Baeder’s death. His son, Charles Bowman Baeder, continued the business with his cousin William Adamson until Charles’ death from typhoid fever at his residence at 1308 N. Broad Street. Charles was a director of the Mechanics National Bank, director and former president of the Philadelphia Finance Company, and an active member of the Manufacturers’ Club.

Charles Baeder’s steam works in Olde Kensington. | Image courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The 1895 Philadelphia Atlas map only shows a building with the same layout as 500 W. Montgomery Avenue looks today. It is unclear when this building was constructed, however it may have been built in two stages. Interior photos of the building show what appears to be an original facade facing 5th Street complete with windows, a sliding door, and another ghost sign that reads “MACHINERY OF ALL KINDS.” This is further proved by studying the building from the north side where one can see a slightly taller addition, including the building’s current facade, and by looking at aerial images of the property that clearly show a line on the rooftop between the two segments. Property records from recent real estate listings allege that the building next door at 1750 N. 5th Street was built around 1855. This claim is very likely false, since the 1910 Philadelphia Atlas map shows the first sign of the building on this site. The first occupant appears to be the Variety Machine Works. Directories from 1892 and 1893 show the unincorporated company doing business at 500 W. Montgomery Avenue. The machinists may have been responsible for the interior ghost signage and the building’s addition. Not much else has been found.

1910 Philadelphia Atlas map showing John Nuttall occupying the buildings at 500 W. Montgomery Avenue and 1750 N. 5th Street. | Image courtesy of Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network.

The name John Nuttall first appears in directories from 1900. An advertisement from that same year shows Nuttall selling new and second-hand machinery including engines, boilers, lathes, shafting, pulleys, hangers, belting, vises, blacksmith’s tools, and wood working and laundry machinery. The ad lists warehouses for the company at 1744-1750 N. 5th Street with a storefront across the street at 1719-1723 N. 5th Street. That building still stands today and was recently occupied by an art gallery. A journal from 1914 lists Nuttall as “a successful bidder for condemned ordnance stores, bids opened at the Frankford Arsenal, Philadelphia, December 31st.” Other listings show Nuttall selling “Modern Used Machinery” in 1915, “Extractors” in 1917, and “Hydro Extractors in Good Order” in 1918. Hydro Extractors were used in the textile industry to remove moisture from clothing after washing. The extractors that Nuttall sold included Tolhurst, American, and Schaum & Uhlinger. Another listing from 1919 had Nuttall selling “15 car loads” of bleaching powder for $1 per 10 pounds. Bleaching powder, short for chloride of lime, was used as a disinfectant and as a bleaching agent in the textile industry. Nuttall appears to have sold machinery for the textile industry, which was prevalent in the surrounding neighborhoods. Listings for Nuttall disappear after 1922, likely indicating an end of his business.

Advertisement from 1919 for John Nuttall at 1748 N. 5th Street. | From Book: Oil, Paint and Drug Reporter and New York Druggists’ Price Current, Volume 95, 1919.

In the spring of 1908, during the time of Nuttall’s occupation of the building,  Kolb’s Bakeries had a national sensation on its hands when the company added Pan-Dandy Bread to its general line. The bakery embarked on an ambitious outdoor advertisement campaign of painted signs to increase demand for its new product. The ghost sign below Nuttall’s appears to be one of these advertisements. The publication Printers’ Ink, Volumes 66-67 (1909) describes the campaign as “one of the most comprehensive ever placed in Philadelphia or any other city. It covered every section of the city thoroughly, special attention being paid to the important lines of travel, notably the Market Street elevated road and the business centers, in all covering about 200,000 square feet of wall space and 3,000 lineal feet of bulletin space, comprising about 300 locations.” Posters were placed in subway and elevated railroad stations. Small banners and hangers were also used by grocery stores and retail establishments where the bread was sold.

