This ghost sign–North * Bar and Elgin Watches–just about marks the end of the Ballard Ave Historic District. The North Star Bar and Hotel occupied the building from 1905 to 1918, making at least part of this sign 100 years old, give or take a few years. Elgin Watches were produced in Elgin, Illinois and later Elgin (nee Blaney), South Carolina. I hadn’t heard of Elgin Watches, but they apparently made a lot of pocket watches back in the day, before closing in 1964.
This is the building from the other side. The plaque to the left of the door, also reproduced as part of this Historic Ballard Walking Tour, includes the following:
A typical mill worker haven, the North Star was a place where men could relax after long hours in treacherous working conditions at the mills and then retire upstairs to their sleeping rooms. The business later became the Ballard Hand Laundry during prohibition, but may have also been a speakeasy.
The building was restored in the early 1970s and has been occupied by Dock Street Brokers since 1976. Named after the cross street, they broker the sale of commercial fishing boats, IFQs (Individual Fishing Quotas), and related permits. In other words, they’re part of the old Ballard, the sleepy fishing village version, the good old days.
The former machine shop next door is now The Loft and here old and new Ballard rub shoulders. It’s apparent in the signs, the new framed by the old, and in the way the North Star Bar and Elgin Watches ghost sign looms over The Loft’s outdoor seating.
And the Loft itself is indicative of the change here on the cusp of the historic district where the old brick buildings begin to give way to less distinctive commercial and light industrial land uses. The Loft’s a sports bar, not a bistro or a wine bar, but stick around, it’s just a matter of time.