The historical districts of a city comprise not just old houses with exquisite decorations, street gas lamps or narrow cobblestone streets. Many other ingredients contribute to the charm and beauty of the old buildings and quarters and among these are the old commercial adverts and signs. While in other European countries these more special period elements of the urban heritage are well conserved and proudly displayed, being admired by the locals and tourists alike, in Romania they seem to be perceived as just another redundant junk from the past.
I came across three very eloquent such old commercial signs in Bucharest, which if restored would greatly enhance the charm, historic significance, beauty and even the market value of the buildings on which they are still displayed, not speaking of enhanced tourist potential of the areas where these old commercial signs are located.
The oldest one is a Citroen commercial advert for automobiles which is probably from the first half of the 1920s, judging from the type of car displayed. It resisted stoically in the Coltea-Mantuleasa area for all of these decades and now could be irretrievably lost because of the damaging building sites that sprang up in its close proximity and the general neglect from the locals and city authorities.
Interesting is the fact that the former Romanian prime minister, Mr. Calin Popescu Tariceanu is the owner of the Citroen franchise in Bucharest and did not move a finger in all his years in office to preserve this old advert. That would have been a very good PR move for his business and also to increase his public profile. It is symptomatic of the general lack of care and even awareness of many among the Romanian elite, toward their heritage and identity. Perhaps if the Citroen headquarters in France would be made aware of this old advert, then its fate would be more positive.
The second advert is from the National Bank area and is for a necktie shop that used to function in that place. It is a mosaic from early 1930s (I know from old post cards of similar signs put up in that period) on the pavement, under the shop window, mentioning the product on sale there: “Cravate” (“Neckties”). Worthy of note is the fact that the shop still preserve the old façade and window and is still connected with the men’s tailoring business.
The third sign is from northwest Cismigiu area and is a billboard for a local tailor shop, named “Libertatea” (“Freedom”). It dates probably form the last years of 1940s, beginning of the 1950s. I reached that conclusion judging from its style which is similar with the mid-century advert formats, the mention that the business is a “cooperative”, a form of commercial organisation favoured by the communist regime in its early years, the name “Freedom”, much in vogue in the first years after communist takeover in Romania and the mention on the billboard that the shop also works with material brought by clients, suggesting the deep austerity period immediately after the war. ©Valentin Mandache
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