The ads were mostly the same, with Kolb’s Pan-Dandy Bread in large letters and an image of the Kolb Little Baker Boy, the company’s distinctive trademark. The advertising campaign cost the company less than $1,500 per month. When it was done, Kolb’s Bakeries was averaging sales of 90,000 loaves of bread per day. Other Pan-Dandy ghost sign advertisements have been found throughout the city, most notably one that was uncovered in March 2015 during a building renovation on Richmond Street in Port Richmond. That ad is in much better shape since it was covered around 1915 by a neighboring building.

An undated postcard for Kolb’s Bakery in Scranton, Pennsylvania shows a Pan-Daddy Bread sign and a large Little Baker’s Boy sign. | Image: Ebay

Printers Ink states that “The Kolb firm has long been an intelligent advertisers, in many lines, and this out-door campaign has put another valuable leaf in its book of experience, proving satisfactorily that in certain cases out-door advertising has great advantages.” The business saw early advertising success by distributing over 100 different “Car Cards” on the city’s street cars. The cards were printed by Philadelphia firm J.B. Morris & Co., a specialty printing company located near 17th and Vine Streets. The cards could be reused by mounting them in frames and placing them in stores that sold Kolb’s breads. One example of the catchy poems on these cards was accompanied by an image of a turkey and read “Oh! Let me be stuffed with Kolb’s Red Label Bread, A turkey once hungrily cried, Then they stuffed him with bread, of the label of RED. But, alas! ‘twas after he died.” The company also used toothpick and cigar holders for advertisements, which were placed in restaurants. Additional Kolb’s bread products included the Mother’s Bread, Vienna Bread, and Bond Bread, which became a popular brand in its own right.

The Kolb family baking history is complex, with multiple brothers and sons operating in different locations. John G. Kolb was a Philadelphia-born baker who started the business around 1870. He had several children, possibly as many as seven sons. In 1903, two of his sons, Edward O. Kolb and Robert C. Kolb, opened a bakery at Willow Street and Pennington Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey of which Robert became the sole proprietor. An advertisement in 1910 told the residents of Trenton that “It’s so much easier to say KOLB at the grocer than it is to stand over a hot stove.” Edward and Robert, along with another brother named Frank C. Kolb, opened an additional bakery at 233 N. 4th Street in Reading, Pennsylvania. Frank is credited for making the Pan-Dandy bread recipe. Edward also established a bakery in Scranton, Pennsylvania at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Ash Street, which had 75 employees in 1914. A publication from that same year described Edward as “Progressive and modern in ideas, he is a valuable acquisition to Scranton society, as his business is to her industrial interests.”

Full page advertisement from a Washington, D.C. publication in the 1930s showing Kolb’s logo, trademark Little Baker’s Boy and bread delivery vehicle. | Image: Ebay

George O. Kolb established a bakery in Hartford, Connecticut in 1913, which was the largest in the city at that time. His bakery claimed to bake more bread than all the others in the city combined. In 1927, George moved to California and built a large estate at 1146 Tower Road in Beverly Hills. The estate clearly shows his financial success as it includes eight bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a tennis court, swimming pool, gardens, and an impressive view. The home is considered one of the country’s best examples of 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. The property sold in 2013 for $27.5 million and has undergone extensive renovations.

Louis J. Kolb, another son of John G. Kolb, took on the family business after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1887. He invented a new type of bakery oven and entered the yeast production business. Louis was responsible for the successful Philadelphia advertising campaign, as one early 1899 publication states that “Advertising has been his recreation as well as his lifework. Selecting the mediums which interested him the most, Mr. Kolb has gradually improved his advertising as well as his bread and now both are known to all Philadelphians, as well as to all the citizens of the towns for several miles around.” At the time of his death, he was vice president of the Real Estate Trust Company and the Pennsylvania Sugar Company. He was also the director of the Philadelphia Manufactures Fire Insurance Company and several hospitals including the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, Hannaman Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital. He received the honorary military title of colonel for his appointment as a lieutenant colonel on the staff of Pennsylvania Governor Martin G. Brumbaugh. Another Kolb name in Philadelphia was Charles W. Kolb, Louis’ brother and right-hand man. Charles died in 1916.

