The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 24, 2013

Demolition uncovers decades-old billboard in Conneaut

Bull Durham ad will be preserved in downtown

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Efforts are under way to preserve an advertising artifact recently revealed by the demolition of an old building in Conneaut’s downtown district, officials said Monday.

The recent removal of a building at the corner of Main and Buffalo streets uncovered a large, colorful Bull Durham tobacco ad painted on the brick wall of an adjoining building. The age of the ad isn’t known, but a few clues indicate the ad could be more than 80 years old.

Discovery of the ad has generated quite a few remarks, said Mark Orlando, co-owner of the Orlando Brothers Golden Dawn supermarket, which recently razed the building that had hidden the big ad.

“We’re constantly getting comments,” he said.

The owners had no idea the ad was there when the project was launched, Orlando said. The building was removed because its poor condition posed a structural threat to the supermarket it abutted, he said earlier this month.

The ad promotes “genuine ‘Bull’ Durham tobacco,” boasting that two bags at 15 cents could create 100 cigarettes. The bright red background features the North Carolina tobacco company’s distinctive bull trademark.

How old is the ad? It was in place before it was hidden by the now-demolished building, which was erected in 1926, Orlando said. In the lower left hand corner of the ad is a mention of the General Outdoor Advertising Co., which — according to Internet sites — was founded in 1925. Based on that information, it’s a good bet the ad was first glimpsed by Conneaut residents in the first quarter of the 20th century. The ad may have been on display only a short time before it was walled up by the newer building, which could account for its good condition.

Members of the Conneaut Area Historical Society are thrilled by the discovery, said John Mathay, president. Work is under way to find a way to shield the ad from the elements, he said.

“The key thing is we have to preserve it,” Mathay said. “It’s something worth saving.”

Orlando confirmed the store has no intention of covering or painting over the ad. “We’re going to leave it as it is,” he said.

That’s welcome news to Wendy DuBey, executive director of the Conneaut Area Chamber of Commerce. The big piece of nostalgia has delighted many people, she said.

“People are impressed,” DuBey said.