Prewar Painted Stripes in Lviv

An interesting feature of Lviv’s ghost signs is black and yellow or red and white painted stripes found on former storefronts. There are several opinions floating around as to what exact function they served, so I have yet to have a definitive answer.

However, many working in Jewish heritage recently weighed in on this question in a post made on social media by Rohatyn Jewish Heritage and some solid theories were collected.

First of all, as for the colors, a source indicates that the pre-WWI colors were black and yellow (Habsburg colors) while the post-WWI colors were red and white (Polish colors).As for the function, some of the theories include:

  • The stripes date from Habsburg times and meant that the owners (of Polish and Jewish businesses) had permission to open the shop. It might be that it was only for certain types of stores, those with regulated goods.
  • They were not a national marker, but a marker for new small shops, which after several new laws were easier to open, especially for Ukrainians and Jews.
  • The red and white stripes on the door frames indicated that the store carried cigarettes, matches, and sugar, consumer goods regulated by a state monopoly. (From the website of the US Holocaust Museum.)
  • The stripes meant the shop had state-issued permission to sell alcohol, cigarettes and other products licensed by the state.

If you closely at the featured image, you can see white areas on the yellow stripes and splotches of red on the black. It seems that originally there were black and yellow stripes angled to the left, but then on top were painted white and red stripes angled to the right. Thus it seems there was a store which during Austrian times had certain privileges, which then after WWI would have had to get a new license from the Polish authorities and accordingly change the colors to correspond to the current regime.

Painted stripes were found not only in Lviv, but also in other Galician cities. For example, I have come across similar stripes in Przemyśl, Złoczów and Sambir. And they can also be found in old photographs and videos of other cities in Habsburg Galicia and interwar Poland.

Złoczów, 1934. Louise A. Boyd

Several examples of these colored hand-painted stripes can still be found in Lviv today:

And quite a few photographs of prewar Lviv show what the stripes looked like originally:

Rustaveli Street, 1925

It must have been a pretty common sight during the Habsburg era for even today an Austrian-era themed cafe, C.K. Lokal, recreates this setting by using black and yellow stripes on their shutters:

16 thoughts on “Prewar Painted Stripes in Lviv

  1. Thank you Areta for another important and timely blog post on the challenges and issues of Jewish heritage and recovery of memory. We are hopeful that soon the headstones used as basement steps in a courtyard in Lviv (Hałycka Płoszcza 15 / Galitskaya 15) will be recovered. The Lviv Volunteer Center is working behind the scenes to make this happen, with the support of the Lviv Jewish community and others.

  2. This is the part that blows my mind: “During periods of transition, the records occasionally show the use or mix of two languages—Church Slavonic and Latin, or Latin and Ukrainian…”
    SO COOL!
    Thanks, Areta!

  3. > The largest and best-preserved fragment of Lviv’s medieval defense structures is the Hlyniany Gate (1618)

    Areta, Hlyniany Gate and wall around it have been renovated.

    There used to be some residential building in its place (behind the now-demolished fire station in the foreground)

    Building, close-up

    The wall looked like this

  4. Any idea what the Yiddish is on the hat sign on the right? I can make out most of the letters, but my Yiddish isn’t good enough to fill in the blanks. I used to pass by that wall frequently on my way to a friends house, but he has moved since then. It’s still my favorite ghost sign, though 🙂

  5. Kudos to you, Aretha. I came across your blog from a repost from one of your diaspora Ukrainian language from Pre-war Galicia words versus accepted and widely used Post-war words for a long list of foods. I too grew up in the diaspora in Cleveland. I was in Lviv in November of this soon to be last year. Although Lviv is my Dad’s ancestral city, I had family from Central Ukraine and grew up hearing both dialects. I think the blog was from 2014 or 2015. I wanted to leave a comment on your new blog and commend you for the interesting sociolinguistic and cultural discussions you have initiated. Nice to see that you are now in the field doing your research first-hand.

  6. Do you have a picture/info about the synagogue in Ustryzki Dolne. I was there last summer and saw it. It was fairly large and had the remains of reliefs (?) of maven David’s (Jewish stars) on the side of the building. There was also a cemetery standing – not in the best condition. Our guide was told that once a year a high school class comes aNd cuts the grass andweeds

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