A famous Kolb location in Philadelphia included a large facility opposite Moyamensing Prison on the southeast corner of 10th and Reed Streets, bounded by Wilder Street to the south and Percy Street to the east. This building featured a glass storefront display from the ground up, with a life-sized model of the company’s Little Baker Boy mascot surrounded by electric lights and a huge sign that read “Cleanest Bakery in This Country. Seeing Is Believing.” above the bakery workers, who were also on display in their white coats and caps. This location is a great example of Kolb’s standard of cleanliness and purity in the making of bread, which separated their products from competitors. This location is long gone.

A Kolb’s delivery truck in 1922. | Image courtesy of Antique Automobile Club of America

Two other baking facilities were on the southeast corner of Broad and Butler Streets in Hunting Park, which employed an astounding 881 people in 1922, and on the southwest corner of 56th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia. These locations are also gone.

A publication from 1922 claims that Kolb delivery trucks from the 10th and Reed location were “said to be the world’s first commercial vehicle to be equipped with radio, carrying a two-step, short-wave receiving set whose range is 15 miles. The truck, picking orders out of the air as they come from the broadcasting station at the bakery fills rush orders and keeps the customers supplied with bread.”

Other Kolb’s Bakeries in Pennsylvania were located at 214-22 Hamilton Street in Allentown and at Horner and McMillen Streets in Johnstown. The company joined other smaller bakeries to form the General Baking Co., and Kolb’s name and brands appears to fall off by the 1930s. Ownership of Kolb’s assets has changed hands many time and was most recently acquired by Bimbo Bakeries USA in 2009.

At left: A photo from 1967 of the 500 block of W. Montgomery Avenue showing the Nuttall and Kolb signs, as well as a sign for Benson Fuel Co. At right: An old sign for Delta Equipment Co. inside 1750 N. 5th Street. | Photos courtesy of PhillyHistory.org and Zillow

The buildings at 5th Street and Montgomery Avenue appear to have more layers of history after Nuttall and the Kolb’s advertisement. Philadelphia Department of Records photos from 1967 show a signs as well as a large smokestack with the name “BENSON” on the buildings and a sign across the street for the “BENSON FUEL CO.”

Recent photos from real estate listings show not only additional ghost signage on the interior walls, but a hand painted sign as well, which reads “DELTA EQUIPMENT CO. RECEIVING AND SHIPPING.” Directory listings for Delta are sparse, but one from 1987 shows the company at this address. The property appears to have sold in 2015, but has since been put back on the market. With so much development of both residential and commercial spaces in Olde Kensington, this historic property, and its layers of incredible ghost signs, will be one to keep an eye on.


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.

One Comment:

  1. Clifford Tobias, Ph.D. says:

    I must have seen the former industrial buildings at 5th & Montgomery when riding by on 5th St., but wouldn’t I remember them.

    What I do well remember is the saloon/bar/taproom/”tappie” on the northeast corner of 6th & Montgomery. My father once took me inside. And farther east, shown on the 1910 Phila. Atlas map, was the Stetson Hat complex. My father once took me into Stetson’s retail store there. Stetson’s and the bar are gone.

    But some elements of my “old neighborhood” survive, including the huge former synagogue on the 1700 block of N. 7th St. and Mogilevsky’s Pharmacy on the SE corner of Franklin St. & Cecil B. Moore (formerly Columbia) Ave., both described by Inga Saffron in her Inquirer column. Also the buildings on the NW corner of 7th & Cecil Moore, and a handsome double row house farther north. Also the former Ferguson Elementary School on 7th, now the “U School.”
    See all these buildings on Google Maps.
    Ferguson was my father’s school. My mother went to General Birney at 6th & Fairmount. I went to Ludlow at 6th & Master.

    My family lived in the row house at 1718 N.7th, replaced by a new single home when much of the area was redeveloped.

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