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The Coca-Cola Mural: “Sign of Good Taste” in Downtown Elizabeth City

Posted on 04/12/2019 by Simone Cooper

Elizabeth City Coke Mural

In small towns across America, Coca-Cola murals or ‘ghost signs,’ as enthusiasts refer to them, serve as a cheery welcome to visitors. Generally found on the sides of buildings at busy crossroads and high-traffic areas, the colorful advertisements are a reminder of a bygone era.

First Coca-Cola SignAccording to The Coca-Cola Company, which houses a vast archival collection in Atlanta of photographs, memorabilia and documents, the first mural appeared in Cartersville, Ga. in 1894 and soon, the marketing idea spread, particularly throughout the south. By 1910, ghost signs accounted for 25 percent of The Coca-Cola Company’s total advertising budget and by the 1920s, the murals had become so popular that they were given a standardized design. Detailed manuals or ‘playbooks,’ which were distributed to artists nationwide, provided guidelines about approved paint colors and other stylistic requirements.

Coke Mural Fun in Elizabeth City -1 Fortunately, visitors and residents of Elizabeth City don’t have to travel beyond the corner of West Colonial Avenue and North Water Street to see one of these nostalgic murals. On the side of the historic McMullan Building, known locally as the ‘Old City Cut Rate Building,’ (117 North Water Street), is a Coca-Cola ghost sign. Mike Anderson, the youngest son of Wilbert “Andy” Anderson, who owned City Cut Rate, a corner drugstore and convenience store that sold Coke products at its famous fountain from 1955-1986, says “the Coca-Cola sign was there my entire life and I’m 60.”  Vern, Mike’s older brother, who eventually became part owner of the business with his father, notes the current sign, featuring a bottle, was painted in the 1990s. “The original sign was a City Cut Rate ad of a Coca-Cola glass tumbler, indicating our fountain service,” he says. “Back in the ‘70s, 35 cents would get you a 10-ounce drink.” Coke Mural Fun in Elizabeth City 2 Even at a time when graphic design software reigns, there is a fascination with these hand-painted ghost signs, thanks, in part, to a commitment to historic preservation. Elizabeth City’s own Coca-Cola mural is not only a beautiful example of community art but also reflects the heritage of the downtown area and the rural south. Coke Mural Fun in Elizabeth City 3Coca-Cola Emblem at Museum of the AlbemarleYou can see part of the original Coca-Cola Bottling Plant sign on exhibit at Museum of the Albemarle and learn more about Coca-Cola's history in Elizabeth City in Marjorie Ann Berry's book, "Legendary Locals of Elizabeth City" available at Museum of the Albemarle Gift Shop and Page After Page Bookstore.  We would love to see your photos of our beloved Coca-Cola mural. Be sure to tag us with #VisitECity so we can share them.  For more great historic spots, visit our Commercial and Residential Historic Walking Tours.

 

Special thanks to Mike and Vern Anderson for sharing their story with us.

Simone Cooper - Head shot Simone Cooper A publicist and branding specialist who is also a mid-century modern fanatic. When she’s not assisting clients with messaging, you can find her hunting for furniture and housewares from the 1960s.    

 

Liza Franco - Head shot Liza Franco A photographer, linking stories with photos to give the reader a complete vision.  Her work includes, lifestyle, commercial, fine art, portraiture photography and photo restoration.  See more of her work at Liza Franco Photography & Graphic Design.  

Additional photo credits to Malena Franco, Help Me Rhonda, Jack Levi, Retire in Elizabeth City, NC.

     


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